EAST SIDE LEVEE

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THE EAST SIDE LEVEE AND SANITARY DISTRICT

 

By the beginning of the 20th century, land improvement for the protection of the city from floods was at the forefront of all local political issues. In 1903, the city of East St. Louis again suffered from a devastating flood (Plates lla and l1b), and the businesses and citizens of East St. Louis clamored for additional flood preventive measures. Out of this campaign came the advent of the East Side Levee and Sanitary District in 1910, delegated with the authority to plan and implement a program of drainage control consisting of levees and canals (Sexton 1910:1-6).

The plan of the East Side Levee and Sanitary District called for the diversion of Cahokia Creek through a canal with the fill being used for construction of a high levee west of Front Street. The specifications were as follows:

"...levees to be constructed of earth taken from the riverside (and the canal) leaving a berm of 40 feet in width between the toe of levee and borrow pit ... wherein possible, a strip 30 feet of protection and control, and as a means of ingress and egress for repairs when needed. to insure safety for the levee (north of Front Street), arrangements are being made with the owners to fill the low ground inside the levee to an elevation equal to the height of the flood of 1903.

At present the only protection afforded (this area) are the tracks of the Chicago and Alton and Terminal Railroads, and in 1903, the breaking of these embankments caused the inundation of Granite City, Venice, Madison, Brooklyn, and National City ... the construction of the levee along the shoreline is desirable in order to straighten the channel ...

The project also contemplates the filling of about 200 acres of low ground to the south between Trendley Avenue and the Pittsburgh Dyke. It is quite evident from this method of filling, once successfully applied in the vicinity, will lead to the filling and raising by the property owners of the entire territory below grade west of Cahokia Creek for several miles above its present mouth, eliminating all the slough in that territory. Completely obliterating the annually trouble some creek and connecting up the scattering East side towns into one continuous city...

At the junction of Canteen Creek with Cahokia Creek near the mound, a new channel will be excavated through the ridge southerly to Prairie du Pont Creek ... to complete drainage of the District... County ditch northeast of Mitchell, Long Lake, Elm Slough, Spring Lake Ditch and smaller existing drains (will be cleared, straightened, and enlarged) ... additional lateral canals will be excavated where necessary to permanently drain all the low ground in the District" (Sexton 1910:14-21).

It was the goal of the East Side Levee and Sanitary District to both set up flood preventive measures and free up low-lying areas and lakes for development. During this period many features such as Indian Lake, Spring Lake, Crooked Lake, and Pittsburgh Lake were drained and over the years slowly filled, much of the East St. Louis waterfront was filled, and Cahokia Creek was connected by canal to other drainages in order to lessen the effects of flooding during peak rainfall. However, the creek would continue to cause problems throughout the 20th century due to a levee system oriented toward the river that did little to halt flooding originating from the back door. Eventually the creek would be pushed even further north by the expansion of the Terminal Railroad yards southwest of National City, and forced to conform to the orientation of the Norfolk and Western and Terminal Railroad tracks at the north end of the island. At present the creek maintains this position between the tracks of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. It has been cut off at National City and at the riverfront, thereby reducing it to the status of a closed slough. Remnants of the creek's many orientations are evident all along the area between the original shoreline and Bloody Island. At the south end of the island below the Poplar Street Bridge, a remnant of the creek used for disposal of railroad dining car refuse was the subject of archaeological investigations during the reconnaissance study (Smith and Lange 1980) and the present testing program.

 

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