For the past few weeks I have taken a break from biking around St. Louis city and have instead biked around Belleville, Edwardsville, and St. Charles. Plus I did a few rounds on the trails in Madison Country a couple times for a combined total of 37-ish miles. Also within this time period I have decided to get serious about my diet and to try to take off some weight because despite riding my bike I have gained 20 pounds over the past year. It has to be because of my diet – which has been crap. I eat out too much and eat food that is not good for me too much. I’m not 18 anymore. I’m 38 and my metabolism is probably slowing down. I’ve built up some bad habits in the past 20 years. I don’t have a problem motivating myself to be active – I love being active. I ride my bike, I like to go on walks (used to run), and I do boxing classes. My achilles heel is food. I just don’t eat right. Anyway, this doesn’t affect my bike riding but I may be more moody.
Since I’ve enjoyed my time on the MCT Trails in Madison County I thought checking out the River Des Peres Greenway would be worth my time. I could get down to Carondelet, Patch and ride through Boulevard Heights for the first time. Part of my goal is to ride my bike in every neighborhood in St. Louis so I have marked another neighborhood off my list.
I started in Patch, a small area just south of Carondelet that is on the southern edge of St. Louis City. The southern border is the River Des Peres. The river forms the border to the city and county. Patch and Carondelet many times get confused with each other. Frankly Patch just tends to be forgotten about and called Carondelet. Patch seems to be a working class type of neighborhood that is sandwiched by industrial areas along the Mississippi River and a chemical plant along the River Des Peres. Broadway is the spine that is the main street through the neighborhood. Most of the houses are small and cottage-like. It can seem a bit run down but it is home to many stone cottages and some buildings that date back to the Civil War. Some of the buildings still show the French and some Spanish influence. Of course there is the German influence of architecture too. If anything St Louis’ architecture seems rarely pure in it’s style or ethnic roots. A French Colonial or a shotgun house that is more Caribbean in it’s roots may take on characteristics common in German style buildings. A house in St. Louis may have the look of a house in New Orleans but take on some characteristics of Federalist Styles and so on. Something always makes a St. Louis house different. Many times the vernacular architecture takes on a combination of styles and it becomes uniquely St. louis. It’s part of what I love most about the city.
I was going to start at a little park called Alaska Park but I found it was really just a big grassy field. I tend to like to start at parks. Instead I started around Catalan and Minnesota. One thing I love about this neighborhood is the stone houses. In the past, I have taken photos of the Steins Row, and some of the houses on Vulcan and on the east side of Broadway. The two, while being the same style, are very different in condition. Steins Row looks great, wonderfully restored and beautiful. The ones east of Broadway are in terrible shape – crumbling, vacant and in need of some TLC. In general the area east of Broadway seems more forgotten about. I remember last time I rode by the ones on Vulcan Street, I made friends with a stray cat. By making friends, I mean approaching the cat and the cat running away and then staring at me – daring me to bother it me. Then if I do, it may hope to claw me to shreds. I imagine my death from a cat and me sprawled out on Vulcan Street in front of a vacant stone house with claw marks all over my lifeless body. Back into reality. It was just lounging below the stoop and I, being a human jerk thought I would disturb his leisure for my own joy. I may be cynical but I love animals.
On this trip I did take some pictures of other stone houses. Actually I think one I took a picture of is in Carondelet proper and the other is in Patch. One house is on Courtois Street which is a German coursed limestone house. It has two stories, symmetrical with the front door at the center. It has a forward sloping gable roof. These types of stone houses were most likely built with limestone quarried near the banks of the Mississippi. I’m sure it was a type of material that was plenty and easy to get to. If you have good stonemasons then something could be built with it. Across the street is South St. louis Square is the Anton Schmitt House on the southeast corner. It was built in 1859 but not on that corner. It was actually originally located in the area in which a large chemical plant sits west of Alabama on the southwest portion of the neighborhood. It was slated for demolition but was moved to the park in 1992. I think now it serves as a small museum. If you want to read more into the houses click here for the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.
The other stone house is on Minnesota between Quincy and Blow. It’s similar to the one on Courtois but instead of three bays wide it is five bays wide. It is symmetrical with the door in the center, front sloping gable roof with fireplaces on each side. No porch. Front door opens onto the sidewalk. Like the other stone houses, it was probably built between 1840-1850. It looks like there was another house to it’s left but has been demolished. I can see the outline of the roof of a small cottage..maybe another stone house, maybe a one-room house? Hard to know.
I did go over to the east side of Broadway which is a more industrial section but the buildings and houses left are quite interesting – more stone houses, one-room style houses, more houses with a Creole influence mixed in amongst scrap yards and other industrial types of places. Water, Vulcan, Steins, Courtois and Reilly Streets. Houses right on the street. It’s gritty. This was the area of Vulcan Ironworks which my assumption is that is where the name Vulcan Street came from. It’s not a Star Trek reference but I can’t help but think of it. Close to here is where James Buchanan Eads engineered Ironclad warships for the Civil War at Union Marine Works.
Along Broadway are some interesting storefronts, an old firehouse with a large arched garage, some Romanesque Revival influenced mansions with domed towers that sit above the street. In the neighborhood you can still see the divisions of class in the 1800s. Today though, I’d say mostly the neighborhood is of the working class. Small houses, corner taverns and places that are more utilitarian and less beautiful. I could write all day about what I see in Carondelet. If you want to see some of the oldest buildings and more unique neighborhoods in St. Louis, you should hit up Carondelet and Patch. Also Stacked Burger Joint is amazing.
As a contrast I headed west, under I-55 into area just south of Carondelet Park. This would be Boulevard Heights There, I climbed some hills and my chain popped off my bike. The further west I go, the newer the houses are. The area starts to look more suburban with small bungalow style houses, ranch style houses that are evenly spaced with front yards. I’d guess built up between the 1930s and 1950s. I am not greatly interested. I get to Morganford and speed down the bike lane to Germania and the river Des Peres Greenway. I head over to where it crosses the river and then head down a spur that is called The Christy Greenway. It runs along a creek and past some cemeteries and is peaceful and shaded. I rode that up to Holly Hills Avenue then track back. I then bike the length of the River Des Peres Greenway to Alabama. Hello Patch and chemical plant. It was a quick trip back to where I started. Flat and fast but windy. It seems like it is always windy by rivers. Is that true or am I imagining that? The River Des Peres isn’t really a scenic river by the ducks and geese don’t seem to mind that it resembles an open sewer. Right now it’s pretty low but it can rage with floods when this area gets a lot of rain.
With some time to spare before sunset I combed the streets of Carondelet. There were people milling about some corner bars and bikers were out at some biker bars – roaring their engines. Stacked Burgers and surrounding restaurants were buzzing with activity. It was one of those days that really felt like summer is here. The trees have bloomed, there is the smell of grilling in the air. It was very warm and the sun was bright. There’s going to be plenty more days like this.