ngawall

To the Old Armory, I’m Not Lyon

This was the first bike ride after the opening of my show at Third Degree Glass Factory. It was Friday, June 24th. I was also experiencing some post-show blues. Over the week or so after my show, I didn’t feel like doing anything and I just felt bummed out. What now? I was cranky, whiney, and more pessimistic than usual. Another trait of my post-show blues and how I feel when I’m down is this lack of decisiveness. I can’t make decisions. Maybe it’s due to not feeling clear minded. The bike ride was forced. Maybe getting outside and riding will make me feel better – it seems to have worked before. I’m not sure if this is a proven thing, but I’ve heard physical exercise can be a mood enhancer. I think there’s a releasing of feel-good chemicals in the brain but maybe it’s also getting fresh air and sunlight. Maybe it’s a combination of all. Whatever it is, it seems to work much of the time for me. Unfortunately I can’t exercise 24-7.

Where to ride? Oh, where to ride? I whine. This shouldn’t be that incredibly difficult and there should be bigger things to worry about in this world. Just make a decision! Ok. I thought maybe I’ll just keep close to the flood wall and go south. First I can look and see how all the graffiti has changed. I was going to see how far I could go without technically trespassing. Plus, I’d finally ride the trail in front of the Arch. I also thought I saw on the news something about a mural going up down on the flood wall on the south side of the Arch ground. I was right about that but it wasn’t close to being finished. It has a marine life/St. Louis theme complete with old style steamboats and lots of fish. I thought I saw some Killer Whales and I know those don’t live in the Mississippi. Odd. In the moment of passing the in progress mural no one was working on it. I just kept going. Maybe next time I ride down there it will be finished. I’ll get a picture then.

I get to where Chouteau ends and the bike trail ends but keep on going south. There is a road that is parallel to the flood wall. For awhile it is paved (but very pothole-y) but eventually it turns to fine gravel. The graffiti wall is in constant change as artists are constantly putting up new images. Some of the works from last year’s Paint Louis are still visible but many are highly modified and partially covered. I find it visually chaotic but interesting. I also marvel at the talent. I’m an artist but I’ve never done anything like that before. The further south I head, keeping watch to the terrain and railroad tracks, the graffiti becomes less impressive and more like a collage of tags. One side of me is the wall and the other side is train tracks. The wall isn’t straight, it juts in, juts out and at some point I’m crossing train tracks, service roads, dodging potholes, ruts, and large puddles. I get very nervous around the tracks. Last year I had a bit of a spill down here when my front wheel got lodged in a gap. I crossed a bit too parallel. My bike stopped and I flew off the bike. I did land on my feet though. After that I try to cross as perpendicular to the tracks as possible.

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At a certain point the trail just starts to disappear. I cross the tracks and meander around some industrial buildings, ride on some course gravel slowly. I get to where there are some east-west streets. I squint into the sun and determine I don’t see anything that interesting. I keep going south, slowly keeping balance on the rocks until the road gets more smooth as I pass some low-slung warehouses lined with tractor-trailers delivering or picking up goods. I do get to a point where I can go east again toward the wall. This is Dorcas Street. I get to near the end. I see a “No Trespassing” sign but I can’t determine if it means straight ahead or the road that turns south or both. I sit for a minute. There a brick building that looks interesting with large vertical windows and what looks to be some patina copper ornament. I take the chance and turn to go down this road. I go under a trestle that is coming out of a large rail yard near Anheuser-Busch. To my right are some large cylinder containers and to my left is the large brick building. I’m nervous because I might be trespassing. I stop to take some pictures. On the south side of the building it says, “ENGINE HOUSE MANUFACTURERS RAILWAY COMPANY”. Beside some tall garage doors are rusty train wheels. At this point I realize I’m at the end of Arsenal. I’m right by the current NGA complex and the old St. Louis Arsenal. Surrounding the complex is an old rock wall fortification topped with barbed wire. Just inside, closest to the tracks is a gargantuan, windowless, brick, 5-6 story warehouse looking building. I imagine inside there are people remotely flying drones or something in the middle-east. Maybe it’s more innocuous. I really don’t know exactly what they do and maybe that’s how they like it.

ngawallI figured this was a good time to quit my journey south and start going west. I start climbing gently sloping hill on Arsenal, following the large rock wall fortification. I get up to 2nd Street. I notice the fence has these pillars that are topped with cannonballs. This is a big national security complex. There is no getting in and I’m sure I’m being watched on the perimeter and will have security swooping in if I do anything deemed “suspicious”. I do know there are many Civil War era buildings in there. I saw some old cannons through the fence too. I wonder what will happen to all of this when the NGA finally moves north to the new, yet to be built complex, in St. Louis Place? I hope something gets done with it. It’s a major historic site in the city for the age of the structures and the part it played in the Civil War. I could see extending the park and setting up an interesting Civil War Museum there. I think there is already one at Jefferson Barracks though.

Just across the street is a small park with a tall obelisk. I consult Google Maps to determine what park this is. It’s Lyon Park. There’s a couple baseball fields and a walking pathway with benches. It also slopes uphill toward South Broadway. I’m curious about the obelisk. I get off the bike and walk it along the path uphill, prop the bike up and walk toward the structure. It says Lyon on it. Hmmm…I’m not sure who this is? Is this a grave? I don’t see any birth or death dates. There is one date on it. I guess, it’s a monument to someone. Further up the structure are empty ovals. I’m guessing something should be there. It’s time to consult Google again. What would I do without a smartphone on these rides?

Lyon Park is named after General Nathaniel Lyon. He was with the Union during the Civil War and was instrumental in fortifying the St. Louis Arsenal across the street. He also saved the arsenal from a mob of Confederate sympathizers. The obelisk is a monument to him. In the oval spaces are supposed to be bronze plaques. One was Lyon’s portrait, and the other was a mythological figure holding symbols of war and justice, with a lion in the background. Both are gone – either removed or stolen. The monument was dedicated in 1874 and was created by Adolphus Druiding.

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Concerning the arsenal, the first building on the grounds was completed in the 1820s. This was to replace the federal arsenal at Fort Bellefontaine that was further to the north near the Missouri River. The purpose of the arsenal was to store ammunition and supplies. By 1840 there were more than 22 buildings and Fort Bellefontaine was abandoned. The arsenal was instrumental in the Mexican-American War in 1846. Later as the Civil War grew near there was talks into moving the ammunition and supplies into Illinois. St. Louis, as well as Missouri, was caught in the middle. St. Louis had many Union supporters and many Confederate supporters. Eventually Missouri decided to stay in the Union but would refuse to supply weapons to both sides. Because of this there were many spats between Union and Confederate sympathizers. In a way there was a war within the state over it’s participation in the Civil War.

This is where Nathaniel Lyon comes into play. He is loyal to the Union. In 1861 he arrives in St. Louis. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was a strong Southern sympathizer, and Lyon was concerned Jackson would try to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis if the state decided secede. There was news that Confederate mobs were storming in and seizing armories across Missouri. In response, Lyon had the arms and ammunition shipped into Illinois. He also ordered that the Confederate’s Camp Jackson (in the area where SLU is today) be surrounded. He forced the Camp’s surrender to the Union. However, this enraged southern sympathizers. It further enraged them when Lyon publicly marched the captured citizens through the streets to the arsenal. Confederate sympathizers watching this grew more and more enraged. Riots broke out – this included hurling rocks, paving stones, and insults at Lyon’s troops. Then shots rang out from the crowd. A Union troop was killed. In response, the Union troops fired into the crowd, killing at least 20 – including women and children. Many more were injured. This incited riots over the following days until martial law was instated. This became known as the St. Louis Massacre or the Camp Jackson Massacre. The arsenal remained in Union hands and Missouri didn’t secede. Tensions were high throughout the war though.

Later in 1861 Lyons was killed in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Shortly after the war, 10 acres of the arsenal was given to the city to create a park and memorial for Lyon. Plus the armory was moved to Jefferson Barracks. Today it is still used by the Federal Government for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

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I hop back on my bike and ride up into the shadows of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and head north on South Broadway. I turn left on to Barton Street In Soulard. I take a break and explore a community garden on 9th St between Lami and Barton. I ride up and down the streets lined with 19th century houses and businesses. I take short trips into alleys to scout out some alley houses. I weave my way up north. Booze trolleys slowly roll up and down streets (basically large stretched golf carts with a working bar on them) and the drunken revelers hoot and holler. It’s always Mardi Gras around here! The bars and restaurants will be hopping as we creep into the evening. I’m not here to get boozy. I’m not much of a drinker. I head out across Broadway.

The other side of 7th St is a neighborhood called Kosciusko. It’s not a residential neighborhood. It is mostly all commercial or industrial. Actually most of my ride was in this neighborhood. I turn down Broadway and pass some old storefronts. There’s a guitar store, a tattoo parlor and a few other places. Actually the guitar store is called J Gravity Strings and they have been around since the early 1970s (says so on the storefront). In the entryway there is tile that says “Barnholtz 1546”. I had to do some research into this. I found that early in the 20th century this was a dry goods store owned by the Barnholtz family called Barnholtz and Sons Dry Goods. The family was headed by Dora and Sam. They were immigrants from Russia that came over around the turn of the century. The store opened in 1919. The family lived on the second floor. I found that Dora died in 1961. I’m not sure when Sam died. I would suspect there was more residential places around here. I know Little Bohemia, and St. Louis’s Chinatown was close by. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find residents in this neighborhood.

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I move on to Third Street and head north. The view of the Arch is great. I snap some pictures from the street, under the highway and then pedal through the old industrial streets near the MacArthur Bridge and head on back. I am greeted at the end of my journey with a large group of people wearing tie-dye and chanting, hooting, and drinking. Not sure what’s going on but they stare at me. I get it. I don’t fit in. I won’t interrupt your ceremony of whatever.

Yet, another ride where I start bored, unsure, and unhappy but the end, I feel good and happy I took the ride. There is always something new to discover in this city if I look hard enough. Maybe it’s true, exercise is a mood enhancer.