cementland

A Wet July 4th Tradition

Since this ride, I haven’t got out way too much. Just some short rides. In that time, I had noticed my rear wheel was looking wobbly. It wasn’t loose but it was not true. Plus on a recent ride I heard a popping noise from the rear wheel but I couldn’t see anything wrong. I took my bike into a local bike shop and found I had some broken spokes and that was the reason my wheel wasn’t true. So I left it there to get fixed. Plus I opted to get a new chain and a tune-up. Great! I’m excited and ready to get back out.

mhm-route66This ride was on July 4th in the late morning to early afternoon. I remember that holiday weekend as being wet with some storms. When Ben and I went to see fireworks on Saturday in Alton, it was wet. In fact on the way there it was pouring rain. All day the weather was alternating between damp and pouring rain. As we got settled to watch the fireworks, it was raining – we sat in our chairs in ponchos looking grumpy and trying to fiddle with our phones underneath. As for the actual holiday, I thought it was supposed to clear up. At least the weathermen at the local television stations said it was to clear up. The ride started damp and cloudy with the sun peaking out here and there but it ended with riding through a nice downpour.

Anyway this is my most northern route so far and I only popped into the city for a short time. I started at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and headed across to explore around where the old amusement park. Then I was to head down the Riverfront Trail past Cementland and see how far I can make it down the trail. I made it just north of the Merchant Bridge. Then I turned around to head back. I rarely do out-and-back type of trips. I don’t like repeating scenery.

I had recently saw the Route 66 exhibit at the Missouri History Museum and I knew there was some traces of the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park left. Just as an FYI – Route 66 took many routes through the city so this was just one route. At one time the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was part of Route 66. Today the bridge is only for bikes and pedestrian traffic and has some Route 66 artifacts and tourist info displayed. You can learn more about the bridge here.

In fact the Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of my favorite places to see the Mississippi river. I love this narrow steel truss bridge with the bend in the middle. I love the small castle-like stone intake towers that sit in the river. I love the view of the city skyline in the distance. I’m not sure many people know it but on the east side of the bridge there is a small hiking trail that will take you under the bridge and to the river. It floods a lot and is typically extremely damp and I get attacked by bugs. However, it’s a great way to get close to the river and it’s peaceful. Plus it is a flat easy hike. Once you get to the banks of the river a nice place to just sit and watch the mighty river go by.

As a side note, on the Missouri side, the porta-potties were in sparkling condition. I had to go and was feeling a sense of dread that the restrooms would be gross – like most park restrooms. I don’t know if they were just cleaned or if they are actually well maintained but I was pleasantly surprised. When I’m done, it’s time to get rolling again.

chainofrocks-postcardSoon the trail will cross Riverview and arc up the hill/bluffs slightly. This is where I want to be. I notice on the trail here that there are some old, non-functioning street lights. This is getting into amusement park territory. I slow down and there are two more little roads that trail off into the brush. I see some more old streetlights peeking through the trees. I then get off my bike and started walking my bike up the old road. Dodging branches, spider webs, and tall weeds and brush I could see more streetlights and some old concrete fence posts. This took me all the way to the top of the bluffs at Lookaway Drive.

Lookaway Drive, today, is lined with apartment complexes – many looked abandoned/vacant. I shortly noticed that many were getting new windows so maybe they are getting a remodel. However, it looked really rough. I then head north to a grassy park-like area to where the road loops in the shape of a teardrop. I could see the concrete table and chairs that were part of a picnic area. Some are sunken into the ground to the point the seats are maybe 6 inches off the ground. Also along Lookaway near the “teardrop” are some old concrete posts that lined the entrance to the park. I walked a little through the grass and there are hints of old asphalt/concrete pathways and pads. There is not much left over. Here’s a site with some great pictures. One even has the same exact concrete picnic tables in it. I love these old amusement parks. I wish there were more like those. However, the big mega-parks like Six-Flags are the norm now. These seem like place you could go anytime, were affordable. Yes, the rides may not be as fast, or high, or high-tech but they looked fun.

I then head south on Lookaway, passing the sketchy looking apartment complexes, I arrive upon some interesting houses. Many are mid-century era looking ranch houses but there some great looking Tudor style houses, some colonial revival, and renaissance revival type houses. Some are very substantial in size too with immaculate landscaping and large yards.

lookaway-houseI get to a part of the street that is gated. This is something so familiar with many St. Louisans. It turns into a private street. Shucks. I don’t want to head back and down the overgrown weed trail. I know this this is the fast way back on to the trail. There is a large tudor revival house on a wooded lot in sight and some other houses. I drag my bike around the gates. I’m just going to coast through. I get nervous about doing is because I always seem to get caught. I start to notice that this private road is not too well maintained. In fact some of the houses are in great disrepair or are vacant. I’m starting to think that this private street is not very “exclusive” these days. I don’t really have to worry about being stopped by security. I head down the hill and back onto the trail. No problem.

cementlandThe thing about this trail is that it seems to flood a lot and there were many areas submerged by water from the recent storms. It is muddy and wet. I get to a place called Cementland. It’s an old cement plant but it was supposed to be turned into an urban/industrial playground/park and was the vision of a local artist, Bob Cassily. It was to be like the City Museum but in an abandoned cement plant. In fact Bob died while working here – his bulldozer flipped over, killing him. I’m unsure if this project will move forward, it’s been in limbo since he passed away. I think it would be a really awesome place. City Museum is awesome and this would have and still could be just beyond amazing.

I head up Scranton Ave, it loops around the fenced off complex. At this point, I really don’t know where I’m going. I’m just going to follow the road or try to go in the direction back to the trail. I turn off, going under a railroad trestle, to St. Cyr Rd. I pass more industrial sites – mostly metal processing plants. I get to Bellfontaine Rd. I head south on this main artery until I get to Riverview. Most of it is looking rather run-down, older suburban areas with boxy tract housing from the 50s and 60s. They mostly all look alike. Older shopping areas like Riverview Plaza are looking a bit lonely and empty. The same goes for some of the buildings that look like older restaurants. I turn down Riverview. Yay! A bike lane. Great.

I get back to the trail and continue south. At this point there is not much to look at other than the river and trees. It’s getting muggy and the sun is starting to peek out as I pedal on the trail that sits on the levee. There are little river-based type of businesses dotting the bank of the river on the east. To the west is mostly industrial scrap metal yards, some of those metal shipping containers piled on to of each other like LEGO. Some trains go by – slow and squealing like nails going down a blackboard. I was going to see if I could go across Hall Street but I got stuck waiting for a train to slowly rumble pass. I soon realize there is nowhere to go and I’m not biking down Hall St. That road is notorious for drag racing – it is perfectly straight, wide and cars just zoom through.

mississippi-river-trailI turn around and figure I should head back. I do have my DSLR so I stop at a few sites and take some pictures. I pass Cementland again. I snap more pictures. I get to an opening where I can see the river and there is a trail – a muddy trail and I could carefully tip-toe through to get some nice river shots. It doesn’t matter, I’m going to end up with mud all over. As I head back to my bike, I feel some wet drops. Oh no. Then I feel more and more until it’s a steady shower. I hastily pack my camera deep in my backpack and hop back on the bike. At this point I just want to get back to my car. The rain gets heavier. It is soon pouring as I’m rolling through muddy puddles. I will say, I was forward thinking enough to attach my rear fender before I left. This saved my back getting covered in water and mud. If you ride a lot, I highly recommend one. I have one that attaches to my seat post easily and it wasn’t too expensive. By the time I arrived back at the bridge, the rain was slowing. At this point, I just want to get done. I crank and crank to get to the bend and then there it slopes down as I cross onto the Illinois side. I coast in. I am welcomed by some German motorcycle riders (seriously, leather bikers speaking German).

It’s time to get home, shower, eat some lunch and get ready to head to the family for some grilling, snacks, drinks and shooting off fireworks. I’m happy that I got some biking in. I did it the year before. It’s becoming a tradition.

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.

railwaymanufacturer

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.

ngalyon

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).

soulardrandom

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.

barnholtzarch

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.

Under the Elevated

2307 North 9th Street – Modern Screw Products

Modern Screw Products

This graphite drawing was done on June 28th, 2014. I specifically remember it is in the evening and it was quite sunny and hot – like a typical St. Louis summer day. The area was pretty quiet and the only people I saw were a couple cyclists that were probably doing the Riverfront Trail. Also a man passed on foot and looked at my drawing and then proceeded to ask for money. Whenever I go out and do my drawings I don’t carry cash (I rarely carry cash in general) so I had to decline his request. He went on his way.

Anyway I chose this building due to it’s proximity to the elevated railroad tracks which was part of the old Illinois Terminal Railroad. I love the metal scaffolding and also thought it would add depth and would form sort of a frame that would create a focal point that is the building. The elevated rail tracks are not in use anymore and I think is part of Great Rivers Greenway Trestle Project. The idea is to create an elevated bike/walking path that would connect to the Riverfront trail and go across I-70 and at Howard and Hadley in the southern edge of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. It doesn’t seem much has been done recently – still in planning stage.

As for the building itself, the building is home to Modern Screw Products and from what I know is still in business – you can visit their website here. There is a little bit of history on the website. The company was founded in 1923 and at that time served the mining, railroad and military industries. This would have been a great location due to its proximity to railroads and the river. Today they are a machine show that serves the food industry, refrigeration, sporting goods, and medical industries.

I couldn’t find a date for it being built on the city’s website but on a real estate website it said it was built in 1916. At that time this building would have been part of Old North St. Louis neighborhood but after I-70 was constructed this area became disconnected with the rest of the old neighborhood. Now it’s an area that is commonly referred to as Near North Riverfront. It’s mostly an industrial area with a few homes – mainly abandoned – scattered mostly on the western edge close to the highway.

Just north of this building is North Market Street. This was the widest thoroughfare through the Old North St Louis neighborhood that started at the river and went into the heart of the neighborhood. Goods were routinely carried from the river via horse-drawn carriages, fishermen would travel to the river to fish. It was what connected the community to the river. Today it doesn’t seem as connected due to the Interstate slicing through the community. There is still industry here but it isn’t a bustling area with lots of pedestrians and traffic like I imagine it was up until the 1950s when the area was connected to the diverse and dense population of Old North St. Louis.

2307 N 9th Street

2307 N 9th Street