Bissell / College Hill


Locale and Topography

This area, which extends along the North St. Louis riverfront from Ferry Street to East Taylor Avenue, began to be settled along Bellefontaine Road in the 1830-1840 decade. Broadway, which was originally Bellefontaine Road, lies at the base of a westward slope of river bluffs throughout most of this vicinity. The land east of Broadway is flat bottom land reaching eastwardly to the Mississippi River.


Land Divisions

In its earlier years the area was rural in character consisting of large farm estates owned by John O'Fallon, Dr. John Gano Bryan, Edward Hempstead and Lewis Bissell. These large tracts were later subdivided and platted as residential additions. One of the first of these was known as the town of Lowell, which was laid out in 1849, by E.C. Hutchinson and others. Its boundaries were Adelaide Avenue, Broadway, East Prairie Avenue and the river. Although referred to as a town, Lowell was not incorporated and became a part of the City of St. Louis when the limits were expanded in 1876.


Architecture

One of the city's oldest existing houses is the Captain Lewis Bissell home at 4426 Randall Place. It was built between 1823 and 1828 on a high bluff above a river bend which came to be known as Bissell's Point. Captain Bissell, a nephew of General Daniel Bissell, who built his home on Bellefontaine Road, was a native of Connecticut and a veteren of the War of 1812. He founded Fort Clark on the site of the city of Peoria, Illinois and served on western expeditions. The old house, in which Bissell died in 1868, has been preserved through the efforts of its present owners, Mr. and Mrs. Lyle Hutton and the Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Another well known old house in this area was "Bellegarde", a mansion built by Beverly Allen in 1841. It commanded a sweeping view of the river from its lofty perch on the bluffs, above Broadway between Bissell Street and east Grand Avenue. This house was made famous by St. Louis author Winston Churchill in his novel "The Crisis." "Bellegarde" was later the residence of James E. Yeatman and among guests there were Generals Grant, Sherman, Fremont, and Kossuth, as well as Carl Schurz and Thomas H. Benton. The house was razed in 1910 and its site is now part of the grounds of the Jewish Center for the Aged.


College Hill

The name College Hill was given to this area because it was the location of the St. Louis University College Farm. This area, bounded generally by Warne, Carter and Linton Avenues and Broadway, was acquired by the University for garden and recreation purposes in 1836, it was subdivided in the early 1870's.


O'Fallon Park

The largest land owner in this area was Colonel John O'Fallon whose holdings of over 600 acres embraced the present O'Fallon Park which was the site of his mansion. Colonel O'Fallon was born in Kentucky in 1791 and came to St. Louis as a young man to work as an Indian agent under his uncle, General William Clark.

After making a fortune in the Indian trade, O'Fallon purchased the large tract on the Bellefontaine Road. He chose the highest point on the property for the location of his mansion which he named "Athlone" after his father's Irish birthplace. Keeping the present park site as his estate, O'Fallon sold off the remainder at a large profit. He augmented his fortune in railroading and banking and later donated one million dollars to local schools and colleges. Following Colonel O'Fallon's death in 1865, the estate was sold to the city for a park in 1875 for $260,000. The mansion was partially burned in the same year and was finally razed in 1893.

It was said that during excavations for its foundation during the 1850's that Indian and mound builder's artifacts were discovered. The house was quite large, containing more than fifty rooms in its four stories.

O'Fallon Park became popular as a driving park and picnic grounds in the late decades of the nineteenth century. During the l890's the lake was constructed and an observatory for sight seeing was erected. An island was placed in the lake in 1904 and retaining walls were erected around it to hold its earthen banks. Boating was introduced on the lake following erection of the boat house in 1908. Electric lighting came to the park in 1914 and some plaster statuary was placed there after the World's Fair. The statues have long since disappeared.

The park originally covered 158 acres and was expanded in 1917 when the Catholic Archdiocese donated an adjacent area of eight and a half acres. This was a former cemetery site which became a bird sanctuary after its acquisition by the City. The park's area was reduced by five and a half acres in 1954 when the State Highway Department acquired the right-of-way for the Mark Twain Expressway. In recent years the park and its structures have been the victims of vandalism and neglect, however, it still functions as a pleasant breathing space for North St. Louisans.


Bissell Point Water Works

The vicinity of East Grand Avenue is definitely linked to the development of the City Water Works system. The need for a new waterworks became apparent in 1863, when the City's existing system had become incapable of furnishing a plentiful water supply. In that year, the State legislature passed an enabling act for the new waterworks, creating a Board of Commissioners to administer it and authorizing issuance of $3,000,000 in bonds for construction.

In 1865, the Board appointed James P. Kirkwood as Chief Engineer. He devised a plan to locate a low service pumping station, settling basins and filter beds at Chain of Rocks, with a high service station at Baden and reservoirs at Compton Hill and near Wellston. This plan was rejected in 1866 in favor of a plant at Bissell Point, with basins but no filtering works. In 1867, Kirkwood was succeeded as engineer by Thomas J. Whitman, who supervised construction of the Bissell Point plant. Whitman was a brother of the poet Walt Whitman.

Upon completion in 1869 the Bissell Point high service pumping station consisted of handsome one and two story buildings of brick with cut stone trim. On a pediment above the main entrance were two sculptured figures symbolizing the "Union of the Waters" of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The plan included an engine room and boiler house with an ornamental smokestack 134 feet high. Large settling basins were located on the site, which was originally a portion of the Lewis Bissell estate.


Water Towers

The plant included a standpipe, which is the present Old Water Tower at 20th Street and East Grand Avenue, and the reservoir at Compton Hill. The tower on East Grand was placed in service in 1871, it was considered to be the largest perfect Corinthian column in existence, reaching a height of 154 feet. It was designed by George Ingham Barnett, the first St. Louis architect to receive training abroad. In the late 1920's, lights were placed on top of the Corinthian tower to serve as aviation beacons. They were extinguished during World War II as a security precaution and were reactivated in 1949 to guide flyers to Lambert Field. The lights are presently not in use and the tower itself has not been used for its original purpose for many years.

Another familiar landmark in this area is the so-called Red Water Tower at Bissell Street and Blair Avenue. This structure was erected to augment its older companion on East Grand Avenue, as a standpipe to counter the water surge from high service pumps at Bissell Point. It was built in 1887 at a cost of $79,798 after a design by architect W.S. Eames, who was then the assistant city water commissioner. The 206 foot high tower was created when new high service pumps were installed in the water works at Bissell Point.

After the Bissell Point plant was retired from service in 1960 its site was sold and subsequently became the location of the Metropolitan Sewer District's north sewage treatment plant, which began operations in 1970. A portion of the site is occupied by a city incinerator and garage.

The two north side water towers, as well as the one at Compton Hill, have been declared to be local and national landmarks and represent nearly half of all such surviving structures in the nation. Admirers of the north side towers have successfully resisted efforts to raze them and some funds are reported to be available for their restoration.


Residential

The residential portion of the Bissell-College Hill area consists of housing which was principally constructed between 1880 and 1920. Two and four family flats predominate with a mixture of single family dwellings, mostly of brick. The houses have large yards and landscaping and appear to be fairly well-maintained. The population has declined about 20% since 1960 with a trend toward a higher non-white percentage. Physicall, the homes which are located near the crest of the hillside bluff enjoy a view across the river and its valley.


Commercial

The area's commercial center has historically been concentrated along East Grand around the Old Water Tower, with a strip along West Florissant. Many stores are vacant reflecting an increase in the crime rate in the area in recent years.


Industrial

Industrial activity is minimal in the area west of Broadway. Near the river several large plants are located, the largest being the Mississippi Glass Company at Hall and Ferry Streets. The Cupples Company occupies a plant at 4401 North First Street, which had been used by the Moon Motor Car Company until 1931. The area north of Grand, between Broadway and the river, is largely industrial in character with considerable occupancy by truck terminals on Hall Street.


Churches

The earliest Catholic church in the area is the Church of the Holy Name. The area around the church was originally the College Farm of St. Louis University. The small chapel of St. Thomas on the farm became the nucleus of the church under organization by the Jesuits. It was established at its present location on East Grand Avenue near Twentieth Street in 1876 by Rev. P.J. Gleason. The building was a brick Gothic structure seating 1000 persons, adjoined by a parochial residence. The parish school was erected about 1885.

The present Romanesque church was dedicated in 1916. It is distinguished by a 125 foot bell tower at its rear and is built of brick with terra cotta trim. The building was constructed during the pastorale of Rev. Christopher Byrne, who later became Bishop of Galveston, Texas.

The Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at 20th Street and Linton Avenue was formed in 1873 by German Catholics of the area. The brick Romanesque building was dedicated on May 17, 1874. The parochial school, which met in four basement rooms, was founded in September, 1873. Ten years later, the congrega-tion's growth caused a proposal for erection of a larger church. The new building was consecrated in 1889 after construction at a cost of $50,000. Much of the growth of the parish was due to the work of Rev. A.J. Schilling, whose pastorale lasted from 1875 to 1904. A portion of the parish was removed in 1891 to create the new parish of St. Engelbert.

Beginning as a mission of the Third Baptist Church in 1885, the Water Tower Baptist Church congregation held its first meetings on the third floor of a building at the northeast corner of 20th Street and East Grand Avenue. The debt free church at 2115 East Grand Avenue was dedicated in 1886. Many Baptist families moved into the area and Strodtman Place named for a member of Water Tower Church became known as "Baptist Row". A new Sunday school plant was built in 1927 at a cost of $40,000. It is now a black congregation.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church was organized in 1862 at Lowell in a hall at what is now DeSoto Avenue and Benedict Street. In 1863, it moved into a small frame church which was succeeded in 1873 by a brick church at the northeast corner of Prairie and Hutchinson Avenues. This building is now used as a school for the church which has been located at 2137 East John Avenue since February, 1926.

St. James United Church of Christ at 1505 East College Avenue was organized in 1869 as a branch of Friedens Evangelical Church. A small church was erected at DeSoto and McKissock Avenues in the same year at a cost of $1100. The church adopted the name of St. Jacobi or St. James Evangelical Church. The present site at College and Blair Avenues was purchased in 1886 and the church was dedicated on September 23, 1888. Growth of the Sunday School created a need for larger quarters that was met by a school and community building which was completed in 1930 at a cost of more than $60,000.


Schools

Parochial schools are maintained by both Catholic parishes in the area and also by St. Paul's Lutheran Church. The public schools which serve the area are Bryan Hill School at 2128 Gano Avenue, which was erected in 1912 and Lowell School at 1409 Linton Avenue, built in 1926.

The Jewish Center for the Aged at East Grand and Blair Avenues was founded in 1906. The Center has been expanded several times during its history, the most recent addition being the four story David P. Wohl Pavilion, which was constructed in 1962.


Transit

The Bissell-College Hill area has been served by local transit with lines on Broadway, Grand Boulevard, 20th Street and Florissant Avenue. Some of these began as horse car lines which were electrified during the 1890's. The operations have been entirely motorized since 1955.


Present Conditions

The neighborhood has been in a state of decline for at least fifteen years. During the late 1960's many families located elsewhere due to fear of crime, etc. Property values have dropped with an increase in vacant structures and vandalism. A neighborhood improvement plan was formulated in 1968 but was soon abandoned. In March, 1978, a meeting of ministers in the area led to the organization of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, which is an active force for betterment of the neighborhood.


Bibliography

Compton, Richard J. and Dry, Camille N. - "Pictorial St. Louis" - 1875

Scharf, J. Thomas - "History of St. Louis City and County" - 1883

Billon, Frederick L. - "Annals of St. Louis in its Territorial Days" - 1888

Stevens, Walter B. - "St. Louis - The Fourth City" - 1909

North St. Louis Businessmen's Association - "Who's Who in North St. Louis" - 1925

United Railways Company - "When St. Louis Moves" - 1926

Bremen Bank - "60th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet-1868-1928"

City Plan Commission - "St. Louis Development Program" - 1973

Heritage/St. Louis - "Street Front Heritage: The Bremen/Hyde Park Area of St. Louis" By - George McCue, St. Louis, Osmund Overby, University of Missouri-Columbia, Norbury L. Wayman, St. Louis - 1976

North St. Louis Businessmen's Association - "Who's Who in North St. Louis", A.S. Werremeyer, St. Louis 1925

Scharf, J. Thomas - "History of St. Louis City and County ", Louis H. Everts Co., Philadelphia, 1883.

Stevens, Walter B. - "St. Louis, the Fourth City", S.J. Clark Publishing Co., St. Louis, 1909.

City Plan Commission - "St. Louis Development Program", St. Louis, 1973.