Every community needs an Esley Hamilton. And most certainly, every organization needs a Carol Grove. Let me explain.
The AHLP recently had its annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri, the Show Me State, and ‘show’ it did! The theme of the conference was At the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers: managing regional change in urban and suburban cultural landscapes. And, once again, it served as the annual ‘recharging’ event for those committed to the understanding, protection and management of landscapes of all sizes and complexities.
2009 conference group photo
On the steps of the Old Courthouse
There were nine papers presented, including two student scholarship winners, eight works-in-progress, as well as four ‘invited’ presentations. (For the complete list of presenters and their abstracts, click here.) Of course, what enrichened the event was the City of St. Louis proper, left to Mr. Hamilton to unveil to us.
Esley Hamilton, Preservation Historian, St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, served as the wellspring of knowledge. The experience would have been far less without him.
As for Carol Grove, our consummate host(ess), what can one say. She proved that once committed to the undertaking of an Alliance meeting, and in spite of numerous challenges therein, she was up to the task. Our reward was a wealth of experiences not soon to be forgotten. So what took place?
Thursday dawned with the prospect of getting to know this Midwest region with Esley and Brenda Williams, promptly took us back over 1,000 years to the story of the Cahokia Mounds WHS and its Mississippian mound-building society within the ‘American Bottom’ (floodplain of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers). The challenges in managing such a site were carefully communicated to the group.
Bob Moore, historian of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, continued our education with a comprehensive stroll through history focused on the Mississippi waterfront and the origins, evolution and fate of Block 33. His ‘tour’ took us through the French Regime (1764-1804), the increasing river trade to the city’s heyday in the mid-19th century (prosperity, steamboats and large public buildings) and its decline following the Civil War.
Mr. Hamilton described the founding of St. Louis in 1764 and its evolution through the Henry Shaw era (1840s to his death in 1889) and the development of key sites under his tutelage including the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Forest Park.
Unleashed on the city, and following a drive by past Forest Park etc., the group was deposited on the steps of the Old Courthouse immediately adjacent to the Gateway Arch site. We were welcomed by Mr. Moore and his recently-installed Superintendent of JNEM, Tom Bradley.
A visit to St. Louis would not be complete without a visit to the Arch. The threat of the Emerald Ash Borer which is threatening the monoculture plantings below the Arch, and introduced to us by earlier by Marla McEnaney, brought into focus the unexpected impacts that can endanger such important works. The harrowing journey up the arch to its precipitous viewing area 630 feet above grade completed the experience.
The day ended with a visit to Delmar Avenue – the Loop – considered one of the Ten Great Streets in America by the American Planning Association. The rock-and-roll institution of Blueberry Hill, envisioned and managed by the inimitable Joe Edwards, served as a suitable venue at which to unwind that evening.
While there were terrific papers presented on this morning, including the scholarship winners, GrantJohnson and Jenn Thomas, it is worth mentioning John Hoal’s invited presentation about the Confluence Master Plan. This longstanding exercise, focused on the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers, presages a future that will bode well for this larger region, “America’s geographic point of exchange.” The introduction of linear recreational corridors and trails along the rivers will reverse a 100 year trend and, in the case of St. Louis proper, will ensure that the locals will once again ‘know their river.’ One of the stories ‘embedded in the community’s psyche,’ the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing (1855) was quite poignant.
Friday afternoon we were joined by Melanie Fathman who provided us access to three remarkable residential gardens following a wander through the Jens Jensen enclave of Portland Place, a private street dating back to the early 1900s. Esley Hamilton continued to do yeoman’s work in helping us piece together the St. Louis story on this tour.
The latter part of the afternoon was spent traversing the Missouri Botanical Garden and its abundance of riches, including the Japanese and Chinese gardens. Some took in the treasures of the Rare Book Room and Herbarium. The purchase of a copy of Carol Grove’s tome Henry Shaw’s Victorian Landscapes: the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Tower Grove Park made for a fitting souvenir.
Following a full morning of papers, posters and vigorous discussion, the group headed south along the Great River Road (off the interstate) towards Ste. Genevieve. We were met by Superintendent Jim Baker and given a fulsome tour of the area. Before returning to St. Louis, we breached the dyke (levee) and stood aside the mighty Mississippi: it is only at that point that one appreciates the speed and the massive power of this waterway.
The closing banquet was at the Chatillon-Demenil Mansion, again made possible through our well-connected and indefatigable hostess, Madame Grove.
For those who did not have to scoot away Sunday morning was the bonus visit to Cahokia Mounds WHS, located just across the big river in Illinois. We were accompanied by Will Ballard, who also played the role of chauffeur, and had the chance to experience firsthand the magnitude, if not the on-going challenges, of this World Heritage Site.
The folks at the Seven Gables Inn in Clayton, Mo, are to be commended for their wonderful facility and over-arching hospitality. This was the right choice if for no other reason than providing the opportunity for Alliance members to informally meet over breakfast or over a pint in the late evening.
Thanks once again to Carol, Esley and all those who gave of their time, energy and spirit to introduce us to St. Louis – the city, the county – on yet another wonderful Alliance ‘ride.’ We look forward now to April 2010, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
8 August 2009