College Hill - Some Historic Elements

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 (O'Fallon Park, I-70, Grand Blvd. and West Florrisant was acquired by the University for garden and recreation purposes in 1836, it was subdivided in the early 1870's.


OFallon Park

The largest land owner in this area was Colonel John OFallon whose holdings of over 600 acres embraced the present OFallon Park. This was the site of the mansion. It was said that during excavations for its foundations during the 1850's that Indian and mound builder's artifacts were discovered. The house was quite large and contained more than fifty rooms in its four stories.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, OFallon purchased the large tract on the Bellfontaine 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 sit as his estate, OFallon 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 OFallon'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 razed in 1893.

OFallon Park became popular as a driving park and picnic grounds in the late decades of the nineteenth century. During the 1890'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 earthern banks. Boating was introduced on the lake following the 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 150 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 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.

Bissell Point Water Works

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

In 1865, the Board appointed James P. Kirkwood as Chief Engineer. Mr. Kirkwood devised a plan to locate a low service pumping station, settling basins, filter beds at Chain of Rocks, with a high service station at Baden and reservoirs at Compton Hill and near Welston. This plan was rejected in 1866 in favor of a plant at Bissell Point, with basins but no filtering works. The site at Bissell Point was originally a portion of the Lewis and Bissell estate. 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.

Water Towers

The Bissell Point 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 hight of 154 feet. It was designed by George Gingham Barnett, the first 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 in 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 as a stand pipe to augment the "Old Water Tower" on East Grand Avenue. It would counter the water surge from high service pumps at Bissell Point. It was built in 1887 at a cost of $79,789 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 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 land marks and represent nearly half of all such surviving structures in the nation. Admirers of the north side towers have successfully resisted action to raze them and some funds are reported to be available for their restoration. In 1997 the Gateway Foundation had lighting added to the towers to light them at night. The effect has been stunning. The towers are now visible at night from the interstates and from many vantage points in their respective neighborhoods.




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