Friday, April 24, 2015


There are many unusual things in Missouri. We’ve seen the history of Missouri and the unique karst topography of the land and natural wonders—all beautiful and interesting—but what of the cultural aspects? There are many in Missouri but one I find most interesting is Forest Park in St. Louis. It’s history and development as well as the buildings and landscape is an interesting study of unique and unconventional.

Forest Park Map
The idea of a large park was the brainchild of Hiram Leffingwell, a St. Louis developer. He proposed, in 1872, a 1,000 acre park about three miles outside the city limits. It was approved by the Missouri General Assembly to purchase the land for the park. In 1873 it was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. In 1874 the battle for a large park was spearheaded by another developer, Andrew McKinley. He put together another proposal that met all the legal challenges from the Supreme Court decision. However, he chose another tract of land for the park that was in a heavily forested area even further out in the rural areas west of the city. This tract of land was 1,375 acres with the River Des Peres and wetlands.
Maximillian G. Kern and Julius Pitzman designed the Park's original plan. The park was dedicated June 24, 1876 with a crowd of about 50,000 in attendance.

In 1901, Forest Park was selected as the location of the 1904 World's Fair, known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The fair opened April 30, 1904 and closed December 1, 1904. The Fair had many unique displays but what seemed to cause a great deal of wonder was the relatively new invention, electricity. Imagine what it was like to many who had never witnessed electricity to see electric lighting, both inside and out, of all of the important buildings and roads. They even had a display of an electrical plug and wall outlet. We take these things for granted but it was very unusual to the majority to witness how plugs and outlets worked.

1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition
Keep in mind Forest Park was selected in 1901 to be the site of the world’s fair in 1904 and open its doors to the world. A great deal of work went into the preparation of the park and buildings for displays. George Kessler, the fair's landscape architect, dramatically changed the park: the wetlands areas in the western part of the park were drained and converted into water features five connected lakes were created. Sewer and water lines installed during the fair—again an unusual happening—remained for public use in the park. After the fair, thousands of trees were planted and vistas were created and all the buildings created for the fair were used by the park many remain today.
One of the most unique and unusual buildings in the park is The Jewel Box (aka St. Louis Floral Conservatory). It’s an Art Deco greenhouse and was built in 1936. It’s listed in the National Historic Register. It’s stunning.

Photo by Randy Allen more of his (& other photographers) work can be found on

The Jewel Box consists of 16,664 square feet of plate glass in over 4,000 panes, set in wood and wrought iron supports. Most of the glass is framed by copper with a verdigris (green tint) patina. The Jewel Box is supported by eight fixed arches, which carry the structure's weight. There are also triangular trusses between every other arch. The ceiling is composed of wood planking to prevent damage as Missouri has strong thunderstorms usually accompanied by hail. 

The arches of the floor fountains
The arch theme is further carried out in the constant stream of fountains (seen coming out of the floor of the building) that provide a pleasing sound as well as reflective pools and moisture for the greenery.

The Jewel Box's entrance is a vestibule made of limestone. Inside the greenhouse, there is a concrete-floored balcony located across the south end. A reflecting pool lies in front of the Jewel Box's entrance.

Forest Park Gazebo and Muny

 There are many unusual, unconventional, and unique things located in Forest Park. Just ask the millions of visitors each year that come to look.

Photos: National Historic Registry, Forest Park, Randy Allen

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


The Missouri Ozarks comprises one of the nation's greatest concentrations of springs. In an average day more than a billion gallons of water flow from the ten largest springs in Missouri. There are more than 1,100 springs currently on record, however, many springs in the Ozarks still remain unrecorded, unmeasured, and unsampled.

Missouri Plateaus-Salem has the most caves and springs
Missouri springs are somewhat unique since they occur mainly in dolomite, not limestone—we have the largest number of large springs in dolomite anywhere in the United States. It's said our springs dissolve and move about 175 tons of limestone daily.

The principal spring region of Missouri is the Ozarks mountains. It’s an area characterized by deep, narrow valleys and sharp ridges in the eastern part—the Salem Plateau—and a gently rolling landscape in the western part—the Springfield Plateau.

While there are many springs within the Springfield Plateau, they’re not as large or as plentiful as the springs in the Salem Plateau.  The Salem Plateau has geologic formations that are capable of storing as well as transmitting large quantities of water through various spring outlets and the Ozarks have the highest sustained flows in the state.

Big Springs, Van Buren, Missouri
There are at least 10 first magnitude springs located in Missouri. First magnitude is a term applied to those springs that discharge a 100 cubic feet a second. One of the largest first magnitude springs in the nation (some sources say in the world) is Big Springs, located in Van Buren, Missouri. Big Springs discharges about 250-300 million gallons of water a day into the Current River. To give you an idea of how much water that is, think about the size of professional football stadium. Big Springs discharges enough water to fill that stadium every single day.

Greer Springs
The second largest spring in Missouri is Greer Springs which discharges 360 cubic feet a second—that’s 214 million gallons a day. It is a the site of the first gristmill on the spring branch, by Captain Samuel Greer. The old mill still stands as a piece of history.

Both springs have wilderness areas along with camping, fishing, cabins or lodges. If you like to canoe or do float trips (which I can personally tell you are fabulous) both are wonderful ways to enjoy the wild scenery on a hot summer day. There are miles of hiking trails. Both are incredible places to visit.

Boiling Springs. You can see the water 'boiling'.
The closest spring from my house, located on the Salem Plateau, is 10 miles away and is called Boiling Springs. The name is apt because the surface of this spring appears to boil. Don’t be fooled, it’s icy cold about 58 degrees. Further down the river (Big Piney River) is our favorite swimming area. Boiling Springs only puts out about 12 million gallons of water a day. So it’s small in comparison to Big Springs and Greer, but is 14th largest spring in Missouri. The former is about 3 hours from me and the latter is about an hour. Because Boiling Springs is so close we don’t think about the amenities but there are several places along the river for camping (both campgrounds and primitive camping) canoeing and float trips. Big Piney river has some great fishing if you enjoy that activity and my family does. 

Favorite swimming area on Big Piney River, near Boiling Springs. There is a very thick rope on the tree across the way to jump into the river, which is very deep over there. The shallows on this side are warmed by the sun and it's fun to sit in and watch swimmers jumping. If you sit still small fish will come up and investigate your feet. The water is refreshing on a hot summer day. When I'm tired of swimming I sit in a lawn chair in the sand and snooze or read. Further down the river, away from the swimming, has some great fishing.You can also harvest quite a number of crayfish to add to dinner.

Missouri springs are located in one of the most scenic sections in the nation.  Our springs are considered to be one of Missouri’s most important natural assets and are well protected and visited by hundreds of thousands of tourist and sportsmen each year.

Photos: Missouri Dept Conservation and personal

Monday, April 20, 2015


1700's French territories
Americans of French descent make up a substantial percentage of the American population but are less visible than other ethnic groups. Past and present, they tend to align themselves with their new world regional identities such as Québécois, French Canadian, Acadian, Cajun, or Louisiana Creole. The US 2000 census noted that 450,000 residents in this country speak a French-based Creole language (including Missouri’s dialect, Paw-Paw). It’s the third most spoken language in America. French was once widely spoken in the Midwest, including in Missouri, which was considered part of Louisiana.

Woodcut by Arthur Heming
The French were intrepid explorers. They may have started on the east coast, as did many immigrants, but they quickly moved westward along the rivers and lakes and south during the 17th and 18th century and then south along the Mississippi. Fur trade was the biggest contributor to that expansion lead by the Coureur des bois. As the fur trade expanded, the coureur des bois were at the forefront as trappers, traders, and explorers in the American interior.

Coureur des bois, roughly translated as runner of the woods, were French-Canadian woodsmen who traveled in New France (of which Missouri was a part) and the interior of North America. They were adventurers and some were explorers. They had many skills to survive in the wilderness. They were businessmen, hunters, trappers, and expert canoeist—the main mode of transportation. They forged ties with many of the Native peoples to learn the land and needed skills to survive and, of course, everything about trapping and preparing animal skins for trade with Europe. The coureur des bois were ever questing for new territory this meant circumventing the normal channels, of getting licensing letters of permission, by going deeper into the wilderness to trade. So they were also, to some extent, considered outlaws operating in fur trade without that permission from France and French officials in the new world. It was a big money back then.

The first European settlers in Missouri were mostly ethnic French Canadians, who created their first settlement in Missouri; the present day site is about an hour south of St. Louis. 

The original Ste. Genevieve was established around 1750 along the western banks of the Mississippi River. Residents were mostly farmers, miners, and merchants from the French Canadian settlements of Illinois Country on the east side of the Mississippi, or upper Louisiana. The city remained the original location for 35 years until the great flood of 1775 destroyed much of the property. It was decided to move the entire village to higher ground (two miles north) a half mile back from the river floodplain. Ste. Genevieve has the most buildings of the French Colonial architecture in the US.

What I find interesting in this history is the parallel of expansion and growth along the Mississippi River at same time as the colonies on the east-coast were developing. Granted the population on the east coast was larger, about 900,000, but the Midwest was well populated by largely French immigrants and Native Americans and later, Spanish, Portuguese, and Germans. As in the east, the population and development largely moved from north to south and was thriving.

St. Louis, Missouri was founded in 1764 by French fur traders, Pierre Laclede (we have a Laclede County named after him) and his stepson, Rene Auguste Chouteau (he got a pond in St Louis named after him).  In 1765 was made the capital of French Upper Louisiana.

Chouteau Pond, St Louis in 1800 by John Caspar

Other cities in Missouri founded by the French (and there are others including mining towns): 

  • Fort Orleans, established in 1723 along the Missouri River was built by French Explorer, Etienne Véniard De Bourgmond. Fort Orleans was the first European post in the Missouri Valley.
  • Saint Charles was founded by Louis Blanchette, a French Canadian explorer, in 1769.
Robidoux Row
  • St. Joseph, Missouri was founded by Joseph Robidoux in 1826. His buildings known as Robidoux Row are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This was a center for his family enterprise of fur trading, which he operated with his five brothers along the Mississippi and especially the Missouri River systems. Roubidoux Creek is named after him. A 57 mile scenic tributary to the Gasconade River in south central Missouri. St. Joseph is also where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended.

Ribidoux Creek

Missouri has an interesting history. If you’re questing for a French connection in Missouri, you don’t have far to look to find one. Other than the Native-Americans, they were the first to settle in Missouri.

Photos wiki commons, Missouri Historical Archives, Missouri History Museum, Missouri Dept Conservation