Brief History of St. Louis:
This region is blessed with many large rivers that join near here and form the lower Mississippi River. The Illinois, Upper Mississippi and the Missouri, along with the lower Mississippi, have greatly influenced this area's history. For example, these waterways were an important part of a Native American culture that existed here from 700 to 1400 AD. These Mississippians, as they are now called, lived in huts surrounded by wooden poles as a stockade for protection; had determined a solar horizon calendar now referred to as "Woodhenge" to separate it from the English "Stonehenge"; lived in a village comprised of neighborhoods with a population now estimated at nearly 20,000; and used the waterways for trading and travel. They also built large earthen mounds for religious rituals and for administrative purposes; some of these are quite large. The largest is estimated to contain more than 800,000 cubic yards of earth. Possibly this was the most advanced Native American civilization in North America. However, before the age of modern exploration around 1600 AD they disappeared, but the mounds they built remain (1).
St. Louis traces its roots to the end of the French and Indian War. In the treaty of 1763 ending the war, France, the loser, and Britain, the victor, agreed that the Mississippi River would be the dividing line, separating their possessions in the new world (2). Thus, France was forced to vacate Canada, as well as locally from Illinois. The leading mercantile company in New Orleans sent one of its partners, Pierre Laclede, up the Mississippi River to establish a new trading post in French Territory (3). In late December 1763, Pierre Laclede marked a spot on the west bank of the Mississippi, south of its confluence with the Missouri River, that he thought would be a good location for their trading post. Laclede, along with his men and supplies wintered at nearby Fort Charles, across the river in Illinois in the area soon to be vacated. When the weather allowed, Laclede's assistant, 14-year-old Auguste Chouteau, along with 30 men, were sent ahead and on Feb. 14, 1764, Chouteau and his men arrived at the site and began construction of the new trading post (4) (5). Laclede arrived several weeks later and began laying out a new town, naming it St. Louis in honor of the French King Louis XV.
Unknown to Laclede, King Louis XV had become so disenchanted with the loss of France's possessions in the new country that he gave the remainder of France's possessions in the new world to his cousin, the King of Spain, and St. Louis came under the control of Spain. However, it was nearly five years before the Spaniards arrived in St. Louis, establishing Fort Don Carlos in what is now downtown St. Louis.
In the 40-year period between the founding of St. Louis in 1764 and the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, St. Louis changed hands from France to Spain, and by 1803, reverted from Spain back to France. Within 20 days of the French taking control of this land, it was sold to the fledgling United States. What an interesting bit of political land shuffling by people who had no idea of the value they were trading. (The details of these transactions are described by Rhoda Blumberg in "What's the Deal"; published by the National Geographic Society) (2).
The United States took control of their new possession in New Orleans Dec. 20, 1803; however, in St. Louis, France didn't obtain the land from Spain until March 9, 1804. Since St. Louis was predominantly French, the French flag was allowed to fly overnight, and on March 10, the United States officially took over the possession of the Missouri Territory. All of these transactions in St. Louis were peaceful.
In this bold purchase for $15 million, President Jefferson doubled the size of the United States, purchasing land that today includes parts of or all of 15 Midwestern states, for 4 cents per acre. Not a bad deal!
Jefferson had already made arrangements for this land to be explored; Captains William Clark and Meriwether Lewis were commissioned to explore and study this new land (6). In December 1802, Lewis and Clark established a base camp, located at the confluence of the Dubois and Mississippi Rivers, just north and east of the village of St. Louis. This location was selected to ensure that it would be in the U.S. Territory. This land became U.S. territory with the loss of the Revolutionary War by the British. Today, this site is located under the Mississippi River, as the river has shifted over the years (7). On May 14, 1804, the Corps of Discovery, under the command of Lewis and Clark, left Camp DuBois (i.e. Wood River) and began their famous journey to the Pacific Ocean, finally returning to St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806. The late Steven Ambrose's book, "Undaunted Courage," gives an outstanding description of this journey and the report Lewis and Clark made to Congress (6).
Thus, St. Louis became the "Gateway to the West." In 1821, under the Missouri Compromise, Missouri became the 24th State of the United States; and St. Louis became a city in St. Louis County, in the State of Missouri (2).
By Charles A. Buescher Jr., P.E., D.E.E.
Chairman of the Board, retired
St. Louis County Water Co.
Presented to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers 2002 Board of Trustees
Nov. 1, 2002
Water Supply and Disposal
By 1830, the population of St. Louis had reached about 6,000, and its water supply was from springs and cisterns. General William Ashley, organizer and head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., is thought to have helped to develop a new water supply for St. Louis as he sold the land to the City (8). In a privatization attempt, the City signed a contract with Wilson and Fox to "build and construct waterworks supplying clarified water" to private citizens at $20 per year per residence and $100 per year for hotels and factories. In addition, after 25 years, the "works" were to become the property of the City. Unfortunately, Wilson and Fox were unable to obtain the necessary water supply system with the Mississippi River as its source with settling basins to provide some degree of treatment for the water delivered to the City.
In 1832, a cholera epidemic broke out, killing nearly 4% of the City's population. This epidemic was believed caused by soldiers returning to nearby Jefferson Barracks from duty on the plains. In 1849, there was another cholera outbreak, this time killing nearly 6,000, or about 10% of the population. This occurrence was traced to a particular sinkhole where wastes had gathered. Thus, draining sinkholes, swamps and water catch basins had to be done to improve public health in the City (9). A new tax was passed, and Samuel Curtis, an 1831 graduate of West Point, devised an elaborate master plan to drain all of St. Louis. With this plan, a 12-foot arch trunk type sewer was built through a rocky outcropping to the river. This project was completed under budget. (During the Civil War, now General Samuel Curtis won the battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, stopping a large, confederate force from attacking St. Louis and thus keeping Missouri in the Union. Missouri never became the twelfth star in the Confederate flag (10).)
With the discovery of gold in California in 1849 and a large influx of German immigrants, there was a tremendous population growth in St. Louis. In 1853, a new university opened its doors, and the following year began teaching engineering classes as part of its curriculum; in 1856, this fledgling university, officially became Washington University (11). In 1870, Washington University established its engineering school (12).
The water supply, built in 1835, was located near the center of the City in an area that today we refer to as Laclede's Landing. This supply was plagued with many operational problems. From 1850 to 1870, St. Louis was growing at a rapid rate — in this 20-year period, population increased from 70,000 to 310,000. In fact, by 1870, St. Louis was reported to be the fourth-largest city in the United States, behind New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn (3). St. Louis was in need of a new water supply.
James Kirkwood, a Scottish engineer, came to St. Louis in the 1850s to build a railroad toward the west and this he did. In March 1865, Mr. Kirkwood was appointed to be the chief engineer for the City of St. Louis and was charged with the task of developing a new water supply for St. Louis. The plan developed by Kirkwood called for the new plant to be built far upstream above the City at a location called the Chain of Rocks; with pumping stations, settling basins and with slow sand filtration. The plan was submitted to the Water Board and then forwarded in August 1865 to the City Council. While this plan was being considered by the City Council, Kirkwood was sent to Europe to "examine and report on the methods there in use for filtering." In 1866, there was another cholera outbreak, this time killing 3,527 people.
In May 1866, Kirkwood's plan was rejected by the City Council and they directed that the water plant be built closer to the City, at a location called Bissell's Point and without filters. The Water Board resigned and a new Water Board was appointed by the City Council. The directed that a new plan be developed, taking water from the Mississippi River at Bissell's Point with fill and draw settling basins and no filters. In 1867, Mr. Kirkwood moved to New York City, where he was elected President of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The new Chief Engineer, Thomas Whitman was the brother of the world famous poet Walt Whitman. Whitman who had been the Assistant Chief Engineer in Boston built what the City wanted. By 1871, the City had an adequate supply of water but it was still muddy. There is a story attributed to Mark Twain, that is you could tell a visitor to St. Louis, as they would let their drinking water stand for a while to let the mud settle; where as a St. Louis native, would stir it up, to get the full benefits of all of its "life giving properties."
In 1876, the City of St. Louis politically withdrew from St. Louis County, becoming a separate entity under the State; the boundaries of the City became locked in "stone." This action, in retrospect hurt St. Louis (3). Now, after 130 years, this division still exists: The City, today is in the center of a large metropolitan area, however, its population is about what it was in 1870; and today, is only about 15 percent of the total area's population. The City of St. Louis could not grow as the population increased.
During the 1876 Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, it was suggested that there should be a future meeting of water supply professionals, to share their experiences and knowledge of waterworks operations (13). This meeting was finally held in St. Louis at Washington University on March 29, 1881. From this meeting, the American Water Works Association, one of your founding members, claims its roots.
In 1894, due to continued population growth, now approaching 500,000 people, a new water system was again needed; this time some of the recommendations of Mr. Kirkwood were used, vindicating his forward-looking approach. The new water plant was built upstream at the Chain of Rocks under the supervision of Mr. Minard Holman, an 1877 engineering graduate of Washington University. Again this plant was a fill and draw plant, without treatment or filtration, just settling. The river quality at this location is basically that of the Missouri River, as this water doesn't mix thoroughly with the Upper-Mississippi River until many miles downstream. The Missouri River was of better quality since it did not include the effluents of Chicago in the Illinois River that were in the Mississippi waters. The City had more water but it was still muddy. I remember my father saying, that they had to filter and boil the water they used for drinking, to make it more palatable and safe; this home treatment was reported, to have been done at many local residences (3).
As the City prepared to celebrate the one hundred-year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the Mayor of St. Louis proclaimed, in 1901, that the City would have clear water for the World's Fair (13). The City turned to a brilliant, but somewhat eccentric chemist, Mr. John Wixford, an 1886 graduate of Washington University to come up with a solution; they were under the gun to get better water. A treatment process using lime was in use at other water plants but didn't give good results at St. Louis. Mr. Wixford, after considerable experimentation, finally came up with the proper method of adding lime that was slaked at a temperature of 190 degrees F, after the addition of ferrous sulfate to the river water. This process gave repeatable results and event today is the basic process for water clarification in this area. The City had clear water for the Fair!
Filtration and chlorine disinfection didn't come until about 1915; when it did the Chain of Rocks plant was reportedly the largest filter plant in the world (8).
The sewer plan that had been developed years before, included the use of the River Des Peres for taking drainage from western St. Louis. As the City was growing so rapidly the drainage system hadn't kept up. For the World's Fair, major improvements were made. In August 1915, a large storm occurred dumping 10 inches of rainfall in the St. Louis area, causing major flooding and 11 deaths; St. Louisans demanded new sewers, electric streetlights, improvements for the City's water supply and the upgrade of the River Des Peres drainage basin was put together. In 1923, this bond issue was passed by the voters of St. Louis, making it the largest public works bond issue, of that time in the United States. A Washington University graduate, Wesley Horner, became the City's Chief Engineer and was put in charge of developing these projects. Mr. Horner received much notoriety for developing the River Des Peres Drainage Project, a plan that basically buried the River Des Peres, collecting all the drainage along the way and emptying it to the Mississippi downstream of St. Louis.
Mr. Horner left employment of the City and started the consulting firm of Horner and Shifrin. The firm's first employee was Mr. Stifel Jens, another Washington University graduate. Horner and Jens worked extensively in the field of Urban Hydrology. Stifel Jens was a brilliant individual, who co-founded the Urban Water Resources Council of the ACSE and in 1970 received a Presidential Commendation for his many contributions for environmental excellence (15).
Air Pollution Problems
By 1873, St. Louis had become a major industrial complex with considerable pollution problems. One particular problem was the disposal of animals that died in the city: horses, cows, dogs, etc. The City employed a contractor to render these animals, but the stench was unbearable. There were many complaints. Finally a compromise was reached, where the rendering was to be done on a boat away from the populace. The long-term solution led to city-wide zoning, and in 1918, St. Louis was the second city behind New York City to develop such a plan (9).
Another source of pollution was smoke. St. Louis was blessed to have across the river an abundant source of bituminous coal; providing a cheap source of energy. The bad news with this coal, came smoke and fly ash. By the 1920s engineers estimated that there were 900 tons per square mile of ash deposited annually in St. Louis. Finally, in 1933 a mechanical engineering professor at Washington University, Raymond Tucker, was appointed to solve this problem. By 1939, this problem was so bad that one particular sunny October day, the sun was blotted out; this day was referred to as "Black Tuesday." By 1940, new rules and regulations were in place and the problem abated. Under Ray Tucker's leadership, engineering models were developed, along with the necessary legislation that reduced smoke and ash. This approach became a national model for the other industrial cities to follow. Professor Tucker returned to chair the mechanical engineering department at Washington University. In 1953, Mr. Tucker was elected as the Mayor of St. Louis (9).
The 1950s and Environmental Engineering
After World War II, there was increased concern for the environment. In fact, in 1955 our organization, then the Academy of Sanitary Engineering Intersociety, was created to further specialty certification and improved the quality of environmental engineering training.
In St. Louis, Washington University alumni, Mr. Stifel Jens and Mr. Victor Weird (the President of St. Louis County Water Company) under the encouragement of Mr. Henry Reitz (Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering at Washington University) urged the administration to develop a new program of Environmental and Sanitary Engineering. With the University administration's concurrence, Hank Reitz, in 1956, enticed Dr. D.W> Ryckman to come to Washington University to develop this program. Ryckman brought several of his fellow students from MIT to form this new department. This program referred to as the "Envirsan Program," with its logo "Restless Research," graduated between 1958 and 1975, 115 professionals in the field of Environmental Engineering. National environmental leaders Drs. Gerry Schwartz, Cecil Lue-Hing, and Otis Sproul, as well as many others, received their environmental training under this program.
As monies became scarce the Program was reduced in scope; in the late 1980s there again began in interest to develop a new environmental program. A new dean of engineering, Dr. Chris Byrnes with great visionary perception, wanted to redevelop environmental engineering at Washington University. I was asked to select and chair a committee to help foster this goal. This committee was predominantly Envirsan graduates who were environmental leaders in St. Louis. This time the environmental program was to be developed around an interdisciplinary approach, rather than just civil engineering. Quickly, I heard from my friend Stifel Jens, then in his 90s, who questioned this approach. I brought Stifel to our trace substances laboratory at St. Louis County Water Company and with my associates explained to Stifel why the environmental field today required a multidisciplinary approach; not only did we have to build things, but we also had to evaluate the environment with all of the tools and expertise available. I also told him that without state-of-the-art laboratories, in my judgment, it would be a waste of time and energy to attempt to develop a new program. Stifel once again stepped up and made a major contribution to insure that there would be laboratories in this new program and further gave the remainder of his estate (altogether over $6 million) to develop environmental engineering at Washington University.
In the early 1990s, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) was looking for a new location to house their Community Environmental Center. I was fortunate to work with Washington University and Ameren-Union Electric, to help convince EPRI that this was the desired location for the Center and we were successful in this effort, and our President Keith Carnes moved to St. Louis.
Tonight, Dr. Pratim Biswas and his talented staff have already discussed with you some of their environmental research. So you were able to see the progress that has been made in the last few years, and this is only the beginning.
Quickly, I have attempted to share with you some of the interesting history of St. Louis, along with some of its environmental problems and how historically many Washington University graduates helped to provide solutions. And now, as we move toward the future, Washington University is again training professionals to help solve environmental problems. As environmental professionals, they along with you, share the goal of enhancing our profession and providing a better quality of life for all.
1. Mink, Claudia Gelman. "Cahokia - City of the Sun": Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, Collinsville, IL. 1999 Revision.
2. Blumberg, Rhoda. "What's the Deal?": National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. 1998.
3. Primm, James Neal. "Lion of the Valley - St. Louis, MO": Pruett Publishing Company; Boulder, CO. 1981.
4. Woolridge, Rhoda. "Choteau and the Founding of Saint Louis": Independence Press; Independence, MO. 1975.
5. Baldwin, Helen J. etal. "Heritage of St. Louis:" St. Louis Public Schools, St. Louis, MO. 1964.
6. Ambrose, Stephen E. "Undaunted Courage": Simon & Schuster; New York, NY. 1996.
7. Salter, Cathy Riggs. "Lewis & Clark - Lost Missouri": National Geographic Magazine, Washington, D.C. April, 2002.
8. Schworm, W.R. "History of St. Louis Area Water Supply" Unpublished History of St. Louis Water Supply. April, 1966.
9. Hurley, Andrew, Editor. "Common Field - An Environmental History of St. Louis": Missouri Historical Society Press, St. Louis, MO. 1997.
10. Shea, William L. "War in the West - Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove": McWhiney Foundation Press, Abilene, TX. 1996.
11. Morrow, Ralph. "Washington University in St. Louis": Missouri Historical Society Press, St. Louis, MO. 1996.
12. "School of Engineering and Applied Science - 125th Anniversary": Washington University, St. Louis, MO. 1995.
13. "AWWA Centennial Issue": American Water Works Association, Denver, CO. 1988.
14. "The River Des Peres - A St. Louis Landmark": MSD Metropolitan Sewer District, St. Louis, MO. 1998.
15. Biographical Information for Stifel Jens, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. 1995.