Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
3740 Kossuth Avenue
St. Louis City, Missouri
ABOUT THIS WATERSHED
The Fair Ground cairn is placed between a trash and recycling bin behind a one-story pink building on the northwest corner of Fairground Park, a 132-acre green space bounded by Grand Boulevard and Natural Bridge, Kossuth, and Fair avenues. The park’s rich, but largely forgotten, history illustrates how social, economic, and political conditions influence the watershed.
The park opened in 1856 as a private Fair Grounds and Zoological Garden with a landscaped exotic animal zoo, a racetrack, and a 12,000-seat Grand Amphitheatre in a rural area just inside St. Louis’ new western boundary. An annual agricultural and industry fair, that drew 15,000 to 20,000 people a day, was held on the grounds. Attendance at the venue dropped off when new laws limited betting at racetracks, a year- round exhibition hall was constructed downtown, another zoo was built in Forest Park, and Forest Park, was selected as the site of the 1904 Worlds Fair. The Fair Grounds and Zoological Park went out of business in 1902.
The City of St. Louis bought the property for a public park in 1908 and built a 5-acre public swimming pool in the hollow where the Grand Amphitheatre had been. From its opening in 1913, thousands of white St. Louisans escaped the summer heat in this pool every day. In the early 1940s African Americans rallied and picketed for equal access to jobs and public facilities. In response, the parks department opened the pool to African Americans for the first time on June 21, 1949. According to reports, about 20 African American boys swam that day. There was no violence in the pool, but after it closed for the day, whites began beating black youths who fought back. A false rumor that a black boy had killed a white boy spread quickly, and people rushed to the park. It took more than 150 police officers until early morning to disperse 5,000 rioters.
In his July1949 incident report for the St. Louis Council on Human Relations, race- relations consultant George Schermer wrote: “White people, in substantial majority, want
to see justice and fair treatment in race relations, but have no knowledge or experience to help them understand what is involved.” Schermer further commented that, “A substantial majority [of black people] feel that the police enforce the law in favor of white people.” Clearly, Schermer’s observations are still relevant.
What does this have to do with water? Having turned our backs on both the glorious and regrettable stories of this place, we have also ignored the park’s capacity to enhance a once-great residential area and to improve water and air quality for the region.
In 1986, the 1,300 acre Forest Park was in a shabby state when the private, non-profit Forest Park Forever Organization was formed and raised 100 million to reestablish the park’s former glory. Can we create a Fairground Park Forever to restore and re-imagine this park? Will we?
nextstl.com/2010/12/fairground-park-the-history-we-choose-to-forget/ www.mhmvoices.org/2007SummerFeature1.php St. Louis Central Library, Fairground Park archive file
The Fairgrounds Park Incident: A study of the factors which resulted in the outbreak of violence at the
Fairgrounds Park Swimming Pool on June 21, 1949, an account of what happened, and recommendations for corrective action. George Schermer, Director Mayor’s Interracial Committee, Detroit Michigan.
Fairgrounds-O’Fallon Park, Where We Live, Missouri Historical Society, 1993 Opening Doors: Civil rights efforts build toward Jefferson Bank in 1963, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12/ 21/ 2014 Page M2