Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Native American History for Sale
This story made me sick, and sad. Disgusting. St. Louis' last remaining Indian mound is for sale, listed at $400,000 By Matthew Hathaway ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 11/04/2008 ST. LOUIS — With an outdated kitchen and living space that measures only about 900 square feet, the modest house at 4420 Ohio Street isn't your typical $400,000 listing. It's what lies beneath the home that excites lovers of St. Louis history, or, in this case, prehistory. The house sits on Sugar Loaf Mound, the city's last remaining link with the native people who lived here centuries before 1764, when Auguste Chouteau and a band of Creoles landed at the river's edge. There once were dozens of these earthen structures in St. Louis, but all save Sugar Loaf were cleared in the name of progress. That's why people interested in the ancient Mississippians tend to look eastward, to the Metro East and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, not to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood on the city's south side. But those in the know have long pointed out Sugar Loaf, which rises between Interstate 55 and the Mississippi River, about 4 miles south of the Arch. Now, this last vestige of Mound City — the 19th century nickname for St. Louis — is for sale for the first time in nearly 50 years. "There must be people who have been watching this house — or, this mound — for a long time," said Leigh Maibes. She is the real estate agent representing Walter and Eileen Strosnider, the property's elderly owners who have moved to California to be closer to relatives. "I got the first phone call literally four or five minutes after putting the sign in the yard," Maibes said. The one-story house on top of Sugar Loaf mound dates to 1928. Maibes concedes that, just about anywhere else in south St. Louis, the house would sell for a fraction of its listed price. Then again, when's the last time a house atop an Indian mound came on the market?"One of the reasons that price tag is on it is to discourage people who would want to (demolish) the mound," Maibes said, noting that the owner wants a buyer who will act as a custodian for the site. [Yeah, right. If the owner was really interested in preserving the mount, he or she would donate it to the state historical society and allow archaeological work to be done of the property, and then have the mound closed back up for posterity. This is ONLY about $$$. I HATE liars!] (The mound, but not the house, was listed in 1984 on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation doesn't prohibit an owner from damaging or even destroying the mound.) Sugar Loaf was named by early settlers for its lumpish shape. Originally, it likely had a more defined and terraced shape. The property for sale doesn't include the entire mound, and there's another house on a lower tier. John Kelly, an archaeology professor at Washington University, said scientists and historians aren't sure what to make of Sugar Loaf Mound, which has never been the site of an extensive excavation. Kelly said he suspects that the mound is about 2,000 years old, dating to the Middle Woodland Period, which lasted from about 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. But, the archaeologist said, without a serious excavation there's no way to know for sure. Kelly said it was most likely a burial mound, which were commonly situated on river bluffs. Or, the mound could have been used as a platform for a structure like a temple or a chieftain's home. Kelly disagrees with a popular theory that Sugar Loaf was a signal mound, and that Indians lit fires there to alert others of boats approaching upriver. "It could have been used for that, but that's not why people built mounds," Kelly said. That Sugar Loaf Mound survived this long is an accident of geography, said Nini Harris, a St. Louis historian and author who sometimes points out the mound on her history tours of the city's south side. Harris said that the mound was spared largely because it is on the northern end of Chouteau's Bluff, a steep, mile-long bank along the river. Building factories and homes there would have been difficult, so early developers largely skipped this stretch of the river. That's not to say that the mound hasn't suffered in the name of progress. Part of it was demolished about 150 years ago by workers at a nearby quarry. The construction of Interstate 55 in the 1960s obscured much of the mound's western slope. "There's a lot more substance to this mound than you can see today, thanks to the highway," Harris said. "Even at that time, we didn't have the sensitivity to protect our archaeological heritage. "The first open house will be from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit a website and blog created by Maibes, sugarloafmoundstl.com.