One of the reproductions in an upper hall of the History Museum shows a pastoral scene on Chouteauís Pond: a small, clear lake, a sailing craft on the water, a handsome house up on the hill, a woman in kerchief and apron driving her cattle along the bank. An itinerant French artist named Barbier painted this picture in 1844. Just a few years after the painter did his work, his lovely scene was only a memory.
A result of the dammed-up stream from the mill that Pierre Laclede constructed and Auguste Chouteau later bought, the pond covered about one hundred acres. It became a popular pleasure spot for citizens and visitors; but after years of absorbing run-off from factories, pollution from cattle, and garbage from residents, the pleasant waters had become, as one of the city fathers said, an ulcer on the land. The cholera epidemics of the mid-nineteenth century were blamed on the miasma rising from the polluted pond, an urgent incentive to drain the offending pool. Business interests, seeing industrial potential in the land beneath, supported the drainage. In 1851 the process began, to no oneís displeasure.
Most St. Louisans have walked across the site of Chouteauís Pond. Stand on the Grand Avenue viaduct, at the Metro station, and look east, over the rail tracks, even beyond Busch Stadium. The past is out there.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society