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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 31, 2023

The islands and sandbars in the Mississippi all have interesting stories, and lifespans. Their form is temporary, and dependent on the currents and levels of the River. One of these “Islands” is Arsenal Island, that has had many forms, and roles to play in history throughout the years. Just press play to hear the whole story. -----

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Amanda Clark, manager of the See STL Tours program at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History, on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ———

Imagine standing on the St. Louis riverfront today, looking across the Mississippi’s blank brown surface, your view of Illinois interrupted only by an occasional barge. The swiftly moving current swirling and curling, taking slight detours around bridge piers. ———

Now imagine something totally different – your view being obscured by several large sandbars, covered in trees, with people coming and going from them. Prior to the 1850s, you would be looking across the river at the infamous Bloody Island, site of frequent fights and duels, or down the river at the quarter-mile wide and two-mile long Duncan Island. If you traveled three miles south of downtown, you’d see Arsenal Island, sitting just offshore of the US Arsenal. Not technically islands, but sandbars, they have all shifted and are now part of the shoreline. Though temporary, each island had its own role to play in St. Louis history. ———

Arsenal Island remained in place the longest of the three. It regularly [changed] its position and size, moving enough for Missouri and Illinois to contest ownership multiple times throughout the 19th century. During the 1860s, the island was home to a quarantine hospital and a large cemetery that received the bodies previously buried at City Cemetery as well as Civil War casualties. A farm on the island provided vegetables to patients at City Hospital. When the eastern side of the island began to wash away and threaten the graveyard, the bodies were reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. ———

In the 1880s, a farmer who lived on the island was interviewed about how he and his family, who had alternated their citizenship between two different states, handled the unstable nature of the land mass. His answer was that they just moved their house every couple of years to keep up. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Amanda Clark and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———