before Pruitt-Igoe

Pictorial St. Louis, the Great Metropolis of the Mississippi Valley; a Topographical Survey Drawn in Perspective A.D. 1875 is an incredibly detailed look at the city. The map is spread out over 110 plates and so finely detailed that it includes horses and people. It’s like the Google Earth of the 19th century.

This is how the Pruitt-Igoe site looked at the time. I have highlighted structures I identified as “industrial use” in red, and sinkholes/ponds in blue. The yellow shape represents Pruitt-Igoe. You can see that only about half of the site is developed — at this particular moment in history, the site is part of St. Louis’ frontier as the city rapidly expands. There does not appear to be much industry on the site at this time (in the 20th century, lumber yards and junk yards appeared on the site), but the brickyard adjacent to the site would have contributed to a very smokey environment. The sinkholes, characteristic of St. Louis’ karst topography, weren’t exactly an amenity either — usually they were considered a convenient place to dispose of waste and were considered a major menace to public health.

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