Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a young woman who also grew up in the shadow of the buyout. Colleen is currently in college and shared many great stories during our phone interview. Her memories will sound similar to many of us who grew up in Carrollton. Although all of our perspectives are unique, our individual memories highlight the impact this area had on our lives.
Colleen once lived off Parlier Dr., which was considered by many as the Carrollton Oaks side of the entire Carrollton subdivision. On New Years Eve, hours before the dawn of the new millenium, her family made the move to a town near Mobile, Alabama. Her last school year at St. Lawrence the Martyr concluded with the end of the first semester of 1999. On a recent visit back to Missouri, she took a shocking detour to visit her former neighborhood. Carrollton was a place that she knew well as a child but found it almost unrecognizable as an adult. Colleen remarked that the brick subdivision entrance into Carrollton, “it looked exactly the same as I remembered it!” The bowling alley and the shell of the Carrollton Center shopping center stood at Carrollton’s entrance but little else from her memory remains. The Schnuck’s grocery was gone, having relocated to St. Charles Rock Road near Lindbergh. The Corner Drugstore, Dairy Queen, the video store, Telscher Hardware, almost everything in the area that she knew disappeared or changed entirely. The largest change, of course, is the stillness of the area behind the nearly-vacant shopping plaza that one stood close to 2,000 houses with a handful of schools, churches, and parks.
Colleen’s family first sent her to St. Mary’s Catholic School for Kindergarten. However, that would be the only year she attended St. Mary’s as dwindling attendance and uncertainty of the school’s future led her family to transfer her to St. Lawrence Catholic School. However, her family would learn a few years later that their new school would also be succumbed to the massive buyout program.
The Summer Day Camps at Bridgeton were a popular activity for Bridgeton kids for generations. Colleen shared with me many great stories of attending Bridgeton camps in the summer. She attended camps at O’Connor park for one summer and Freebourn for many more. She recalled her favorite counselors at Freeborn, including Wendy, her counselor at O’Connor park who made Colleen her camp helper. She recalled typical camp stories, like girls vs. boys games, kickball, swimming, and her favorite tree that was so hollow she could climb inside. I too attended camp until the 6th grade, at Gentry Park and then Freebourn. Having also been a young camper, riding the yellow busses everyday to run and play, make crafts, go swimming, and just be kids all day, it was easy for me to visualize her many experiences as my own.
On her most recent return trip to the area in March, she found that Freebourn Park no longer exists. The landscape still has some etchings of its past era as a municipal green space. If one could remember the geography of the way it used to look, you could find the edge the ball field, a rectangle of where a pavilion was, and if you went back far enough, you could find the outcropping of rocks where the playground equipment used to be. The natural features of the area remain exactly the same. The lazy hills and wooded gully that divided the park exist in stark contrast to the artificial leveling of Lambert’s runway across the street. Far in the back of Freebourn Park is still home to a dense forest, whose trails along a clear, flowing creek have surely now been reclaimed by nature.
Colleen’s memories of Carrollton go well beyond summer fun at the parks and the pool. They are deeply a part of how she lived as a young child. She vividly recalls times of playing outside with the neighborhood kids everyday until dark, riding her bikes or skating down the hill of Parlier. Colleen is not alone in saying that Carrollton was a safe place for kids to play outside. Like so many others, Colleen recalled exciting times at the St. Lawrence Carnival. She and I both have memories of the Corner Drugstore and their selection of five-cent candy. One of my favorite stories from her was of the mischief she caused at Schnucks, where she tried to sneak some Jell-O out of the salad bar and caught with swift consequences.
She also raved about Bridgeton’s annual 4th of July Parade through the whole city. The parade was a favorite event because the entire community came together to build, ride, or watch the colorful floats and to be a part of the music and excitement of the annual festivities just before the city’s large fireworks display. Of course, the highlight of the parade for kids is always the large amounts of candy and trinkets to be caught from the passing floats. Colleen became popular with other Bridgeton campers when she brought her 4th of July parade candy back to camp to share.
Those happy childhood memories would be forever altered at the announcement that their family’s home was due for airport expansion buyout. In January of 1999, Colleen developed the confidence to try out and participate in the school’s talent show. She had diligently practiced and had such a great time with her final performance that she was sure she wanted to do it again the following year. That was about the same time her parents had been contacted by the airport for the buyout. They used that opportunity to break the news to her that she would be in a different school by the same time in 2000 because their home on Parlier would be lost to the airport. Colleen remembers the tears that tragic news brought to her child self, not understanding why the airport would need her or her friends’ homes.
It was difficult enough for the adults of an entire community to come to grips with Lambert’s ‘disruption’ (a term used often by expansion proponents when referring to the effects of the massive buyout). However, to not only process the uncertainty of the situation (by this time, Lambert’s master plan has been repeatedly altered and not executed), schools and families had the added unimaginable task to explain to children that their community would disappear. Below is an article from 1998 that discusses how many schools were affected and the reactions by officials:
Sun January 25, 1998 C1, C7
St. Louis Post-Dispatch article by Carolyn Bower
Airport Expansion Would Uproot 6 Schools; Runway plan may displace 1700 North County students, Teachers, staff wait and wonder
Berkeley High School 8719 Walter Ave. in the Ferguson-Florissant School District; 375 students, 65 staff, Age of building: over 40 years (in 1998)
Caroline Support Center at 67038 Caroline Ave. in the Ferguson-Florissant School District; 296 Students, 31 staff, building: over 100 years
St. Mary’s Catholic School at 4601 Long Rd. in Bridgeton; 65 students, 15 staff, over 100 years old
Carrollton Oaks Elementary in the Pattonville School District at 4385 Holmford Drive in Bridgeton; 360 students, 40 staff, 30 years old,
Carrollton Elementary in the Pattonville School District at 3936 Celburne Lane in Bridgeton; 377 students 45 staff, 30 years old
St. Lawrence Catholic School at 4329 Dupage Drive in Bridgeton; 334 students, 20 staff, 30 years old
“This is very difficult for children,” said Peggy Grigg, principal at Carrollton Elementary. “Children need a great deal of structure in their lives,” Grigg said. “They need to count on people being there, people taking care of them. Schools are part of that structure in their lives.” Hugh Kinney, superintendent (Pattonville) of the school district said: “We have an opportunity with these challenges to make good things happen for the district. My hope is that it will happen in a timely manner. The hardest part is not knowing.”
At the dinner table and in school classrooms, students have begun to talk abut what airport expansion will do to their school. Mary Hornberger said her first-graders say things such as, “My mom says we have to move somewhere because the airport may take our house, and we may not be able to go to this school.’
Jim Schwab, principal at Carrollton Oaks Elem: “Although we go on and do the best job we can educating students, a dark cloud hangs over our heads. We would like to know what’s going to happen and when it will happen. Then we can start making plans.”
“Why do we have to move? Why do we have to sell to the airport?” were questions that Colleen and more than estimated 2,500 other students (from schools affected by the buyout and students living in homes in the buyout but attend unaffected schools) asked their parents, teachers, principals, camp counselors, and others. The answers to those questions are just as complicated and open-ended as it is today; one that many of us are still trying to find.
Colleen shared with me the last memories she had in her home and with her Bridgeton friends before moving out on New Year’s Eve of 1999. She remembers her mom cleaning the house spotless, scrubbing for weeks in anticipation of the arrival of Mr. Goldman, the home inspector contracted by Lambert. He came around sometime in November, knowing that this would be the last holiday season they would spend in their home. Her parents had two large older dogs that had damaged the carpets. She remembers vividly the effort of replacing the carpets of her brother’s room and steam-cleaning the carpet in her room for the inspection. To her, it seemed so odd to clean and replace carpeting in a home that would be later torn down. Colleen’s birthday was also around that season, so her parents treated her to a dinner at Red Lobster. Afterwards, she was then given a surprise birthday party at the Bridgeton Community Center in a special room overlooking the pools. It would be a last but joyous occasion with her childhood Bridgeton friends. Two days after Christmas, the family began the task to pack their things and have one last garage sale. Colleen can remember that her family took the refrigerator and the oven while the rest of the appliances remained. The home’s specific characteristics; the fireplace, the built-in shelves of the living room, the loft over the garage, a pool and brick patio all had to stay behind.
Colleen’s family made a trip to the area in the spring of 2001. Her vacant home remained standing a year and a half after her family left. Other homes around were in varying degrees of existence, much of which remained the same as she remembered from a few years ago.
On September 7th, 2001, the family passed through the Carrollton area once again. John Calvin Presbyterian Church stood tall, and much of Parlier Street and Bonfils Lane were still there and labeled. Her house, along with her pool, brick patio, and favorite trees were nothing more than a grassy patch of land. However, plenty of other homes remained. Four days after her trip, an event happened which would forever change the way the nation traveled by air. The September 11th attacks put the airline industries and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport into an economic dive that they have yet to recover from. However, by spring of 2003, when the family made another trip into Missouri, they saw a dirt mound that would later become Runway 11-29 encroaching its way to Larchburr Lane, creating a dead-end at Bonfils.
Whether the residents lived in Carrollton their whole lives, or only a few years, it is clear that a declaration of eminent domain has a human impact that is never fully accounted for in initial planning or adequately compensated. The events surrounding a forced buyout of someone’s home and property are life-changing, painful, and span an entire spectrum from being a major inconvenience to the cause of traumatic stress, with everything in between. For every place once occupied, there is a human memory.
Thank you Colleen for sharing your memories with us!