The Jefferson Barracks Military Post, located on the Mississippi River at Lemay, Missouri, which is just south of St. Louis, Missouri, was an active U.S. Army installation from 1826 through 1946.
Jefferson Barracks, the first permanent military post west of the Mississippi, played a prominent role in every American conflict from the time of its founding until the Army declared it surplus in 1946. During the Civil War, the post housed one of the nation’s largest military hospitals, making critical advances in the treatment of wounded sent there from distant battlefields. Among the “firsts” occurring here are the Barracks’ initial mission as the U.S. Army’s first basic training center, the organization of the First Dragoons (forerunners of the American cavalry), the first successful parachute jump from an airplane, and the operation of the first Army Air Corps Technical Training School. The Barracks provided the first military escort to merchant trains on the Santa Fe Trail, sent exploratory and protective troops out on the Oregon Trail, and served as a central depot sending both men and supplies to a major network of western forts active during the various Indian Wars. Its purchases of foodstuffs and manufactured goods and the need for means of transport to other posts played a substantial role in the commercial growth of St. Louis as a mercantile, manufacturing and distribution center.
The history of Jefferson Barracks is of national significance because it illuminates the organizational history of the U.S. Army for the 120 years in which it served as an active duty post. The changes of function, and the repeated cycles of growth and retrenchment reflect the story of the American military, its changing missions and relationship to the nation. The history of the United States Army has been heavily influenced by the deep distrust felt by the leaders of our Revolutionary period regarding the establishment of a professional military institution that might endanger the democracy. Until the Modern Era, this belief prevailed, preventing the growth and maintenance of a large standing army. There is a parallel American military history to that written of battles and human heroism. It tells of changes in military missions as the nation grew and of recurring need for rapid mobilization of both manpower and equipment to meet an unprepared nation's military emergencies.
Countless American military heroes served at the post over the years. Early leaders Atkinson, Leavenworth, and Dodge had already won fame in the War of 1812 before coming to Jefferson Barracks. The post’s size and military importance in the mid-19th century meant that most rising young West Pointers saw service there. This provided a pool of experienced leadership from which came hundreds of Civil War generals on both sides of the conflict, including Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Post commanders of later periods, Guy V. Henry, Walter Krueger and Walter C. Short took leading roles in the Spanish-American War and World War II.
It is possible to trace the changing composition of American military society across time through the records of Jefferson Barracks. Women played important, though not always recognized, roles as officers’ wives, laundresses, volunteer nurses, and later in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and civilian employees. There are recorded instances of women here who played combatant roles in 19th century conflicts. Immigrants jaianaajajmanahysujangamade up a majority of the enlisted ranks through much of the history, a measure of military service as a means to assimilation. African Americans (notably Dred Scott) first served as slaves to officers at the post. After the Civil War, they proved their citizenship through service in segregated cavalry and infantry units. Nationally, World War I posts and the CCC and CMTC camps of the Depression years were usually segregated. Jefferson Barracks in those periods trained only white men. By World War II, there were again black recruits at the post, but separate facilities were maintained for each race.
In 1826 General Edmund P. Gaines (Commander of the Western Department of the Army), Brig. General Henry Atkinson (commanding officer of the sixth infantry regiment), explorer William Clark, and Missouri Governor John Miller spent several days searching the banks of the Mississippi River for the perfect location for a new post to replace Fort Bellefontaine. A site near the city of "Vide Poche" or Carondelet, ten miles (16 km) south of St. Louis, was recommended and then approved by Major General Jacob J. Brown, Commanding General of the Army.
On July 10, 1826, two days after the deed to the land was signed, the first military troops—six officers and 245 enlisted men of Companies A, B, H and I, commanded by Brevet Major Stephen Watts Kearny -- arrived at the new post and started building temporary quarters that they named Cantonment Miller in honor of Governor Miller. In 1827 the militaryl9 post was formally named Jefferson Barracks in honor of Thomas Jefferson who had died the year before. Even William Clark's son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr. , would join the ranks of Jefferson Barracks. It was also designated the first "Infantry School of Practice."
The first conflict that the men of Jefferson Barracks were involved with was the Black Hawk War in 1832. Troops were deployed from Jefferson Barracks to push "hostile Indians" back into their village in present day Iowa. Chief Black Hawk was captured and brought back to Jefferson Barracks.
In 1832, the United States Regiment of Dragoons were formed and stationed at Jefferson Baracks. The dragoons, trained to fight mounted or dismounted, were the first unit of permanent cavalry in the United States Army. They were formed and stationed at Jefferson Barracks.
Jefferson Barracks became a major military post during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) when it served as a rest and supply station for the troops heading to Mexico.
The U.S. Army’s strength in 1845 was 8,509 men with the majority of troops stationed west of the Mississippi River. The primary function of Jefferson Barracks was as a launching point for a ready reserve force for the western frontier. In 1844, the War Department assigned General Zachary Taylor and the 3rd and 4th Infantries, then stationed at the Barracks, to Ft. Jesup, Louisiana, as a precautionary measure in anticipation of Mexican resistance to the annexation of Texas. In 1845, this vanguard force moved into the newly named state and was bolstered by assignments of every available unit in the West, growing to roughly one-half the entire enlistment of the Army. When Taylor moved into position on the Mexican border the following year, all but a handful of the remaining garrison at the Barracks joined him. Missouri and Illinois volunteers were mustered into federal service at the Barracks in 1846 and 1847 received rudimentary training and sent to Texas. Congress also authorized the expansion of the regular army, including in the new forces a regiment of Mounted Riflemen, to be formed at Jefferson Barracks. Despite problems with equipping and training these recruits on the short-staffed post, six companies of Riflemen left St. Louis in late 1846. Recruits for the 1st and 2nd Dragoons (a second mounted unit formed at the Barracks in 1836) and several infantry regiments were handled more efficiently after additional officers were assigned to the post.
The fighting in Mexico was over by the fall of 1847, but an occupation force was required until a final peace settlement was reached in the following year, and recruiting and training continued at the Barracks. Returning troops brought the post’s population to a high near 5,000 in the summer of 1848 before men were discharged or reassigned. The Mounted Riflemen were sent to protect settlers traveling the Oregon Trail; the 2nd Infantry to California; the 6th Infantry to the upper Mississippi; and the 8th Infantry to permanent posting in Texas. With the movement of the 7th Infantry to Florida in the summer of 1849 to wage battle again with the Seminoles, and then to Fort Leavenworth to train as cavalry, the garrison at Jefferson Barracks averaged just over eighty men. In the following years, troops left the Barracks to fight the Sioux in Nebraska and Wyoming, to join the ill-fated expedition to confront Mormon settlers challenging U.S. authority in the Utah Territory, and continued to be deployed to Ft. Leavenworth and other western forts as needs dictated. The post had been established as a launching point for troop movement west of the Mississippi and as such the military wanted a location of a "school of practice." Jefferson Barracks would become a gateway for troops on their way to the western frontier. With the Mexican War in the late 1840s and the possibility of war looming between the states in the late 1850s, Jefferson Barracks became a training center for new troops. Cavalry units became a permanent establishment and would lead to expansion in the future. The main troops being trained at Jefferson Barracks were militia and volunteer regiments. After the Mexican War the post settled into a daily routine, with no immediate threat from the Mexican and Indian peoples their routine was described by General Edmund Kirby Smith in his journal as "...drill, guard and dress parade, the billiard room after breakfast, and a visit with to the ladies in the evening..."
With its central location on the river, Jefferson Barracks was the perfect spot to keep any of the ordnance shells that would be needed by any unit along the Mississippi. Jefferson Barracks would be the only post of its kind in the United States at the time. Because of the location every troop movement or supply movement west of the Mississippi would be funneled though this site. The ordnance section of the base would grow to house one of the largest arsenals in the United States before the Civil War. The only buildings left from this period of time are built of limestone from the local quarry. In 1851 a stable and laborer's house were built for local construction workers constructing the many stone structures designed to house the many cannons and other explosives. The two most significant structures in this section of the barracks would be built between 1851 and 1857. They are building #546 Old Ordnance Room (1851) and #400 Stone Powder Magazine (1857.) There were “temporary” structures that were constructed around the parade ground that were used as troop housing and would be converted to hospital quarters after the Mexican War and as well as during the Civil War. These temporary structures were wood frame buildings that could be constructed quickly and replaced easily with timber found on the 1,702 acres of the post.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Jefferson Barracks served as a military hospital for both sides and a recruitment depot for the North. In 1862 construction of the Western Sanitary Commission's hospital facilities began at Jefferson Barracks. By the time that the hospital complex was complete, it could hold 3,000 patients. By the end of the first year of the war, over 5,000 sick and wounded had been admitted and, by the end of the war, well over 18,000 soldiers had been treated at Jefferson Barracks Hospital. In 2002, The Missouri Civil War Museum was founded, which is still being restored today. The MCWM is being brought to life in the old 1905 Post Exchange Building.
St. Louis was a critical stronghold for Union forces on the eve of the Civil War. Its control of the Mississippi River traffic was vital both to maintain supply lines between the western and eastern halves of the nation and to stage military actions into the South. The St. Louis Arsenal held the largest supplies of weaponry and ammunition west of the river and Jefferson Barracks, just to its south, had been a major launching platform for military actions throughout the West. The Army of 1860 numbered only 16,215 men; their forces were thinly scattered across the western plains. A skeleton garrison of sixteen soldiers inhabited Jefferson Barracks at the end of that year. Soon after the declaration of war, the 1st United States Volunteers moved much of the gunpowder from the Jefferson Barracks ordnance center to the Arsenal, which was heavily garrisoned by federal troops. From the Arsenal, Nathaniel Lyon moved his regulars and locally recruited volunteers to capture Camp Jackson, a stronghold of the Missouri Militia, which was aligned with the South. This action effectively assumed control of the city of St. Louis for the Union. Volunteers were housed and trained at the Barracks during the early days of the war and troops continued to move through it, but the majority of training for the remainder of the conflict took place at Benton Barracks in the northern part of the city.
As the armies of the North and South gathered, Union forces reached an enrollment of over one million men. Jefferson Barracks took on a new mission, no longer serving as the West’s major supply outpost. With the acting state government in federal hands, and fighting in Missouri for the most part limited to loosely organized guerilla activities, the post was turned over to the Surgeon General’s office in April 1862 and its buildings adapted to serve as a hospital for the duration of the war. Jefferson Barracks would be one of the largest hospital complexes for soldiers in north.
The War Department also authorized the building of a temporary hospital complex that could house up to 2500 patients. There were three sets of buildings, each consisting of three narrow structures stretching 600 feet in length grouped together to include dining rooms and quarters for medical staff as well as wards for recuperating patients. Construction also included a separate reservoir and piping system to bring water from the river to the complex.
This hospital, although staffed and controlled by the Army, was also supplied and supported by the Western Sanitary Commission, an organization established at Jefferson Barracks in the fall of 1861 as a response to the medical emergency created by the arrival of wounded from the battle of Wilson’s Creek outside Springfield, Missouri. The founding members include prominent figures such as James E Yeatman, Carlos Greeley, and William Greenleaf Eliot.
Two initiatives of the Commission were firsts in American military medicine. In late 1861, at the request of Major General Fremont, they equipped two cars of the Pacific Railroad with hospital supplies, berths, and cooking facilities for transport of the sick and wounded to St. Louis. After bringing some survivors of the Battle of Fort Donelson upriver by steamer, the Sanitary Commission, in cooperation with the Quartermaster’s Department, executed a plan to outfit and operate steamships as “floating hospitals” that could rapidly transport soldiers from southern battlefields to Jefferson Barracks and the other area hospitals. The steamers “City of Louisiana,” “D.A. January,” “Empress,” and “Imperial” inaugurated this service with trips to and from Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee (the Battle of Shiloh). These and other boats continued to transport patients to St. Louis and other cities on the river throughout the war. This commission would establish other post hospitals through out the north but none as large as the one located at Jefferson Barracks.
The Commission reported that 11,434 patients had been treated at the Barracks as of April 30, 1864. The mortality rate for the hospital’s first year was 11.5 per cent, for the second year 9.8 percent. At the war’s end, the Barracks was used as a mustering out center for returning soldiers, and was briefly garrisoned by the 13th Infantry.
Unfortunately all of the structures that were constructed during this time period were wooden structures and are no longer standing. The only evidence that is left is the archaeological evidence and the footprint of these large structures. The establishment of a major hospital located at Jefferson Barracks would have a lasting effect on military veterans until present day. Since the establishment of the Western Sanitary Commission and the building of the Medical Facilities at the post there has always been a place for veterans to get care at Jefferson Barracks.
World War I
On March 1, 1912 Jefferson Barracks was the site of the first parachute jump from an airplane.
During World War I, Jefferson Barracks served as a training and recruitment station for soldiers heading to Europe.
During the 1930s, the Citizens Military Training Camp or CMTC was held at Jefferson Barracks. Young men could spend one month a year at the post being trained as a soldier, and after three years they could enter the military. Also during that time the Works Progress Administration (WPA) had camps at Jefferson Barracks.
When Congress declared war against the Triple Alliance powers in April 1917, the U.S. Army was less prepared for conflict than in any war in its history. The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, authorized the President to call up the National Guard and to raise a wartime army of 500,000 men through an immediate draft, with an additional 500,000 to be called when he felt it necessary. The term of service was to be for the length of the national emergency. Army enrollment increased to 421,000 by the end of that year and jumped to 3,685,000 in November 1918. The draft supplied about two-thirds of the eventual forces for the war.
Jefferson Barracks again became a major induction center for the U.S. Army, serving as the clearinghouse for twelve midwestern states. The post had been receiving 1500 recruits monthly before the war. Immediate preparations were begun to increase that number to over 10,000. Twelve hundred tents were erected to provide housing in addition to the posts barracks, and plans were drawn to build a mess hall addition, store supply house, hospital and receiving barracks to accommodate a thousand men. In a year’s time, 142 temporary wooden buildings were erected to meet the needs of receiving and processing recruits at the post. The average stay for a recruit was just four days, long enough for the permanent staff of 35 officers to supervise medical examinations, issue military uniforms, and assign the recruits to companies for transfer to other posts for military drill and training.
By the war's end in November 1918, over 200,000 soldiers had passed through Jefferson Barracks, one of the nation’s largest induction centers. It also served as a demobilization center through March 1919, just like the end of the Civil War Jefferson Barracks served tens of thousands more when their service was complete and their tours of duty were over. Despite the efficient handling of draftees at the post once the mechanisms were in place, the rapid change of commanding officers throughout the war period demonstrated one of the military's largest problems at the time: a shortage of trained leaders. Demobilization after World War I was very quick by June 30, 1919 over 2,608,218 enlisted men were discharged from the service. Congress could not afford to pay these troops and need their service ended quickly. With the mass influx of individuals coming in by train, boat, and over land a new Post Exchange Lunchroom, #224, was built in 1919.
World War II
During World War II, Jefferson Barracks was a major reception center for troops being drafted into the military. It also served as a basic training site for the Army, then later was the first Army Air Corps Training Site. During World War II, Jefferson Barracks had a peak area of 1,518 acres (6.14 km²), and had billeting space for 16 officers and 1,500 enlisted persons.
Jefferson Barracks was decommissioned as a military post in 1946 with the end of World War II.
Although the United States did not officially enter World War II until the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, preparations for mobilization that began in the late 1930s once again changed the primary function of Jefferson Barracks. Jefferson Barracks changed from a site of just training to an induction and Reception Center for the eastern half of Missouri. This was needed as a result of the Selective service act of 1940. As conflict in Europe and the Pacific broadened, the General Staff of the Army pushed the Roosevelt administration to raise the size of the regular army and to increase military appropriations. A new Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, instituted major reorganizations, first of the regular infantry and then of all army divisions.
The 6th Infantry at Jefferson Barracks was at full peacetime strength in late 1937 with 39 officers and 1115 enlisted men. Special units of Medical, Ordnance, Quartermaster and Signal corps personnel added another 125 men. When Congress increased military appropriations and the size of the standing army in the summer of 1939, recruiting offices in St. Louis and surrounding areas set a goal of 2000 new recruits to be processed at the Barracks. The 6th Infantry band with a platoon of soldiers toured Missouri towns, setting up camps complete with tanks and military kitchens, as a spur to recruitment. As in World War I, the new recruits were assembled, given physicals, outfitted with Army uniforms and personal items and sent to posts, such as Jefferson Barracks, for basic training. The 6th continued its regular run of duties, drill and ceremonial services, until the summer of 1940, when battalions were ordered to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and Ft. Benning, Georgia, where they joined a new corps of armored infantry. A skeleton garrison of 4 officers and 71 men from the 3rd Infantry assumed duty at Jefferson Barracks "pending further orders."
The changing role assumed by the post as an induction center also reflected the general reorganization and a new concentration on airborne defense. Jefferson Barracks became the first replacement center for the Army Air Corps in September 1940 when officers and enlisted men were transferred from Scott Field across the river in Illinois, a replacement center were officers and troops held in reserve are assembled for duty. It was formally activated in February 1941. Since there was no precedent for this center, Jefferson Barracks served as a testing ground for organization and policy, a model for those established later. The Commanding Officer of the post had a great deal of freedom to improvise and institute his own procedures. Initially, three school squadrons were set up to handle recruits. The first carried out induction processing and issuance of clothing and transferred the men to a second squadron for three weeks of basic training. The third arranged for the assignment and shipping of trainees to technical schools or other postings. In practice, the training was minimal, because of the difficulties in meeting the needs of housing, clothing and equipment for the steady stream of new recruits. This system was quickly revised to enable each squadron to perform all of the necessary functions, with training officers appointed to oversee each squadron’s progress. This system worked well and new squadrons were organized to meet the increased levels of recruitment in the summer of 1941.
The officers at Jefferson Barracks also originated and refined the basic training program used by other Air Corps installations. Instruction included introduction to military dress and protocol, the Articles of War, personal hygiene and first aid, and what was originally called “School of the Soldier.” This covered physical training, various types of drill, marching and ceremony, and instruction in use of gas masks. Although the use of weaponry was discussed, there was never a provision for actual practice with rifles or small arms.
The Jefferson Barracks center established two other systems widely copied by other installations. Testing and classifications sections supervised the gathering of histories on the trainees' education, work experience and job preferences and administered the Army's General Classification Test in preparation for their assignments for further training. As the volume of processing increased, Barracks administrators also created a separate Shipping and Receiving Section to centralize the handling of recruits and supplies and make it more efficient.
The capacity of the permanent housing at the Barracks was quickly outstripped by the influx of trainees. Tent cities housed most of the men until wooden barracks housing ten thousand were constructed in the summer of 1941. Feeding the large number of recruits presented other problems. At one point, the Barracks mess hall was reported to have served 7700 men at each meal. This situation was solved before the end of 1941 with the construction of five additional mess halls. A shortage of trained mess personnel led to the establishment of a cooks and bakers school at the post.
The Air Corps had considered maintaining morale among trainees a priority even before the establishment of the first replacement center at Jefferson Barracks. It quickly established organizations on the post including the Athletic and Recreation Office, Morale Office, and Chaplain’s Department to anticipate and solve potential morale problems. By the end of 1941, baseball, football and track teams had been organized and servicemen could take part in boxing, wrestling and fencing competitions during the winter season. At Sylvan Springs, west of the main parade area, musical reviews took place in an 8000-seat outdoor theatre and the "Beverage Garden" featured dances sponsored by local civic organizations. Other post facilities included four movie theatres, an enlisted men's service club, a library, day rooms featuring pool and ping-pong tables, and four chapels. Before the selective service act was established a lot of the recruits were trained in the ROTC or the CMTC, to keep the peace and to keep moral high these activities were established.
In September 1940, Congress passed the Selective Service act instituting the nation's first peacetime draft. A separate facility at the northeastern corner of the Barracks was set aside to serve as an Induction and Reception Center for draftees from the eastern half of Missouri, under the jurisdiction of the 7th Corps. The foundation of this structure still exists. After December 1941, another wave of building increased the capacity of the Barracks as the nation moved to full wartime mobilization. The peak population of the post during the war reached 30,000 men. Most of the structures built at this period of time when wooden structures that have since been raised. After 1943, with twelve training centers in operation across the country and an anticipated slowing in the number of recruits, the renamed Army Air Forces made plans to curtail their operation. The center at Jefferson Barracks closed in April 1944. The Army Service Forces assumed command, continuing the operation of the Induction and Reception center and adding units for basic training. In its final years of active national service, the post saw varied uses. An Army Rehabilitation Center was moved to the Barracks in September 1944, confining nearly 1000 men who had been court marshaled for minor offenses and were given further training and evaluation to determine if they could be readmitted to regular service. In late 1944, the War Department announced that a separation center for men released from active duty, one of eighteen in the country would also open at the post. A number of German and Italian prisoners of war were confined at the Barracks at this time, working in a laundry that provided service for nine army installations and two other POW camps.
Post-World War II
After Jefferson Barracks was decommissioned, portions of the grounds were sold off for construction of houses. Some of the barracks were acquired by the St. Louis County Housing Authority as temporary low-cost housing. Those were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the current Jefferson Townhomes development. Bishop DuBourg High School was located on the Jefferson Barracks property for several years in the early 1950s. The former Jefferson Barracks School is now used for storage and maintenance; and the former theater is St. Bernadette Catholic Church.
It is now the site of two St. Louis County Parks (Jefferson Barracks County Park and Sylvan Springs County Park), a National Guard Base (Army and Air), the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and a Veterans Administration hospital. Part of the hospital grounds were donated to the Mehlville School District in the 1960s to build Charles S. Beasley Elementary School.
Jefferson Barracks County Park includes several museums that house artifacts and history of Jefferson Barracks while it was an active United States Military Post. During the 1960s and 1970s, portions of Jefferson Barracks County Park were used as a landfill. During the 1980s, an annual balloon race was held in the park. Today, because of its large size, high school cross country races are often held in the park in the fall months, most notably the Hancock Invitational.
Jefferson Barracks' history as a U.S. Army post officially came to an end on June 30, 1946, without ceremony beyond the usual daily lowering of the flag on the parade ground and the blowing of retreat. Eight hundred men under the command of Col. Gilbert C. Greenwalt remained on the post for a short time afterwards. Most were member of Military Police units responsible for the administration of the disciplinary barracks, which remained open until July 31. The Army transferred possession of the property to the War Assets Administration. For the next 30 years, the story of the Barracks would be one of maneuvering over use of the 1231 acres remaining of the original 1706 acres that the U.S. Government had purchased in 1826.
Even before the closing, local governments had begun considering possible uses of the property. The City of St. Louis had received authorization to lease 50 acres, including 23 vacant barracks buildings, to be used as emergency housing for returning veterans. Renovation and construction of these buildings to apartments began in April; the first tenants were able to move in by August of that year. In May, the city began seeking to take over the entire property to construct an airport and a chronic hospital as well as additional housing. Both the Veterans Administration and the War Memorial Commission (for the National Cemetery) wanted 50 acres to add to their properties. The Veterans Administration also considered taking over the old post hospital to ease anticipated crowding at their facility.
In January 1947, St. Louis County presented a plan to acquire 877 acres of the surplus property to construct a trotting track and other buildings for permanent fairgrounds, a small airport, a hospital, and training centers for veterans and "the county's crippled children." The War Assets Administration (WAA) actually agreed to lease this property, but negated the agreement when the Air Force and Navy expressed interest in returning the post to active federal service. The county then revised its request to propose the transfer of 100 acres in the northeast sector of the property for use as a historical park and monument.
In early 1948, the Jefferson Barracks National Park Committee, a group of local business and civic organizations, formed and began lobbying the federal government to retain 700 acres of the post as a national park. City and county officials, 160 civic organizations, the Missouri legislature, St. Louis area congressmen, and both Missouri senators endorsed this movement. So did President Harry Truman, who suggested that it might be linked to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial under development in downtown St. Louis. The National Park Service, however, rejected the proposals, suggesting that the area was better suited for local or state development. Regional NPS officials recommended accepting the applications of St. Louis County Parks and the Missouri National Guard to receive portions of the site through outright grants.
By the fall of 1949, the War Assets Administration had gone out of existence and the General Services Administration sat in judgment on disposition of the property. It seemed certain that the land would be divided, with conflicting plans being announced on a regular basis. One suggested that at least 500 acres would be designated for private development as multi-family housing, with other tracts going to County Parks and the National Guard. One private entity, J.D. Streett & Co., Inc., had been allowed to purchase a 37-acre tract of riverfront land to build dock facilities and a petroleum processing plant, incorporating some of the World War II vintage warehouse buildings. (The company was later fined $25,000 when an investigation uncovered suspect payments of funds to Washington-based individuals who appear to have influenced the transaction .)
The next official transfer of title came in September, when the GSA confirmed that it would deed 187 acres including the "old post" area with its historic parade ground to the Missouri National Guard, which had been using the space for meeting and training. This was done first through a lease, with the final quitclaim not entered until July 1950. By that time, negotiations with federal officials had resulted in agreements to transfer other parts of the property to St. Louis City, St. Louis County Parks, the Mehlville School District and St. Bernadette's Parish. St. Louis County dedicated the 135 acres of Jefferson Barracks Historical Park and 64 acres of Sylvan Springs Park on September 29, 1950, in ceremonies finalizing the federal government gift. In October of that year, the GSA also deeded 259 acres to the city, which planned to build a chronic care hospital on the property. The old post hospital and the ear, nose and throat clinic, together with the land on which they stood, were given to the Mehlville School District. Thirteen acres, which included the World War II era movie theatre and other buildings, were transferred to St. Bernadette's Parish for use as a church and school complex.
In October 1949, the county announced its intention to gain title to an additional 123 acres, which contained World War II era "temporary" barracks converted to public housing, with the intent of razing the buildings and replacing them with modern brick structures. The St. Louis County Housing Authority had assumed management of this complex (originally managed by the city), at that time holding 962 families and generating $160,000 in yearly rental income. In 1950, revised plans covering first 100 and then 20 acres surrounding the barracks were put forward, but never executed. The federal government retained ownership until the mid-60s. The Housing Authority continued to manage the public housing throughout the period, generally under a cloud of controversies regarding quality of maintenance, rental and utility charges, costs of schooling its resident children, and the ultimate disposition of the property.
A firestorm of protest broke out in mid 1956, prompted by two actions of separate bodies of the county government. The Parks Department, which had not fulfilled its commitment to develop the "historical park" in accordance with the gift of land made in 1950, announced plans to demolish a Victorian structure known as "the U.S. Grant House" and a Circuit Court grand jury recommended the immediate closing of the housing project after the state Bureau of Fire Inspection found it hazardous. Despite appeals by the American Institute of Architects and then Senator Thomas Hennings, the National Park Service (which had oversight responsibilities for the historical park) ruled that the house was of no particular historical or architectural value. The house, which had been built in the mid-1870s for the ordnance center commandant and had no real connection to Grant, was eventually demolished.
The disposition of the property containing the housing project became even more controversial when the county set into motion plans to purchase it and build permanent public housing there. Razing of the barracks began in 1957. Construction contracts were let and site preparation had begun before, in a flurry of public protest and lawsuits, the project was finally brought to a halt by a public vote in 1962. Subsequently, the federal government reclaimed and sold the property to private developers, who began construction of a 300-unit apartment complex in 1963.
The county had greater success with its acquisition of yet another piece of park property. In January 1957, the U.S. government reclaimed 232 acres that had been deeded to the City of St. Louis for hospital facilities that were never built and began using it as a training site for reserve forces. In early 1958, the Country Parks Department finally began plans for restoration of four historic buildings on the property it had received in 1950. It also announced its intention to ask the GSA to donate this adjoining tract, which had again been declared surplus, as an addition to the historical park. The publicity surrounding this move brought on a second round of advocacy for the site's recognition as a National Park or monument. The county's request for transfer of the land at no cost was rejected with the National Park Service's determination that the tract in question had no real historic value outside its proximity to the areas containing 19th-century buildings. The federal government proposed instead to allow the county to buy the property for recreational use at half its assessed value, then set at $1,200,000, a figure county official found "way too high." After lengthy negotiations over the price, amidst fears that the property might be subdivided for industrial and/or residential development, the federal authorities agreed to a sale at $372,500, with possession to take place on or before the end of 1960. The county government used $200,700 of bond issue funds for sanitary landfills toward the purchase.
Another acquisition for the park took place the following year, when the GSA donated 11.55 acres north of the parade ground to the county. This strip contained 14 brick buildings, including the historic "officers row" of the 1890s, which had been rented to families since the post's closure. Six other residences southwest of the parade grounds were sold at auction to private bidders. Despite some public protest, County Parks Commissioner Wayne Kennedy declared rehabilitation of the buildings "unrealistic" and ordered the razing of all but the 1930s era Nurses residence and two of the officers quarters.
The last major addition to park land came in 1969, when the county purchased 39 acres from a private developer after failing to secure it in a public auction two years earlier. Plans to build another apartment complex on the site were prevented by the developer's failure to convince the County Council to rezone, and a bond issue provided funds for the park purchase. Once again, public interest was aroused and another grassroots organization, the Jefferson Barracks Landmark Society, began efforts to achieve National Landmark status for the entire 1700 acres of the original Jefferson Barracks. While this ambitious goal was not realized, two separate nominations for the National Register were prepared. One submitted in April 1971, covering the areas surrounding the old post and the ordnance depot, was accepted in February 1972.
In the thirty years that have since elapsed, little has changed at Jefferson Barracks. The County Historic Park has developed excellent educational programming for both school groups and the general public. Its staff has conducted extensive research into the history of the Barracks and regularly mounts temporary exhibits on topics detailed by these investigations. Tens of thousands of St. Louis area residents regularly use the park’s recreational facilities, much as people did at the turn of the century.
The resident units of the Missouri National Guard and the services they perform, like those of their regular army predecessors, have changed over time. The old brick buildings have been put to use by Air Force and Army National Guard, as well as Naval and Army Reserve units. National Guard troops have departed from the base for service in Korea, Panama, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Iraq. In the current state of national emergency, individual members have been called from the Barracks into federal service, and on-base Guard units are performing invaluable support missions for the U.S. Air Force.
Army Units Organized at Jefferson Barracks
- U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment - March 4, 1833 (Originally United States Regiment of Dragoons).
- 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment - May 23, 1836 (Originally 2nd Regiment of Dragoons)
- 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment - October 12, 1846 (Originally Regiment of Mounted Riflemen)
- U.S. 4th Cavalry Regiment - March 26, 1855 (Originally 1st Cavalry Regiment)
- U.S. 22d Infantry Regiment - December, 1865 (Originally 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment)
Air Force Units Organized at Jefferson Barracks
1. 157th Air Operations Group
- Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
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