Tollgate Hill Watermelon Stealin’

When I wrote about Mill Hill yesterday, Dick Hopper commented about what he called “Tow Gate Hill.

It was Sprigg street coming in from the south into Cape. During watermelon season, the trucks “way back when” labored when full of watermelons and very slowly went up the hill. Enterprising boys would hop on the trucks and toss melons down to compadres.”

He got the location right, but the name wrong. The area was called Tollgate Hill because of the tollgate at the Cape LaCroix Creek bridge dating back to the 1830s.

I don’t know if anyone ever actually swiped watermelons off slow-moving trucks, but Tom Neumeyer mentions it in his book, Cape Girardeau Then and Now. I think I remember Dad talking about it, too.

Hill used to be steeper

The Missourian reported on July 19, 1920, that the road – the first concrete paved road in Cape Girardeau county – would be 24 feet wide, up from 16 feet. It went on to say that the steepest grade would be inside the city limits on the old “Tollgate Hill,” where a cut of 7-1/2 feet will be made, reducing the grade to 5 per cent.

Several walnut trees had to be cut down, but care will be taken to cut down no trees not absolutely necessary to remove.

To Beautify Highway

It is the plan to retain the beauties of the road as well as make it good for traveling over. Along most of the distance are now growing beautiful trees. These will be cared for, underbrush and weeds will be removed, painted signs along the way will be tabooed, as well as signs tacked to trees.

Engineer Dennis Scivally

Engineer Dennis Scivally was in charge of the project. He is the one for whom Dennis Scivally Park on Cape Rock Dr. is named. It’s not surprising that there was an emphasis on saving trees along the new road. He was environmentally sensitive decades before it became popular.

8 Replies to “Tollgate Hill Watermelon Stealin’”

  1. I thought that the hill going south on the 1000 block to the 900 block on North Sprigg St. was much more daunting.

  2. The story about Watermelon Stealin’ is one passed down thru my family too. The only memory I have of Toll Gate Hill is that in the 50s there was a carnival that would set up in the empty field to the east of the road. My parents also talked about a place I think called Walnut Grove, which I think was west of Toll Gate Hill. This long gone place seemed to be a drive-in/restaurant gathering spot for meeting the opposite sex. It sounds like Walnut Grove was to them like Wimpy’s was to my generation.

  3. My grandpa told me he and my uncles brought watermelons up from Morley, Mo. in a ton truck. It took them almost all day to get here, sell the melons and get home to Morley as Hwy 25 wasn’t paved. When they went to Chicago it was a 4-5 day trip. Watermelons sold for 25-50 cents each.

    1. I remember a summer when Dad had a gravel plant set up in the creek at Egypt Mills. (That’s a setup where you take gravel out of the creek, run it up a conveyor belts and through a shaking screen so you end up with a product the right size.)

      A farmer pulled up and offered him a whole pickup full of melons for a couple of bucks.

      It’s the first time when I could sit down, eat just the heart out of a melon, then move on to the next one.

      Some of the best melons I ate were just down the hill from our house on Kingsway Drive at the Windmill.

      Finally, when was the last time you had someone offer to “plug” the melon for you so you could see if it was good? Try asking the produce guy at a modern grocery store to do that. Odds are, he won’t even know what you’re talking about.

  4. My father told us stories all the time of how he and his friends would jump onto the slow moving trucks going up the hill (in the 1930’s) and toss down a watermelon or two for them to enjoy. The drivers of the trucks knew what was going on, but were unable to stop the truck half way up the hill to chase the boys off the truck bed. Dad said that some of the drivers would actually go even slower to allow the boys time to get off the truck safely, I guess they figured there was no harm in giving away a couple of watermelons.

  5. Stealing Watermelons for a slow moving truck! that is below even my low standards…Now stealing the whole Truck, selling the cargo to the boys in Illmo-Fronfelt, sending the Truck to a chop shop in Corinth Mississippi and the trailer to Springfield, Mo for re-processing and nice new paint job…well that is another story.

    1. Terry,

      “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you….”

      I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on that particular set of activities.

  6. I would believe the.story about the watermelons being stolen. My
    stepfather told me about them stealing tires like that during the depression.

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