SEMO Plans to Erase Landmark

River Campus 10-20-2008 First handball court west of the Mississippi RiverThere were a number of things that let me know I was getting close to home: going down that last hill at Thebes Gap, catching the first glimpse of the Mississippi River as it curved around Gray’s Point, spotting the Common Pleas Courthouse and the dome of Academic Hall poking above the trees… Once we made the white-knuckle passage across the Traffic Bridge, I’d look off to the left, not to see St. Vincent’s College, but to spy the strange brick structure on its lawn. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was a sign that I was home.

When I researched a piece on the 5th anniversary of the River Campus, I discovered a report filed with the National Register of Historic Places saying the court was constructed in 1843 and was supposed to have been the first handball court west of the Mississippi River.

James Baughn reads the fine print

Aerial photos of Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaThe December 16 Missourian ran a routine story about the SEMO regents approving 96,000 square feet of new construction at the River Campus. There was an aerial photo overlay, but I’m sure most readers didn’t look at it closely. I’m guilty as charged.

Missourian webmaster James Baughn, who does one of three must-read blogs in the paper, is one of those detail kind of guys who notices things. He discovered that the new construction will erase one of the oldest structures in Cape Girardeau, one built by Joseph Lansman. Who is he? Thanks to Baughn’s research, we find that he was the guy who was probably responsible for SEMO being in Cape in the first place.

Baughn notes “[Louis] Houck was able to work his magic to steer the newly formed Board of Regents toward Cape, but Lansman helped seal the deal. He agreed to donate land he owned at the site of Fort B, the old Civil War fortification on a hilltop north of town, well away from the mosquito-laden swamps. During a crucial meeting at the St. Charles Hotel (built by Lansman), the regents made the final selection of Lansman’s site for the new college.”

SEMO, which touts one of the few undergraduate historic preservation programs in the country, assures us that they will incorporate a “select” number of bricks from the handball court into the facade of the new River Campus building. If they were in Philadelphia, they’d probably scrap The Liberty Bell and incorporate the clapper as a door knocker. I mean, why hang on to that old thing? Nobody’s going to ring it with that crack in it.

Holy Crapola! I’ve been ripped off

Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaI followed a link on Baugn’s blog to a SEMO publication that details the constuction project. Guess what they have on the first two pages? This copyrighted aerial photo showing the River Campus I shot November 6, 2010. I can’t wait to make some phone calls tomorrow morning to SEMO and the Lawrence Group to talk about appropriating photographs for commercial use without compensation. (As always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Frame Two of my purloined photo shows clearly that they are targeting the lawn and handball court area that gives the site its quiet beauty, second only to the trees area and terraces overlooking the river. (They’ll go next and SEMO will sell “preservation toothpicks” made of the trees.) It would appear to me that there is plenty of space occupied by parking lots that would be perfect for the expansion. Put two floors of parking under the new buildings and you could leave the lawns and terraces alone.

Thanks, Mr. Baughn, for the heads-up.

Civil War Fort A

Everybody who grew up in Cape learned about Fort D. Maybe you even went on a field trip there.

If that was D, were there Forts A, B, C and E? Well, there wasn’t a Fort E, but A, B and C existed.

Missourian librarian Sharon Sanders wrote about efforts to preserve Fort A, which was atop the bluff at the end of what is now Bellvue Street. Her research, as always, is worth reading. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

She’s not a dry historian, either. she likes to toss in tidbits like, “A 1922 story reports 12-year old Wilson Gibbs chased a rabbit into a a cave at the site. While the rabbit made its escape, Gibbs did stumble upon two jugs of moonshine. A law-abiding youth, Gibbs turned the illegal liquor in to Justice of the Peace C.M. Gilbert. There’s no mention of whether anyone claimed the whiskey.

Scenic lookout proposed

In 1960, Sharon reports, there was talk about creating a scenic overlook/turnaround at the end of Bellvue. The project never got anywhere.

Here’s what’s on the right side of the street today. That apartment building has been there since at least the mid-60s, because Missourian reporter Arlene Southern lived in one of the first floor apartments.

Fort B became SEMO

If you have good eyesight, you MIGHT be able to spot a gray marker in the median of Normal Avenue just east of the red brick crosswalk between Kent Library and Academic Hall. That marker notes the location of Fort B, which was to guard the Perryville and Jackson Road approaches to Cape Girardeau.

St. Francis Hospital site was Fort C

The old St. Francis Hospital site in the middle of the marked streets was the location of Fort C. It’s occupied by the Fort Hope housing development today.

I’ve written about some of the landmarks in this photo.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.