Sewers and Tunnels in Cape

“Is it part of the Underground Railroad?” is the question that comes up every time someone encounters a below-ground structure in the older parts of Cape. Not being a historian, but being a guy who has wielded a shovel in Cape Girardeau and tried to cut through rocks and roots, I’m going to say, “Nope.”

The labor and logistics of moving rock and dirt would be greater than frugal Cape Girardeans would consider expending to move escaped slaves up north. Still, there ARE interesting things under beneath our feet in the city.

Richard Cochran explorations

Here is an email I received from Richard Cochran, Jr., Class of ’84.:

I am very appreciative of the work you put in on your site about Cape Girardeau. I still am fascinated by the history in the city. Many of the articles are before my time (Central Graduate of 84); but, I can relate and have seen many of the items you photograph and discuss.

Longview (Thilenius House)

The Thilenius House Wine Cellar and other wine cellar stories are of particular interest. I have some first hand knowledge of the colonial house mentioned in the Thilenius House article as I was working for my father when that home was designed. I helped draft the house plans. I particularly remember surveying the site and examining the wine cellar when we started that project.

The newer home which was built by an Indian doctor in the mid 80’s was located behind the cellar. I remember his purchase of the property required that the cellar not be damaged. I also remember that the house had one room designed around a particular piece of furniture that he had which was an odd dimension not fitting in most normal rooms. I think he sold the house since then; but, not positive.

I’m not sure if the cellar still exists; but, it seems that the last time I drove by there, I couldn’t see it anymore.

Sanitary and storm sewers

Anyway, to get on with it, I am a Civil Engineer and have worked on some sewer projects in the city. One of these near City Hall got me climbing into manholes to verify things. At one time, the sanitary sewer and storm sewer were combined in this area and flowed through the same pipes/tunnels. It think over time, some of this infrastructure has been replaced and I know in the mid 2000’s, the sanitary was separated from the storm so that it could be treated at the wastewater plant instead of discharged into the river.

Stone and brick tunnels

During my inspections, I found older parts of the sewer system which were tunnels. These were constructed of stone and brick in some areas. This piqued my interest as well, wondering when they were constructed and if they possibly served other purposes. I’ve heard the stories all my life of tunnels from homes to the river used by the underground railroad and wondered if possibly, some of these storm tunnels were actually what was used?

I’ve attached some photos that I took of these tunnels. They aren’t the best quality; but, you can see the tunnel and where some changes have been made connecting pipes and such.

Cape Sewers in 1940-1941

I have one of Dad’s scrapbooks that shows the Cape sewers being constructed in 1940-41. I’ll run more photos soon. The sewers Richard photographed are much older than Dad’s project. Dad’s trenching was done mostly by hand (under conditions that would cause an OSHA heart attack these days), but all of the pipes were precast concrete instead of stone and brick.


SEMO Construction in 1967


Southeast Missouri State College – now University – was yanking buildings out of the ground like crazy in 1967. I roamed the campus taking photos of the work that was taking place so we could show it in the February 25, 1967, Achievement Edition.

Kent Library Expansion

This was the beginning of the Kent Library expansion project. Dearmont Hall is on the left.

Soft spot for construction workers

I’ve always had a soft sport for construction workers, particularly crane operators, because of the hours I spent watching Dad operate a dragline. He could drop the bucket exactly where he wanted it, pull in a load of dirt or gravel, swing it over and dump it into truck without spilling a rock or banging the bed of the truck. The men working under him had absolute faith in his ability to hit his target, because a mistake could have killed them.

When I was about 10, Dad was setting a big tank for someone. He had the load locked down and suspended about five feet off the ground while a worker for his client was leveling the dirt below it. He stepped off the crane for a break, then sent me back to get his jug of iced tea. When I climbed up into the cab, the tank owner went berserk. “Kid, get DOWN off there. If you touch something, you could kill that man.!”

I froze until Dad hollered back, “If I thought he was going to touch anything, I wouldn’t have sent him.” Turning to me, he said, quietly, “Fetch me the jug, please.” I realized then how much confidence Dad had in me.

Built in the old Home of the Birds

One Missourian photo caption said, in part, that the 12-story structures on the new North Campus will serve hundreds of students when they are first opened in the summer. A service center has two high-rise dormitories  attached to the corners. Under contracts recently awarded, two more buildings, identical to the first, will be built on the remaining two corners of the service center, which will provide students food service and recreation areas.

By building the tall structures in the valley of what past generations called the Home of the Birds, the college was able to keep the height of the buildings at the level of existing buildings. That avoided a top-heavy effect.

2010 Aerial of dorm area

This photo is looking east toward the high-rise dorm area. Academic Hall, not visible, would be at the right.

Houck Stadium, Kent Library

This photo, taken November 6, 2010, shows Houck Stadium at the bottom. The large building at the top center of the picture is Kent Library. Dearmont Hall is on its right.

Photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Rumor: Minor League Ball Coming to South Cape

The first day I was in Cape, we made the usual pass down Broadway, cruised past Water Street to see that the floodgates were closed, then headed down Aquamsi Street, jogged over onto Elm Street, then Giboney, on down to where the sinkholes had swallowed South Sprigg at Cape LaCroix Creek.

Funny how I always thought that was pretty much a straight shot until I looked at it on the map.

As we passed below Fort D, I thought something was odd: we could SEE the fort. I thought I remembered the view being blocked by brush and trees.

What’s all the clearing?

On the way back from looking at the sinkholes, we noticed that there was a lot of land being cleared north of the fort in an area roughly bounded by Maple on the north, Giboney on the east, Elm on the south and Ranney on the west.

“It’s going to be a minor league ball field”

There was a work crew digging out the foundation of a building half-way up Elm Street, so I stopped to talk with a worker about what they were doing.

“Well, I guess it’s no secret. The rumor is that it’s going to be a minor league ball field. We have people stopping by here all the time saying that’s what it’s gonna be. In fact, Walter Joe Ford pulled up yesterday and asked, ‘Is this [name deleted]’s ball field?'”

I didn’t track down the alleged owner

The name is deleted because I didn’t confirm the name. I heard it from several semi-reliable sources, but I didn’t talk directly to the person who is supposedly putting the project together.

Reporting is too much like work

Why didn’t I track it down? Frankly, that’s real reporting and real reporting is too close to being work. Something else was nagging me, too. I’ve worked stories about how big land purchases are put together. The early rumors of what was thought to be going on frequently turn out not to be even close to the final deal.

So, I’m going to let you folks theorize and speculate away. Let’s see how many of you have heard the same rumor I have.

Reasons that it might be true:

  • The person who is said to be involved has a history of doing or being involved in big projects, particularly of a civic-minded nature, and has been closely linked with some of the university’s expansions.
  • The person has an interest in baseball.
  • If a pro league DIDN’T come to Cape, the property is close enough to the River Campus, that it could be re-purposed for the University.

Reasons why it might NOT be true

  • As it stands now, there doesn’t look to be enough land for a playing field, practice fields, seating and parking. That’s not to say that more property hasn’t been obtained or could be obtained.
  • That area is made up of steep hills and deep gullies. Either an awful lot of hills are going to have to be cut down or there’s going to have to be a lot of fill brought in to make it level. There might be enough dirt on site, but I’m not sure.

Two houses need to be torn down

The worker told me that there are two houses at the top of the hill that still need to be torn down. Rumor has it that at least one of the the houses is owned by an elderly man who has no desire to move from his home. There are some trespassing signs that I can “overlook,” but I decided I’d believe this guy might just mean his, so I didn’t knock on his door to ask him what was going on.

Clearing work brings out treasure hunters

When I checked out the site on Saturday, I ran into Jamihia Walker, a 26-year-old SEMO student majoring in business, who was wielding a metal detector hoping to find coins or other treasures.

Trash or treasure?

Ms. Walker, was an absolute delight to talk with except for her insistence on calling me “sir” – “I’m sorry, sir, that’s just the way my grandparents brought me up.”

She came here from Sacramento to help care for them. Now that they’ve passed away, she plans to get her degree, stay in Cape a few more years, then move to a bigger city where she will become an entrepreneur. She might just make it if she can shed that “sir” business.

What’s your opinion?

  • Is the property suitable for a minor league ball facility?
  • Would Cape be able to support a minor league team?
  • Which major league team would it be affiliated with?
  • Would you attend the games or are you going to be spending all your time and money at the casino?
  • If it’s not a ball field, what is your alternative theory? Wild guesses acceptable.
  • By the way, I’ve heard this area called Mill Town and Giboney Woods. I’m not sure if they are the same or if it’s either. Anyone know the answer to THAT?

Photo gallery

Here’s a photo gallery of pictures taken July 1, 2011, and July 16, showing how much work has been accomplished. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the collection.

Scott City I-55 Interchange Under Construction in 1960s

A trip to St. Louis or Memphis took all day

If you’re a Post-Boomer, you probably don’t know going to St. Louis or Memphis was an all-day affair before Interstate 55 was built. It was such a big deal that The Missourian routinely ran briefs that said, “Mr. and Mrs. John Jones, 1618 Somewhere St., journeyed to St. Louis for shopping and to see relatives.”

It wasn’t until the late 60s that the paper established the policy that a mere trip to those two cities didn’t warrant coverage unless actual news was committed.

I had forgotten how recently I-55 was constructed, until I saw the aerial photo above tacked on the end of the roll that had the Bald Knob Cross shots on it. That would have put it roughly in 1964. (Also on the roll are some shots of downtown Cape before the KFVS building was built. They’re coming in the next few days.)

It took me a little head-scratching to figure out where the photo was taken. My first guess was Route K near the mall, but there are no railroad tracks out there. Then, I remembered some overpasses over tracks in the Chaffee area, but there’s no Interstate there.

It was the Scott City Interchange

Finally, I pulled up Google Earth and started searching for railroad tracks near an interchange with a highway overpass nearby. I also figured that it was probably near the Cape Airport where Ernie Chiles and I would have taken off. Bingo. That was it. The giveaway turned out to be what I assume to be a train station just east of the ramp area.

Highway 61 is the overpass on the left

The overpass to the left of the interchange carried traffic north over the Diversion Channel to Cape and south to Benton. The road that parallels the railroad track is Main Street leading into Scott City.

The equipment used to build the Interstate was a little more modern than the steam roller my Dad used to pave Rt. 25 going into Advance in 1941.

Here’s a map showing the Scott City Interchange as it looks today

View Scott City Interchange in a larger map