East Saint Louis
East Saint Louis was once an industrial and transportation powerhouse with a peak population of 82,000 in 1950. In 2012 the population of East Saint Louis had fallen to 26,708. Much of the Eastern, Illinois side of the Saint Louis metropolitan area has been severely impacted by de-industrialization. East St. Louis has fared worse than any of it's neighbors. The city formerly had a diverse industrial economy but the meat packing industry was historically the most important local source of jobs. All of the factories and packing plants in East St. Louis have closed or relocated. The major packing plants in adjacent National City have also closed leaving residents of the city few employment opportunities. East Saint Louis is littered with abandoned houses, buildings and empty blocks generally reminiscent of Gary Indiana and parts of Detroit.
Development in East St. Louis started to take off in the 1870s. The city's greatest period of growth was from 1890 to 1910 when the population grew from 15,169 to 58,540. Much of the growth during this period was fueled by industries that had located in small independent municipalities with token populations located just outside of East Saint Louis's boundaries. In doing so the industrialists were able to maintain more control over their operations and avoided paying city property tax. National City was one of these company owned towns. This of course starved the city of revenue and possibly contributed to East Saint Louis' epic history of political corruption. In 1881 city hall was burned to the ground probably in order to hide evidence of financial misdealing. "In 1913, the city council voted to destroy municipal financial records as an unnecessary clutter in city hall. A public clamor forestalled the disposal, but the records disappeared anyway." The previous quote is from a nice compilation of the cities' many low points at a SIUE website here. Corruption and mismanagement have been constant features of East Saint Louis' government since the beginning. Another more or less constant thread throughout the city's history has been organized crime and or sometimes completely disorganized crime.
East Saint Louis' most infamous and documented moment in history is the race riot of 1917. Mobs of white residents attacked and burned black neighborhoods killing an unknown number of black residents. Estimates vary from 40 to several hundred killed. Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 by Elliot Rudwick is an excellent book on the subject. Charles L. Lumpkins author of "American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics" has his thesis entitled: BLACK EAST ST. LOUIS: POLITICS AND. ECONOMY IN A BORDER CITY, 1860-1945 available online.
In the 1960s and 70s open and violent racial conflict broke out in East Saint Louis. Many of the industries in the area reduced or ceased operations during this period including the meat packing plants. Racial strife, high unemployment and crime led to almost all of the white residents leaving the city during this period as well as many of the black residents. The city is now one of the bleakest poorest and most dysfunctional places in the United States. Here is a colorful description of the current state of affairs in East Saint Louis. There is not much to do or see in East Saint Louis that I know of. There is a recently built casino on the banks of the Mississippi river that is separated from the rest of the city by the freeway. There are ruins scattered around throughout the city but it generally doesn't seem like a very safe place for exploring or photography.
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