Maplewood History: The Unnecessary Destruction of the Smokestack at Concordia Seminary

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Relax.  This didn’t just happen.  It happened quite a while ago and I’m just now writing about it. This is not Maplewood history.  I’m running it under that banner anyway to connect with my usual audience.

Ask any Maplewoodian and they will tell you that our location is ideal.  There are many reasons why.  Access to highways, hospitals ,universities and downtown Maplewood are just a few.  Access to Forest Park is another.  It is only 3 miles away.  From just about any location in our town, one can make their way to the park on a bicycle by cutting through residential neighborhoods and avoiding the busy streets with the exception of crossing them.  For the past 47 years, I have done this hundreds of times.  Usually at some point I’ll connect with Bellevue, take it over Hwy 40 and across Clayton Road.  From there it is just a few blocks through the DeMun neighborhood to the light at Rosebury and then into the park.  Sometimes I’ll ride through the campus of the Concordia Seminary.

This is exactly what I was doing one day a little over 21 years ago when I chanced upon a scene of destruction.  I was very unhappy to see that the smokestack at Concordia Seminary was being demolished.  I hadn’t even heard that it was endangered.

The stack and the power plant building were an interesting architectural ensemble, nicely done and built to last.  Originally coal was burned to fire the boilers that provided heat to the seminary buildings.  At one time there were many of these anywhere one had large buildings but as the coal-fired heating became obsolete most were demolished.

It is a shame because some were architecturally significant.  For example, the large Art Deco stack on the campus at Washington University.  The fact that it still exists makes me think it must have some supporters who keep the destructors at bay.

The stack at Concordia had no supporters as far as I know.  That day I talked to one of the workers who was demolishing the stack.  I asked him if it was in bad condition.  He said anything but.  According to him, only about the top 10 courses of brick were loose.  They could have easily been repointed.  The rest of the stack was so solid that it had to be demolished all the way to the ground with a jack hammer!  I think that it could have easily lasted another 100 years or more with minimal maintenance.  Instead we lost it.

Ordinarily when I would make a discovery such as this I would contact some of the folks that I know who are concerned with historic preservation in the area. My first call would go to Esley Hamilton, who was long the Preservation Historian for the St. Louis County Parks Department.  Then I would call the Landmarks Association of St. Louis where I am a member.  But this time I did neither.  The reason?  The date just one day after I took these photos was 9/11/2001!

After the horror of the events of that day, it was impossible for me or anyone else to be concerned about the fate of the smokestack.

The powerhouse and the smokestack.  Please forgive the quality of these images.  They are all slides.  I just took pictures of the screen with my digital camera and they didn’t turn out too well.

The stack was free standing.  The date is 2001 9/9.

I hate to see something this beautiful and sound demolished.

This is a poor image but it gives you some idea of the height of the stack.

Here you can make out the pattern of the brick laying of the powerhouse.  Alternating courses of stretchers and headers.  Also those are some very nice cut stone lintels with some really great gothic arches above them.  I don’t know if the powerhouse still exists.  I should run by and check on it.

Those alternating courses of brick work were carried all the way to the top of the stack!  What a loss!

The stack was structurally very sound.  This is how the pieces looked after they were jack hammered off.  Sad!

It is gone and it didn’t have to be.  I never did learn if there was any discussion among the preservationists about saving it.  Surely Clayton (I think it was in Clayton) had to issue a demolition permit.  That should have alerted someone.

Folks, once a structure like this is gone, it’s gone forever.  It will never be coming back.  Let’s do all we can to keep the best of what we’ve built.

Doug Houser         January 31, 2023

 

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Doug, the fellow running the seminary then was a fellow I wouldn’t want to have any dealings with. He also headed, what to me was a fiasco) the selling off off KFUO, which involved lies on his part and non-consideration of a serious plan for a group to buy the station in order to preserve classical music in St. Louis. It would be years before the music was recovered through the efforts of the folks backing Radio Arts, FM 107.3

  2. From Will Holmes by email: This was a loss and a shame. I have never seen such an elegant smoke stack, and one that was obviously built to stand for centuries. I agree. we need to preserve what we can because, unfortunately, not much is built these days with the elegance, style and durability of the Concordia smoke stack ;-{. Thanks, Doug,
    I agree, Will. You are welcome.

  3. The stack at Wash-U has not been demolished because is has been continuously in use for a century and a quarter. The “new” boilers are fired with natural gas or fuel oil and still exhaust up that stack.

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