Trail Through Time

Civil War Howitzers

Civil War Howitzers

We got up at six on a Saturday. We haven’t done that for a while. Our early morning destination was Grant’s farm, not the Anheuser-Busch amusement park, but the real one, the one right next door, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Grant’s farm, really his wife’s farm, is where he tried his hand at sod busting and failed. He lost the farm, and then next failed at business in Illinois, but along came the Civil War and this Union general and then US president went on to make his mark on history. We rendezvoused there for an extremely short Trailnet bike ride that highlighted the local history of a portion of Grant’s Trail. It is a good thing that we commuted there by bike, because otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten any miles at all. Grant’s Trail is a rails-to-trails bike path and the portion of its history that we delved into was at the Crestwood end of the trail. I’ll key on two of the sites that we visited and I’ll cover them in the order that we did today and not their actual historical precedence.

Our first stop was the Father Dickson Cemetery. This thirteen acre black cemetery opened in 1903 and when the last person had been laid to rest there in the 1970s over 12,000 souls had been buried there. The grounds undulate beneath you as you walk across them. Few people buried there were buried in caskets, most not even in a pine box. This has allowed the ground to settle unevenly. Fewer still had headstones for their graves. The stones that do exist seem to have been almost randomly scattered across this potter’s field. Before this cemetery, black folk had to contend with burial plots on the periphery of white cemeteries, one final injustice. Still, the first African-American US ambassador is buried there.

Our tour of the cemetery was cut short when a mixed race gospel choir began their singing. They setup blocking Grant’s Trail, which I wouldn’t have done, but everyone was cool and their singing was infectious. After the concert, we toured the Sappington House, which was right next door. This 1808 house was one of the first residences in what is now Saint Louis County. Sappington was friends with Daniel Boone who contemporaneously settled across the Missouri in Saint Chuck. It was a beautiful home when it was built and it remains so today. It is immaculately outfitted in period furnishing and is one of the best home tours that I’ve ever experienced. We only got the 25¢ tour that covered just the ground floor. I can hardly wait to go back for the 50¢ tour that also covers the upstairs.

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