NEWS11 Remembers: St. Louis’s Hooverville

ST. LOUIS, MO. (KPLR) – We think of homelessness as a modern problem, but during the great depression; it was a huge problem and St. Louisans were among those who took to creating their own villages to survive.

Paul Schankman has the story in this week’s news 11 remembers.

Most of these people were middle class folks who lost jobs.  They had come from a better life and expected to be going back to that life after the depression was over.

They were called Hoovervilles, shantytowns named for the president, many of the jobless blamed for the great depression.

And St. Louis’ Hooverville was among the greatest of them all; with as many as five thousand residents living by their wits, in squalor on the riverfront just south of the MaCarthur Bridge.

They created a real community, they created an integrated community, it was a community in which the men took two wheel carts and went out around the city during the day seeing what they could rustle in terms of food or maybe an odd job here and there washing a window for a downtown retail store, picking up coal along the railroad tracks for heat for cooking or heat for keeping their homes warm.

Their homes were tiny, sometimes made out of orange crates or crushed cars or made out of wood that was sort of scavenged from anywhere you could scavenge it.

Often entire families lived in the Hooverville and the children even attended school.  Pevely Dairy sent them milk.  Soulard Market sent unsold vegetables.

The Terminal Railroad which owned much of the land simply let them be.

It was somehow livable, but not much of a life.

It is on the one hand a tale of extraordinary poverty in a very very wealthy county but it is also a story of persistence and endurance on the part of people who face adverse circumstances.

By the mid 1930’s St. Louis’ Hooverville began to shrink because people began finding work and because the city decided to clear the land for a park that eventually become the Archgrounds.  Still, a few squatters continued living in their riverfront shacks until the late 1950’s, when the last were finally bulldozed to make way for Interstate 55.

News 11 remembers is brought to you by the history museum and America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses.

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