Home » Economy »Featured »Metro East » Currently Reading:

Guest Post: Old Man of Armour: A Last Look at The Armour Plant

September 8, 2011 Economy, Featured, Metro East 22 Comments

by Chris Andoe

I’ve spent a great deal of time documenting the collection of ruins that make up much of the East St. Louis area. It’s fascinating to see what happens to large masonry structures after fifty years of abandonment. The first couple of times the decay seems static but after a few seasons your eye begins to measure the steady progression.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, January 2010 by Chris Andoe

The site urban explorers find the most intriguing is the Armour Meat Packing Plant, which was the first of East St. Louis‘ big three plants to shutter, closing in 1959. Visiting this behemoth is a religious experience for many with its smokestacks, towering ornate machinery – some circa 1902 – incredible views, and endless areas to discover.

With a few flashlights you can descend into the labyrinth basement complete with deep watery pits, climb multiple levels taking in the glazed brickwork, and one explorer even documented his journey to the top of the smokestack where bricks came loose in his hands and he nearly fell to his death.

ABOVE: Satellite image of the abandoned Armour plant and the planned route of I-70, click to view in Google Maps.

The mystique around this place is accentuated because it’s long been difficult to find. You head north through East St. Louis, past the prostitutes strolling Route 3, make a right at nowhere, park along the isolated potholed road. Once on the property you trek the long convoluted pathways through thick vegetation before you reach it.

Nature has taken back the site, inside and out. Trees are firmly rooted on the roof, vines climb through windows, and a giant white owl waits in the rafters.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, June 2009 by Chris Andoe

In recent years the natural decay has been accelerated by the metal scrappers who have removed much of the flooring and disassembled some of the ornate equipment. On an intellectual level I’ve wondered why the thefts bother me so much. After all the building has been steadily falling for decades and is well past the point of being converted into a new use. The condition is terminal, and after half a century development is encroaching with the new I-70 slated to skirt the site. This hidden, mysterious treasure- long a beacon for explorers and thieves will be laid bare as a dangerously accessible, intolerable eyesore on newly visible, valuable property. Its days are numbered but the dismantling bothered me nonetheless.

After being away for seven months I was eager to see the ruins. I visited the neighboring Hunter Plant, slated for demolition, several sites in Downtown East St. Louis, and I saved the best for last. Sure enough the scrappers had stripped away even more of the personality but in light of recent severe weather I was surprised that the structure hadn’t fared too poorly.

As I was looking around my eyes locked with an old black man in an official looking uniform.

“Who told you you could be in here?” he demanded. I’ve always had ready-made replies in the event this would happen but in that moment I felt like one of the twelve year old kids in the movie Stand By Me. I simply replied “Nobody. I was just taking photos”. He instructed me to “get my crew and get out of here”.

I realized he thought I was a scrapper. He followed us closely as we walked the long overgrown road to the main street. I shared that I knew about the scrappers and also thought it was a shame. He then opened up. “They’re who I was hoping to catch!” he began. “They’re tearing this place apart”.

I had found a kindred spirit. This man loved this crumbling monstrosity even more that I did. After inquiring further I was astonished to learn that he had been one of the employees of Armour during its heyday, and when the plant shuttered he was the lone employee kept on as the caretaker for the site. Since 1959 he’s watched his coworkers leave for the last time, watched as sections of the roof crashed in, walls crumbled, supports failed, and people like myself climbed the building with abandon.

I had so many questions for him and asked if he’d speak with me for this piece. “I can’t really say nothin’, I’ve gotten in trouble in the past” he said. He did point to a few areas and told us how many people worked in each. He spoke of all the jobs that were there.

The overgrown lot littered with brush, bricks and debris gave way to the blinding white pavement of the brand new road. We were off the property. The old man with gray stubble, one blind eye and a sharp, pressed uniform had done his job.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, January 2010 by Chris Andoe

A few years back I had a dream that after a storm I went to check on the plant. As I approached I heard a snap, like a lone firecracker, then watched as the whole structure collapsed in slow motion before me- a spectacular sight- so vivid with the smokestacks splitting and the fire escape landing just feet from my body. That would have been a demise worthy of such a structure. Nestled in quiet vegetation and in the company of someone who loved it.

Just before we got in the car the caretaker pointed to a nearby dirt pile and said “That’s where the new highway’s comin’”.

All of us understood what that meant.

– Chris Andoe

Chris Andoe is a writer and community organizer who has divided his time between St. Louis and San Francisco for the past decade. He earned the moniker “The Emperor of St. Louis” as the crown wearing Master of Ceremonies for the zany Metrolink Prom, where hundreds of transit supporters pack the train for the city’s biggest mobile party. Andoe writes for St. Louis’ Vital Voice.

 

Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. Stljmartin1 says:

    Chris:

    I wished this article and description of the place would have gone on much longer. Thanks, but you left me wanting more. More about the plant. More about the machinery. More about its history. More about the caretaker. Yes. This is not a criticism, it is enthusiasm for more information from your perspective. 

     
  2. Stljmartin1 says:

    Chris:

    I wished this article and description of the place would have gone on much longer. Thanks, but you left me wanting more. More about the plant. More about the machinery. More about its history. More about the caretaker. Yes. This is not a criticism, it is enthusiasm for more information from your perspective. 

     
  3. Stljmartin1 says:

    Chris:

    I wished this article and description of the place would have gone on much longer. Thanks, but you left me wanting more. More about the plant. More about the machinery. More about its history. More about the caretaker. Yes. This is not a criticism, it is enthusiasm for more information from your perspective. 

     
  4. I agree, his many pictures are fascinating. I’m trying to persuade him to write more about East St. Louis. Still, he took him from his vacation to stop by and write out this post.

     
  5. I agree, his many pictures are fascinating. I’m trying to persuade him to write more about East St. Louis. Still, he took him from his vacation to stop by and write out this post.

     
  6. I have an album on facebook devoted to East St. Louis. If this link doesn’t work just send me a friend request.

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.93463582851.87806.635522851

     
  7. Stljmartin1 says:

    I agree, I just was expressing my enthusiasm for his writing style about a local landmark. Great article. 

     
  8. Robin Ricca says:

    Fabulous piece, Chris. Keep us hungering for more on the soul of the East Side.

     
  9. Robin Ricca says:

    Fabulous piece, Chris. Keep us hungering for more on the soul of the East Side.

     
  10. Tom Lampe says:

    Wonderful article and pics.  I too have found the location fascinating.  Here are some photos I snapped of the place a few years ago: http://www.flickr.com/photos/prettywarstl/sets/72157603748688209/with/2445192328/
     

     
  11. Clasonryan says:

    Am I the only one who was hoping for a rough sex scene in the story?

     
  12. Clasonryan says:

    Am I the only one who was hoping for a rough sex scene in the story?

     
  13. Chris Andoe says:

    When I read it to my brother he thought the caretaker would turn out to be a ghost. 

     
  14. ZigCigs says:

    This is just a test.

     
  15. Chris says:

    If you would like to see more pictures of the Armour Meat Packing Plant, click on the following link:

    http://stlouispatina.blogspot.com/search/label/Armour%20Meat%20Packing%20Plant

     
  16. Chris says:

    If you would like to see more pictures of the Armour Meat Packing Plant, click on the following link:

    http://stlouispatina.blogspot.com/search/label/Armour%20Meat%20Packing%20Plant

     
  17. Emily Beck says:

    This story has clearly been edited to protect the identity of the person exploring with you that morning.  I hear she was a bit of a klutz and her choice of dress for an explorer was a bit off, but she enjoyed herself tremendously with appropriate reverence for this awesome sight/site.

    She shared these pics after her adventure:  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150280985061825.330658.655021824&l=3257df153f&type=1

     
  18. Emily Beck says:

    This story has clearly been edited to protect the identity of the person exploring with you that morning.  I hear she was a bit of a klutz and her choice of dress for an explorer was a bit off, but she enjoyed herself tremendously with appropriate reverence for this awesome sight/site.

    She shared these pics after her adventure:  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150280985061825.330658.655021824&l=3257df153f&type=1

     

Comment on this Article:

Advertisement



FACEBOOK POSTS

This message is only visible to admins.

Problem displaying Facebook posts.
Click to show error

Error: An access token is required to request this resource.
Type: OAuthException

Archives

Categories

Advertisement


Subscribe