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Preparing Bellefontaine Cemetery For The Next 100 Years

Who doesn’t love Bellefontaine Cemetery? Bellefontaine’s narrative, a fascinating read, begins:

The story of Bellefontaine Cemetery begins in the early 19th Century when an international movement began to transform burial practice in America. Up until that time, the dead had been buried in churchyards, on family property, or in small vacant lots. As cities flourished, however, the land set aside for the dead grew increasingly valuable. When developers claimed these urban graveyards for the growth of cities, those interred there had to be moved elsewhere.

“The first interment at Bellefontaine took place on April 27, 1850” and the new cemetery was dedicated on May 16, 1850. In those days the main entrance was on the east side, facing an unpaved Broadway.

ABOVE: Entry to Bellefontaine Cemetery off W. Florissant Ave
ABOVE: Bellefontaine's original Broadway entrance, although these gates came later

In my 21+ years in St. Louis I’ve been to Bellefontaine many times, often taking out of town guests on a drive through the winding roads to see some of the notable structures. You’ve probably done the same thing.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine contains many beautiful mausoleum, such as the Wainwright Tomb, click image for more info on this structure

At the Compton Heights Home Tour this year I happened to meet Bellefontaine’s new landscape architect, Earen L. Hummel.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine Cemetery's Director of Landscape Design Earen L. Hummel reviews the master plan

Before I get into Hummel’s role I’d like to review what Bellefontaine is, and isn’t. The quotes below are from Bellefontaine’s FAQ page:

Bellefontaine does not have an owner – it is a non-profit, non-denominational cemetery. Our mission is to provide high quality service to people of all faiths; to preserve and protect the history and stories of our families; to protect and enhance the beauty of our landscape; and to ensure that the cemetery is well-cared for, far into the future.

The cemetery’s large endowment is professionally managed to ensure future financial needs are met:

Bellefontaine is very fortunate to have a large endowment that helps pay for the not insignificant costs of maintaining a 314 acre property that has many buildings and 14 miles of roads. 

While Bellefontaine contains important historical figures such as author William S. Burroughs, architect Theodore Link and brewing magnate Adolphus Busch, most of those interred are just regular folks like you and me.

Bellefontaine buries people of all faiths and walks of life – the cemetery was founded to serve all the citizens of St. Louis. In the mid-1800s, many cemeteries in St. Louis were faith based and buried only members of their congregation or others of the same faith. As the population grew exponentially, cemeteries were filled up. Others were sold to developers, eager for land in the expanding city. City leaders at the time conceived of Bellefontaine as a cemetery for everyone, large enough that it would have land available for the citizens of the city far into the future, and far enough away from the downtown that there would be no demand from developers for its land.

Note that it said “buries” in present tense — Bellefontaine is far from being full:

Bellefontaine still has over 100 acres of open land, which means that the cemetery will be available for interment for generations to come. In fact, we have so much land that we are planting some of it in prairie and woodland, which is beautiful to look at, and provides habitat for many birds and animals.

Who knew? Personal story, I knew and in the days before my stroke I called Bellefontaine to get plot information after discussing the with a friend about being buried in such a beautiful cemetery. The information came while I was comatose in intensive care.

Hummel gave me a personal tour of the cemetery, including the open spaces.

ABOVE: Some of the space available for burial today

Hummel was part of a consultant team that worked for a year on the master plan for the next 100 years.  After the team finished their work Bellefontaine’s board created a new position and hired Hummel to oversee the implementation of the new plan. It’s an exciting plan too!

More green options will be offered, though they’ve always permitted a simple green burial:

those who wish to minimize their environmental impact (and often reduce their costs too), unlike many cemeteries we do not require outer burial containers, often called vaults, which surround the casket. And if you wish burial in a simple pine coffin or even a shroud, that is fine with us too. We call this “traditional” green burial: it is what our forbearers did for hundreds of years.

Want to be greener yet?

As mentioned above, at Bellefontaine you do not need to be embalmed, have an outer burial container, or even a traditional coffin. Old-fashioned pine, wicker or other bio-degradable materials are perfectly acceptable. This is better for the earth, and can also significantly reduce your costs. We will also soon be offering even “greener” options in our woodland or prairie areas, such as in-ground scattering of cremated remains or burials with simple, natural monumentation.

Within a couple of years they hope to have areas that will be free of pesticides.

ABOVE: The ruins from an old service building will become a walled garden
One of several new prairie areas being created
ABOVE: Open land along Florissant Rd

I planned to include one image from the master plan but I couldn’t pick just one:

ABOVE: Artist rendering of future visitor's center off new entrance at Florissant & Shreve Ave
ABOVE: Planned trail network, click image to view larger version
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a stream side path
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a hillside trail

It’ll take all of 20 years to implement the master plan. I look forward to watching it happen.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Should The City Of St. Louis Ban Plastic Shopping Bags?

Recently Los Angeles joined many others in banning plastic shopping bags:

In the first five months of the year, the number of plastic bag bans in the U.S. has doubled, from 37 to 75, after almost doubling, from 19 to 37, in 2011. The industry has been unable to stop major U.S. cities such as Seattle, Austin and now, most likely, Los Angeles, from banning its products.

ABOVE: Reusable bags are often free or low cost

Two-thirds of the bans are in California, and plastic bag bans are now in place in three of the 14 largest and five of the 29 largest cities in the U.S., with Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest city, with a population of 4 million — set to join that group. (Plastics News)

However, such measures are not without controversy:

Many cities are imposing fees and bans on plastic shopping bags. Advocates argue these measures help the environment. But others say these measures are ineffective, and hurt the urban poor. (NPR)

Some stores, such as Aldi, don’t offer free plastic bags, customers must buy bags or bring their own. Other stores offer five cent discounts if you bring your own bag.

This is the topic of poll this week, the question is “Should the City of St. Louis ban plastic shopping bags?” The poll is in the right sidebar, results on Wednesday June 20, 2012.

– Steve Patterson


Recycling Is Normal

June 9, 2012 Environment, Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Recycling Is Normal

Recycling seems commonplace these days, especially compared to 30-40 years ago, I’ve even taken stuff home to recycle rather than discard it in  a trash receptacle on the street.

ABOVE: Recycling and solar trash compactor bins exist throughout Uptown Normal IL

Increasingly municipalities, such as Normal IL,  are providing recycling options on the street. Lately solar trash compactors have helped reduce trash collection costs.

Here’s a news report on these solar trash compactors:


I like these compactors, hopefully their initial cost will come down and we’ll start getting them in St. Louis.

 – Steve Patterson


June 5th Special Election: Metropolitan Sewer District

Four weeks from today voters in St. Louis City & St. Louis County have identical June 5th special election ballots.  They contain the same nine items, each to be approved or rejected.  Eight of the items are changes to MSD’s charter:

The Charter Plan of the Metropolitan St Louis Sewer District is a blueprint for how MSD is operated. The plan was created when MSD was formed in 1954 and was amended and approved by voters in 2000. These amendments provided MSD with the necessary tools to continue providing quality service and to address additional water quality and stormwater needs that exist or may develop in the years ahead. (Source w/link to actual charter)

The first proposition is related to a recent settlement:

A judge approved the settlement of federal lawsuit against the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, paving the way for $4.7 billion of work over the next 23 years to help clean up local rivers and streams and prevent backups into basements and yards.

The Environmental Protection Agency, state and Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed the lawsuit almost five years ago , citing more than 500 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into local rivers and streams between 2000 and 2006 in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. (stltoday.com — recommended reading)

The following are the ballot items:


To comply with federal and state clean water requirements, shall The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) issue its sewer revenue bonds in the amount of Nine Hundred Forty-Five Million Dollars ($945,000,000) for the purpose of designing, constructing, improving, renovating, repairing, replacing and equipping new and existing MSD sewer and drainage facilities and systems, including sewage treatment and disposal plants, sanitary sewers, and acquisition of easements and real property related thereto, the cost of operation and maintenance of said facilities and systems and the principal of and interest on said revenue bonds to be payable solely from the revenues derived by MSD from the operation of its wastewater sewer system, including all future extensions and improvements thereto?


Shall Article 2 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that the portion of the boundaries of the District that are located within St. Louis County shall be as described in records kept in the office of the Secretary-Treasurer of the District and no longer required to be contained in the text of the plan?


Shall Articles 3 and 9 of Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to (a) establish procedural requirements relating to the formation of subdistricts within the District and the design, construction and funding of improvements in such subdistricts, and (b) establish the method for levying special benefit assessments, all subject to a vote of the property owners in the affected subdistricts?


Shall Article 3 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District relating to powers of the District be amended to (a) permit the District to establish environmentally sustainable standards and practices, and (b) clarify the existing authority of the District to enter into contracts pertaining to stormwater facilities?


Shall Articles 5, 7 and 10 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that notice of the expiration of the term of office of a Director, notice of tax levy hearings, notice of proposed rate changes, and notice of elections under the Plan (Charter) shall be given by mail, publication or electronic media, or such other form of communication as may be permitted by Missouri law?


Shall Articles 7 and 9 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District relating to budget and finance be amended to (a) require the budget of the District to include a list of capital projects, (b) require a public hearing at least 21 days prior to adoption of the budget, and (c) provide that proceedings to make certain improvements shall be initiated by approval of a list of capital projects and a general appropriation ordinance rather than by resolution?


Shall Article 9 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to permit the District to use design-build and other alternative delivery methods to make improvements, as permitted by Missouri law?


Shall Article 11 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that a District Plan Amendment Commission shall be appointed on or before July 1, 2019 and every ten years thereafter?


Shall the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to (a) make various typographical, grammatical and stylistic revisions to the text thereof, (b) correct outdated statutory citations and references, (c) change gender specific language to gender neutral language, and (d) eliminate the requirement that records of the Board of Trustees maintained by the Secretary-Treasurer be kept in bound or book form?

I’m just now starting the process to research these before election day so I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

– Steve Patterson


The Short Life Of Some Street Trees

Last week workers replaced the dead street tree in front of my building, it was planted in 2008. Other trees in front of the building are older, but this spot is where dogs go as soon as their owners  take them outside. I’m not sure if that’s the cause of the short lifespan of the last tree or one of numerous reasons it didn’t survive.

ABOVE: Newly planted street tree in front of my building.

Hopefully this tree will last longer. I saw the workers digging out the old tree but I didn’t stick around to see how it had been planted or the conditions. I did snap a picture of a hole for a street tree around the corner just before the tree was planted.

ABOVE: Just before a street tree was planted on 16th next to the Leather Trades Lofts

Yes, the earth surrounding the hole is filled with bricks. How do we expect trees to survive when the root system has to compete with bricks and other debris?

– Steve Patterson




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