Monday, May 08, 2006

Gumbo Jail

A few weeks ago, Tunajive and I decided to spend our evening in the most productive way we could think of: checking out some of the abandoned sites that West County has to offer. First we visited the old Nursing Home, but eventually made out way to the old "Gumbo Jail." I assume this jail got its name because of it's location on the Missouri River floodplains of Chesterfield nicknamed "Gumbo Flats," not because they used to serve a kickass cajun seafood stew. But who knows, maybe their gumbo was outstanding. Gumbo Jail was a fully functioning penitentary for St. Louis county until 1993, when the great flood caused it to cease operation and a new jail was built in Clayton. The jail was in the news again recently after Hurricane Katrina, when it was cleaned up and prepared to house victims that never showed up. The site was recently aquired by Duke Reality Corp. for $6.74 million, with the intention of constructing a number of large office buildings.

On this night, we had additional company for our adventure: Fellow explorer Slim Jim and a group of his friends from the Minneapolis area had made the trip down to St. Louis, and were meeting up with us for the first time. The first part of our exploration took us to the bowels of the jail's utility tunnels, which stretch a long distance under the site. As we made our way up into the upper parts of the jail, the work that had been done for Katrina was apparent. Obviously, it had been vacant for some time, but there was none of the usual rubble and grime that one usually finds in abandoned places. In certain areas, the cells had been dry-walled over.....apparently so the victims living there wouldn't feel like they were living in a jail.

Despite how clean the place was, signs of its former use were everywhere. Many cells had names and graffiti scribbled everywhere. I was surprised when I found a number of different places where inmates had placed tic-marks, I'm assuming to count down their remaining days of imprisonment. That is the kind of thing that one sees in the movies, but that hits a somber note when you see that it really happened, and think about the many people who lived out long portions of their lives behind the barred doors of the building.

All of the usual "jail areas" are still intact, including the visitation room with two-way phones, the cafeteria, a large auditorium/gymnasium, and the guard tower outside. I couldn't believe that we were actually able to gain entry into the guard tower, and couldn't help but have someone snap a picture, despite the fact that the flash would be incredibly visible through the glass windows lining every side of the tower.
Although plans for the site seem to be in the works, nothing has been done yet. It will be sad to see this place demolished. I know that, compared with other St. Louis sites, this one does not have anywhere near the history, or even interesting architecture for that matter. It is a bland, two story grey shack looking building. I remember, though, watching the inmates in the yard from my mom's car on the highway when I was a kid. This is something I am able to think about every time I drive by today. Not for long, I guess.


Blogger thechariot said...

i tried to find this place today, but no luck. it seems awesome. where is it at exactly? if you dont want to tell me here PM me on underground ozarks under the same name.

7:08 PM  

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