by Michael R. Allen
I have been conducting an architectural survey at Scott Air Force Base and passing back through Belleville. Last week, just east of town I came across this 19th century brick farmhouse on Highway 161 east of town. The rest of the farm — a clay tile silo and some outbuildings — are well under demolition, but work has yet to really start on the house. A porch and the roofing have been removed, but the old building is painfully still able to be saved. The demolition set me to thinking.
I know, I know. Illinois is full of these one-story brick center-hall houses, with their two-over-two wooden windows and simple brick cornices. Yet that’s really the point: these vernacular houses give the state’s rural areas unique architectural character compatible with the rich and lovely landscape upon which they reside.
Besides, this house has an interesting hipped roof, and lovely cast stone porch columns (definitely not original, but certainly a historic alteration). With a new Wal-Mart and strip retail in this vicinity, I think I know what happens next to this farm. Even if one does not see the folly of the wasted building, what about thinking through losing soil that has fed people for over 100 years?
St. Louisans should think about these things too. What happens in Belleville matters to St. Louis. The loss of good farm land and usable farm building stock within 100 miles weakens our renewing regional food economy. We lost much of the good farm land in St. Louis and St. Charles counties, but we still have a lot left across the river. Some talk about “balancing” the region’s sprawl, but without regional growth that is tantamount to doubling the waste: settled and unsettled areas, wasted. When do we stop?