Documentary evidence suggests that Woodside was at least partly built by slaves. The interest in African/American historic sites is fast rising in the United States. The Smithsonian recently acquired and moved a slave cabin to their museum. How many buildings still exist in the St. Louis area that were constructed by slaves? Not many, I’m betting.
Many African/Americans have been denied a chance to know much about the history of their families by the practices of the folks who enslaved them. Sites like Woodside may one day allow descendants of the builders to lay their own hands on the work of their grandfathers.
The argument that Woodside is collapsing and unsound is not true. The interior was recently toured by Councilman Tim Dunn and others who report that it is dry and sound. Plaster has fallen and surfaces have deteriorated which is true of any building that has not been used for awhile. Many people have a hard time seeing past the cosmetic deterioration. The structural repairs needed are not overwhelming.
Buildings in far worse shape are regularly brought back especially in areas like Soulard that have made a strong commitment to historic preservation. Indeed it is that commitment that has made Soulard one of the most desirable and interesting places to live in our city.
Why is it necessary to destroy Woodside? Couldn’t we do a better job of mothballing it? Why not spend a bit to remove the deteriorated addition on the west end of the building, seal the chimneys and board up the windows. No one likes boarded up windows, of course, but this is an exception. It’s our oldest building. It is the miraculous surviving home of one of our pioneer families. If we lose it we’ll never get it back. What is more valuable than something that is irreplaceable?
There is another option we have not looked into. Models exist for saving historic buildings in the eastern states where municipalities have many. They have worked out lease arrangements which allow talented individuals who otherwise could not afford the cost to work on the building in exchange for being able to live there. I imagine there are some which would allow these restorers to eventually own the buildings they have restored. This is certainly worth looking into.
What would Rome or Paris or any of the great cities be without their historic buildings? This is one of our most important. We have the chance to save it. Let’s not let it disappear.