For the past three weeks, I’ve been providing highlights from Colin Gordon’s provocative study, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (Penn Press, 2008). This week, I thought I’d take a look at what Gordon has to say about Wellston and about Wagner Electric.

Gordon traces the development and then abandonment of first-ring suburbs such as Wellston. “Railroad suburbs” like Wellston sprang up wherever the trains and streetcars could take city residents.

“New economic development in the 1920s and 1930s” was “led by electrical supply and manufacturing firms such as Wagner and Emerson.” This development pushed “employment and investments to the city’s western edge and across the county line into inner suburbs like Welllston.”

“In St. Louis County,” says Gordon, “the central inner-ring suburbs were essentially extensions of the City and reflected the same patterns of land use . . . as those parts of the City they bordered.” In Wellston’s case, this meant industry.

But as manufacturing dried up, so too did those inner suburbs. “Local job losses,” says Gordon, “were concentrated along the City’s old industrial corridors, in its inner suburbs (including . . . the now rapidly declining industrial enclave surrounding Wellston), in suburban outposts of the automobile industry, and in the volatile aerospace industry surrounding Lambert Field.”

Eventually, “Chapter 99” tax abatement areas designating blighted parcels  “covered much of Wellston.” As Gordon points out, Wellston was “less a part of suburban St. Louis” and instead was part of the “kind of development (and redevelopment challenges) found in the City itself.”

While Wellston was a “largely abandoned industrial area” and while much of it was blighted, it nevertheless became the home of displaced African Americans, many of whom were “refugees from the latest round of renewal” in places like Mill Creek Valley. The “vast majority” of these “relocations” “simply drifted north and west into the neighborhoods bounded by Delmar, Hodiamont, Jefferson, and Natural Bridge.”

“By 1970,” Gordon writes, “the locus of white settlement had moved to the western reaches of St. Louis County, racial succession and white flight now reached the inner-ring suburbs (University City, Normandy, Wellston) sitting east of the City’s northside, and the older northside neighborhoods were largely abandoned.” (Does Gordon mean “west of the City’s northside” perhaps??)

In short, Wellston portrays in microcosm what was happening in the macrocosm of St. Louis: industrial heyday, followed by white flight and industrial abandonment, thus triggering blight and eventually the “hypersegregation” I discussed in last week’s post.

Next week, I’ll wrap up my reflections on Mapping Decline.

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