by Jennifer Adele
Of all the amazing and evocative places to visit in the Midwest, let alone around the St. Louis metro area, Sylvan Springs is one of the absolute best choices, I think. Of course, I have lots of memories there, but so do many locals. Not only is this location within Jefferson Barracks alive with our own memories, it is further enhanced by all that the Barracks currently is or has ever been. Much has happened there; much goes on around it, and many people even have close personal ties resting in the nation cemetery right across the street. There is no doubt about it, for a strong energetic connection, Sylvan Springs is the place for the artist and the writer to frequent regularly.
Originally known as Rock Springs, [now Sylvan Springs,] this was the site of the first bivouac at Jefferson Barracks. A temporary camp was established on July 10, 1826, by four companies of the First U.S. Infantry Regiment under the command of Major Stephen Watts Kearny…This portion of the Barracks remained largely unused until 1939, when the spring area was improved by the 6th Infantry with stone retaining walls and terraces.
Two years later, enlisted men from Jefferson Barracks cleared underbrush, and built an amphitheater, a dance floor, along with baseball and football fields. The USO hosted many shows here, as well. And, among the well-known performers over the following years were Virginia Mayo, Sally Rand, Jeanette MacDonald, and Judy Garland. The USO bandshell was removed from the park, however, in the 1970s, but most other features remain.
The Sylvan Springs property was conveyed to the County from the Federal Government in 1950 and was dedicated on October 23, 1954. It was one of the most popular parks for many years (Waymarking.com).
Each May and then August/September the main parking lot at the Ordinance Shelter became the site of numerous school and corporate picnics, and my own school hosted their picnics and gatherings here. It acted as a mile marker for me for many seasons and years of my life. I can’t even imagine how many other people must feel this way about the location, and when you step into it, it is sort of akin to stepping back in time. It feels as though you can access not only the timeline of your life but the timeline and vast history of the site as well.
The most intriguing aspect about this location, other than the Ordinance Shelter with working fireplace, is the Beverage Garden. This stone structure remains pretty much completely intact, and it is very easy to see what it was originally built to be, what it must have hosted, and how. Tiny stone bridges here are still functional and waterways flow underneath, giving the music of nature to all who come to hear it. Flat patio areas paved with natural stones act as hosts for gatherings that have happened and those that are yet to occur. Pathways for walkers are shielded by tall and ancient trees, and a great variety of bushes create the urge to explore and write for adventure, for history, for the experience, or just for the sake of it. If you are looking for that intrinsic spark, that sense of history and connection, remembrances and a greater cohesion, then visit Sylvan Springs and imagine all that has passed and all that is coming. What story could emerge there? What painting? What image might you capture on a camera that would then be enduring? Artists and writers have a home away from home at Sylvan Springs, where the possibilities are endless.
Sylvan Springs is certainly a spot where artists and authors can summon the muse. I go there to find my own sense of self, my own little spot on the greater timeline of history. Perhaps it’s the age of the rocks and the long and diverse stories of the structures that intrigue me. Maybe it is the expansive areas of open green lands that continue to call me back. It may even be the large national cemetery right across the main street. Whatever the case, why not get out there and see what Sylvan Springs can call forth for you, from within you?… Get out there and feel connected to a great timeline, a fantastic story line!