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Monroe County/Valmeyer
4 May 2015
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Description

Monroe County is a county located across the river from St. Louis in the American Bottom of Southern Illinois. Officially formed in 1816, Monroe County was named after President James Monroe. The city of Waterloo was designated as the County Seat in 1825. Waterloo was home to many German settlers in the 1840s, and continues to embrace that heritage today. Due to its location in a floodplain, Monroe County has experienced much flooding throughout its history.

There are two cakes located in Monroe County--one at the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo and the other at the Monroe County Welcome Center in Columbia. Although these spots are notable for their historical significance and mission of preserving the history of the area, I was surprised that there were two in Monroe County, when there is not a huge amount of history that has affected the St. Louis area as a whole. However, there is one markedly absent from arguably the most significant spot in the county, the city of Valmeyer.

Valmeyer is a town located in Monroe County that was almost completely destroyed by the floods of 1993. After the destruction was assessed, the town decided not to rebuild the levees and dams--rather, they moved 400 feet up the bluffs to a new town. The author of a 1996 New York Times article noted the signs splattered around the new development--dubbed “Valmeyer II: A New Beginning.” The people of Valmeyer aimed to create a town that reminded them of home. Here they constructed new churches, schools, and homes. Illustrating the connection to place that the townspeople felt, after the flood one man climbed the bell tower of the water-soaked church to record the sound of the church bell. The recorded sound was played in the basement of a nursing home during services while the new church was being built. One woman explained why there was such an effort to recreate the town of Valmeyer, when many surrounding towns chose to disincorporate. She said, “But we're talking four, five, six generations down here. That's a lot of ties to be pulled apart by something as insignificant as Mother Nature."

Furthermore, it is important to note that in the new town, no section 8 housing was included. Valmeyer II seems to be an idealized version of what small-town life is to look like. The author notes that the townspeople wanted to reject undesirable aspects of community life, writing, “‘Some things you didn't want to repeat, like junked cars and people who didn't keep the grass mowed,’ said Laurie Brown, the village clerk. Some people even chose new neighbors. One family made sure it would not be living next to the family that kept laundry on the clothesline for three days at a stretch.” In addition, the townspeople also outlawed chain-link fences.

The city of Valmeyer reflects a recurring theme in St. Louis history. A town with a rich and devastating history, the people wanted to start over by moving somewhere else, reminiscent of white flight in the city. Furthermore, they attempted to create an idealized version of a town, much like New Town today. Valmeyer is an excellent example of the theme that has pervaded our class--a group’s connection to place. It is for these reasons that Valmeyer should be the location of an STL250 cake in Monroe County, rather than the courthouse or Welcome Center.

Photo: http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/articles/smithsonian/

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