You Don’t Know Me: Take a Tour of Ferguson, Missouri

By on August 12, 2019

From the American Spectator:

by Joseph P. Duggan

Editor’s Note: Joseph P. Duggan a native  St. Louisan and son of celebrated local journalist Martin Duggan,  lives in South St. Louis City. Formerly he worked in Saudi Arabia as speechwriter for the chairman and CEO of the oil company Aramco, and in Washington as speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. He and his wife Lucía Landa and  are developing historic properties for business and vacation rentals on a campus of five wooded acres in Ferguson.

Ferguson has a large stock of well-maintained old homes.

Ferguson, Missouri: Whenever my wife and I have out-of-town visitors to our home in St. Louis, I ask if they are willing to have us show them Ferguson. After overcoming their trepidation, we head due north from our home in an old neighborhood on the near south side of the city of St. Louis. After 15 minutes, we are in a nightmarish landscape of vacant and collapsing red brick houses.

“Ah, this must be Ferguson,” the sophisticated guest from Tokyo or Manhattan or Mexico City invariably says.

“No,” I reply. “This is St. Louis. We’re in the city — north St. Louis.” We head north-northwest for another 15 minutes until we are on a sylvan street across whose huge front lawns stand massive, immaculately maintained Victorian, Tudor Revival, and Stickley Craftsman style homes dating from the 1890s through the 1910s.

“When are we going to get to Ferguson?” I am asked.

“We’re here.”

The tour continues as we head east for a couple of miles to West Florissant Avenue, Ferguson’s boulevard of broken dreams. Strip malls with mostly empty parking lots, liquor stores, a pawn shop, check-cashing establishments; this is what visitors conditioned by the global media industry expect. Here is where most of the mass protests, arson, riots, and looting took place five years ago this week following the death of Michael Brown, a young black man shot during a confrontation with a white Ferguson police officer.

The Ferguson farmers’ market

We go a couple of blocks east of the strip malls and visit the site of Michael Brown’s residence and the street where he died. It is a complex of pleasant-looking low-rise apartment buildings with mature trees and large, manicured lawns. Here we’re just barely inside Ferguson; a couple of blocks further east, it’s the same neighborhood, but we’re no longer within the Ferguson city limits but in an unincorporated part of St. Louis County. We go back to West Florissant Avenue and head north a few short blocks, maybe a five-minute walk from Michael Brown’s home. The commercial and residential and socio-demographic character of the place is the same, but now we are in Dellwood, a little municipality of 5,000, carved out of the east end of Ferguson. Continuing north across Dellwood for a few blocks, we’re back in Ferguson again.

The first property that Duggan and his wife Lucia Landa redeveloped in Ferguson.

Had the Michael Brown incident happened a few football fields away from where it did, PBS and BBC and Al Jazeera’s thumb-suckers might have asked their viewers to join them in pondering The Meaning of Dellwood. Think-tank charlatans would have been lining their pockets with East Coast foundation money as they constructed and picked apart useless theories of the “Dellwood Effect.” And none of this would have addressed the reality of Dellwood, or Ferguson, or greater St. Louis.

But there’s more to see in Ferguson. We return westward on Ferguson Avenue and skirt the corporate headquarters campus of Emerson Electric, a Fortune 200 global giant within Ferguson’s boundaries. Past Emerson, finally we see some blighted housing — a collection of tiny, mill-village style frame houses in poor repair, some of them boarded up. We pass through the elegant Old Ferguson East neighborhood where the tour had begun, and we’re in the historic center of Ferguson as it had been when the town was incorporated in 1894. Here there’s a church on almost every corner: Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, and more.

Ferguson was incorporated 125 years ago because it was then a growing railroad suburb. Just before the dawn of the Automobile Age, middle-class St. Louisans could enjoy a suburban life while commuting from the Ferguson railroad station to downtown St. Louis 15 minutes away. The station, now a sandwich and ice cream shop, stands on a height above the principal street of old downtown Ferguson, known as South Florissant Road although it is west of West Florissant Avenue. The old railroad suburb core of Ferguson is almost a mirror image of Kirkwood and Webster Groves, two affluent St. Louis suburbs also formed in the late 19th century beside commuter rail depots. Racist responses to desegregation of housing during the 1960s and 1970s indeed were a major cause of Ferguson falling from affluence. Today hope endures that things will change for the better.

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