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Spotlight: House on St. Louis' last Indian mound torn down


The highest house on Sugarloaf Mound has come down.

The well-known landmark sat for about 90 years on a 40-foot Indian mound overlooking the Mississippi River where Interstate 55 curves over South Broadway.

Demolition of the badly deteriorated home began last week under the supervision of its owners, the Osage Nation.

Sugarloaf Mound is the last remaining of about 40 mounds built in St. Louis by a Native American culture that thrived in this area from A.D. 600-1300. It now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The same civilization also built the earthen works preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois.

In the late 1920s, when historic conservation of Native American sites was no concern to developers, two homes were built on the mound.

Andrea Hunter, the Osage's tribal preservation officer, said tearing down the house is the first part of the first phase of work.

"We're taking the old structure off. Then when that is completely done, we'll have someone come in to remove all the overgrown vegetation and also bring in some fill dirt," she said.

Hunter said that after the mound has been returned to a natural appearance, the nation will look to purchase three adjacent properties to the north.

Ultimately, the nation wants to build an interpretive center to the north of the mound, on property now owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, Hunter said.

The Osage Nation bought the house and property on the highest part of the mound in 2009. The Osage didn’t build Sugarloaf, but tribal leaders say its ancestors include the local mound builders.

The other house on the mound belongs to Joan Heckenberg, a 79-year-old retired nurse who moved into the house when she was a child.

Heckenberg's grandparents, August and Lydia Wiegert, bought the then-relatively new home in 1928 from a warden at the old City Workhouse, which was nearby on South Broadway.

Before I-55 came through, Sugarloaf Mound sat between Osceola and Wyandotte streets, which both ran west to Broadway until the highway cut them off in the mid-1960s, Heckenberg said.

Historians have told Heckenberg her house was on the "platform," where mid-level tribal leaders stayed. The top of the mound, where the now-demolished home stood, was reserved for only the chief and top medicine men, she said.

For years, a quarry operated immediately south of Sugarloaf and destroyed some of the mound’s original features, which ended up being a blessing, Heckenberg said.

“The state told us once that once they heard a quarry had (dug and blasted) in that area, they didn’t even want to mess with it" when they were building I-55, and avoided the site completely, she said.

As to selling her homestead, Heckenberg said, "Just the thought of moving at my age is daunting. And I've lived here since 1945 and I want to die here.

"Unless," she added, "I have to move into a nursing home first."

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