The homes that line the park are mostly modest mid-20th Century dwellings mixed in with some new apartment complexes, etc from the 70s/80s. This part of St. Louis is fairly industrial as well.
Here's some background on the brothers Barrett for whom the park takes its name:
The Barrett brothers were young men who lived and played in this north St. Louis neighborhood as boys. They gave up their lives during World War II, along with four of their cousins – all great-grandsons of Irish famine immigrants Patrick and Mary Barrett. The park was dedicated to their memory in 1947.
Pfc. (Infantry) Francis P “Frank” Barrett, Jr. (1917-1945) died in Germany on 17 Apr 1945 after the German defeat, during the last days of World War II (V-E Day was 8 May 1945). According to his cousin Kathleen Barrett Price, “He was walking down the street after the war was over and was shot by a sniper.” He is buried in the Netherlands. He was 28 years old, leaving his wife Marie behind.
Marine Sgt. Florance “Florrie” Barrett (1919-1944) died on 16 Dec 1944, in Guadalcanal, of leukemia at the age of 25. He saw action in the campaign of 1942 as an aviation mechanic. Apparently he knew he was ill, came home on leave, but chose to return to Guadalcanal. He was reburied 13 Jan 1949 in the National Memorial Cemetery of The Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Frank and Florrie Barrett were the sons of Francis and Molly Curran Barrett, 2519 Semple Avenue.
The Barrett brothers were the great-grandsons of Patrick Barrett (abt. 1828-1905) and Mary Gardiner Barrett (abt. 1820-1906), both refugees from the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Both were born in County Mayo and entered the U.S. at New Orleans. Here, many starving Irish were willing to do the dangerous work of digging canals and dredging the Mississippi River. Mary Gardiner arrived with her brother, who soon succumbed to a yellow fever epidemic that killed 2400 people in New Orleans. She made her way to St. Louis on her own. Patrick Barrett also found his way to St. Louis, where the two met and were married in 1849. They lived near the riverfront on Green Street between Fifth and Sixth. Within five months of their marriage, the Great Fire tore through 15 blocks of the riverfront. Then the cholera epidemic hit, killing more than 4000 of the total St. Louis population of 64,000. About 1852, when the Barretts had seen enough, they moved with their first two children to farmland at Catawissa (Franklin County), Missouri – to a settlement of Irish immigrants known as Armagh – and built a log cabin near St. Patrick’s Church. The church is known today as “Old Rock” and has an active membership who celebrate their Irish-American history.
The Barretts prospered as farmers but not all their offspring were suited to rural life or the matriarchal dominance of Mary Barrett. Many of their flock migrated back to St. Louis.
The Barretts knew food. They hungered, they farmed – and then the St. Louis grandchildren went into retail.
• Starting sometime before 1910, Thomas Barrett owned grocery stores at 4841 Easton Ave [Martin Luther King Dr], 4865/4867 Easton, 5900 Cote Brilliante, and 1441 Rowan Avenue. The store on Rowan was family-run through the mid-1960s.
• Tom’s brother Francis Barrett operated a confectionery at 5310 St. Louis Ave.
• Their cousin Thomas McLaughlin owned a grocery store on Easton Avenue.
In the 1940s, these three grocers sent five sons off to war, never to return. Their cousin Mary Timlin Pedrotti sent a sixth. (source)
I ran into a guy with a metal detector, and we struck up a conversation about what we were both doing, me with a camera, him with a metal detector. We chatted for ~ 10 minutes on the history of the park and the neighborhood. He has been in Wells Goodfellow since the 1960s and told some great stories. He said there was a large population of Jewish and Italian Americans living around the park leading up to the 1950s. They started to leave in the 60s and that's when black folks settled in (the 2010 Census data indicates 98% black population). This part of the city is bleeding residents. People can't get out fast enough as 28% of the residential base took off for greener pastures from 2000-2010. Which is a damn shame, it could be a decent place if folks rooted down and fought for positive change. It's easier to just leave though and that's been the ~25 year trend in Wells-Goodfellow.
Anyhow, he told me that while a lot of people are trashing the park and acting like fools, there is a lot of good stuff going on here.
Here's some proof of the negative stuff:
trash set on fire on the playground padded surface
But there is good stuff going on too.
Youth football practices occur during the season:
And baseball is played regularly. My acquaintance with the metal detector told me Bob Gibson used to live in this area and Lou Brock sponsored a youth league and would show up to games on Walter Greene Sr. Memorial Field within the park.
I couldn't find any info on Walter Greene, Sr., so if there are folks in the know, please contact me; I'd like to add that history to this blog.
The fields are in decent condition, but the people need to demand better stands:
He also said Ted Simmons used to live in the area. So there is a rich baseball history in this part of the city. There are 3 separate fields.
There have been some nice developments within the park recently. Among the positive change, a nice brick and stone sign, a paved walking path around the perimeter of the park was lined with outdoor workout equipment and new trees to provide future shade for walkers/joggers. A beautiful new pavilion was recently built (although it is being trashed by knuckleheads).
The basketball courts are in excellent condition and the baseball fields are clearly in use.
The Boys of Destruction just doin' what they do
The park needs some continued attention though. In my opinion, the dilapidated chain link fencing must be removed. Why is this necessary in the first place? To keep people out of the park? I don't get it. Anyhow, there is fence around most of the park's exterior perimeter and even the interior around the playgrounds and walking trail. Get rid of it!!!
The spray pool was not operating on the ~ 90 degree day I was there, but it appears to be operational. Turn it on if so. Why have these things if they are not used or maintained? I'd like to hear from neighbors whether this is operational.
Minus the graffiti and burnings, the playground equip is in pretty good condition:
The mid-Century bathroom building is in good shape too, but is not open for public use. You have to get the Park's Dept to open it up if you are having a function in the park.
Toward the northernmost section of the park there are some raised beds that once were used for gardening...they are in poor repair, but there appears to be someone working on getting them back to growing condition.
The weird thing is, the raised beds spell out the work YEAT. If anyone knows the history of that, please share.
On to Beckett Park...