Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Metro-East Moat

Growing up in East St. Louis, I had heard tales of the famous gangster, Buster Wortman and his house outside of Collinsville with its own protective moat. We speculated on what kind of nefarious activities must take place in a house that needed so much security. I was somewhat disappointed years later, to discover it technically wasn’t even a moat, more of a wrap-around lake for his residence. I was therefore surprised to discover that another Metro East residence actually did have a moat – The “Hartford castle.”

This forgotten mansion was destroyed by fire in 1973 and the abandoned site has slowly reverted to woodlands, slowly fading from the memories of local residents.
      Actually named “Lakeview,” the 14-room mansion was constructed by a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant in 1897 for his English wife. A moat was dug around the perimeter of the property on the Mississippi floodplain. Dirt from the moat was used to make a low hill for the house to sit on.

The area inside the moat was filled with woods, walking paths, a stream and a gazebo surrounded by water. Tragically, Biszant’s young wife died in the early 1900s and he sold the property and moved on, although ghost stories still exist of the forlorn Frenchman haunting the site. The property went through a variety of owners and served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. A couple owned Lakeview for almost 40 years until the last one died in 1964. After that vandalism and eventually fire reduced the once-beautiful home into rubble.

    The site is located off Poag Road along the same set of railroad tracks that carry Amtrak trains into St. Louis. It is considerably overgrown so the best time to visit is in the late fall, winter or early spring.

I doubt the water is very deep but there aren’t too many places where you can cross the moat.

Pretty much the only thing left at the site is what was made out of cement. A few walls, wells and walkways still exist but not much else. The biggest remaining construction is the water tank, which was designed to look like a gazebo.

Another gazebo is located along the moat on a small island. A cement walkway had to be crossed to get to it. Although the gazebo is still here, the pond has dried up.

There are several wells on the property but most have wood and other junk in them as well as water.

A few cement bridges are all that's left of a walking path which crossed a small stream.

A cement dog still waits for an owner who will never return,,,,,,,,