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Ill-Fated Times Beach
you now see one of
newest state parks – the
State Park. However, this park has an interesting past, as it was
once the former site of a resort community on the Meramec River called Times Beach.
Founded in 1925 as a summer resort, investors
sold lots for $67.50. Focusing primarily on
St. Louis residents, the
investors touted the potential for summer homes just 17 miles away from
St. Louis. However, it was not to be. The depression
was soon upon them and gas rationing following World War II dashed all
hopes for a summer resort. The town eventually developed into a
lower-middle class city. Prone to flooding, many of the town’s first
buildings were built on stilts.
In the early 1970s
the town could not afford to pave its many dirt road streets and was
plagued with a dust problem. To solve the dilemma, the city
hired waste hauler Russell Bliss to oil the roads in the town. For four years between 1972 and 1976, Bliss sprayed waste oil on the
State Park near Eureka,
Missouri was once the site of Times Beach. Kathy Weiser,
Bliss had first used
the technique of spraying waste oil to control dust in horse stables. When, in 1971, spraying resulted in the death of 62 horses, the stable
owner automatically suspected Bliss of contaminating the stables. However, Bliss assured them that it was simple engine oil that he was
What the city
and the stable owners didn’t know is that Bliss had subcontracted to
haul waste for the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO)
who operated a facility in Verona,
Missouri. During the
Vietnam War, this facility had been a producer of Agent Orange and the
waste clay and water removed from the plant contained levels of dioxin
some 2,000 time higher than the dioxin content in Agent Orange. Bliss would later claim he was unaware that the waste contained
dioxin. In the meantime, he was spraying the dirt roads of Times Beach, as well as area
horse stables, with the lethal material.
As horses continued
to die at area stables, the owners contacted the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention who began an investigation in 1979. When
a NEPACCO employee confessed that the company handled dioxin, the
government sued NEPACCO in 1980.
The EPA began to visit Times Beach in 1982, taking
samples and tests that identified dangerous levels of dioxin in Times Beach soil. In
December, 1982, the Meramec River flooded, further spreading the
contamination of the town and other areas. Soon, panic spread
through the town and every illness and animal death was attributed to
dioxin. President Ronald Reagan formed a dioxin task force to
study the effects of the chemical and in early 1983; the EPA announced
the town’s buyout for $32 million dollars.
years later, in 1985, the entire population of more than 2,000 residents
had been evacuated, with the exception of one elderly couple who refused
to leave, and the town was dis-incorporated by executive order of the
Governor. The entire site was quarantined as residents moved on to
other areas. But for the residents who moved, the scare was not
over, as they continue to worry about the contamination effects on their
long term health. Furthermore, with the wide press coverage at the
time, the former
residents were shunned by their new neighbors, who feared the
Thousands of lawsuits were filed against Bliss, NEPACCO,
and its subcontractors. Though Bliss’ practices were questioned, he
was never implicated or convicted of a crime. As to the lawsuits
involving the chemical companies, no laws were in effect that regulated
the disposal of hazardous waste at the time of the disposal.
For years after the
evacuation, the site sat silent behind barricades protecting the curious
public from the toxic threat, while the Federal Government decided what to
During the years of
1996 and 1997 the government removed 265,000 tons of contaminated soil and
Times Beach and
28 other sites in eastern
Missouri at a cost of $110
million dollars. An incinerator was built on the
Times Beach site
by a company called Syntex, who was the parent company of NEPACCO. After the soil was incinerated, the incinerator was dismantled and the
site was turned over to the State of
The 1983 buyout of the town by the federal
government was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in the
history of our nation. The
tragedy brought dioxin to national attention and the EPA continued to
locate and clean-up dozens of other toxic waste dumps throughout the
nation. It also provided the push to pass new environmental laws
regulating waste disposal.
Though dioxin has been connected to cancer, skin diseases, immune
disorders, and birth defects, the long term effect on the exposed
residents is still unknown.
After the site was
turned over to the State of
Missouri with the EPA’s
assurance that the land was safe,
Missouri began to make plans for
the site and the idea of the
State Park began to take shape.
State Park opened in October, 1999. Today the park includes a chunk
including the historic bridge across the Meramec River. The visitor
center, housed in a 1935 roadhouse that was once called Steiny's Inn,
features a museum on the historic highway, as well as the history of
Times Beach and
the environmental cleanup.
bridge over the Meramec River in the
State Park, September, 2004, Kathy Weiser.
The park itself provides more than seven
miles of trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use, where visitors can
see a multitude of wildlife including turkey, geese, deer, and more than
forty species of birds. Picnic sites
abound and a boat ramp provides easy access to the Meramec River. The
State Park is located on I-44 at exit 266.
After visiting the
State Park, you will continue on the
through Eureka on your way to the
area. While in Eureka, you can visit the Six Flags Theme Park for a
wild roller coaster ride, or check out the Wild Canid Center, a breeding
facility for endangered wolves from around the world.
of America, updated November, 2010.
A postcard from the 1950s shows the building
its previous life as Steiny's Inn, then one
most popular roadside restaurants. Postcard
The Missouri U.S. 66 Tour Book.
State Park Visitor Center is housed in
the old Steiny's Inn building. Photo
Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
This vintage sign stands next to the Visitor
Once in front of the Key's Cafe in Franklin
County, the sign was donated by the family to the park. September, 2004,