East St. Louis Heritage Trail
A Confluence Attraction
Ed Weilbacher, Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation & Development, Inc. (SWIRCD)
Participating Confluence Organization
This paved multi-use trail connects the East St. Louis MetroLink station at 5th and Missouri Avenues to the East St. Louis Higher Education Center campus and to the 8th Street neighorhood (via a “Y” trail formation)
(By Metro transit) Take the MetroLink light rail system east to the 5th and Missouri stop
(By car) Take the Eads Bridge east across the Mississippi River (the Bridge lanes become renamed as Riverpark Drive and then Broadway) and on to 5th Street. Park at the MetroLink lot or turn right (south) on 8th to park at the Higher Education Center campus.
History and Current Features
East St. Louis was established in the mid-19th century as an industrial suburb of St. Louis, attracting a broad mix of industries that fueled the east side’s rapid growth around the small site initially known as “Illinois town.” Surviving structures, such as St. Henry’s Catholic Church, reflect the settlement patterns and cultural traditions of a variety of European immigrant groups, joined in the 20th century by African Americans migrating from southern states. Growing racial and economic tensions culminated in the East St. Louis riots of 1917, wherein angry white mobs rampaged through black neighborhoods; the total number of deaths from this period has never been established. Ongoing scholarship has traced the subsequent industrial decline of East St. Louis to simple economics: companies were initially lured to the community by generous tax incentives, which maximized revenues. When these enhancements eventually disappeared, profits fell, ultimately leading to decisions to close or relocate.
The first phase of this paved multi-use trail, totaling roughly 3/4-mile, takes the route of an old railroad spur extending from the MetroLink station at 5th and Missouri Avenues to the East St. Louis Higher Education Center; it also takes in the 8th Street neighborhood, now transitioning from industrial to residential use. This project is a milestone in that it was accomplished by community youth working alongside professional contractors. It is lighted and landscaped.
The trail is planned for extension to Eads Bridge. The new route will take in the new Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville campus at College Center, the Gateway Fountain, the East St. Louis City Hall and other downtown structures. Interpretive signage will also be added to the entire trail at that time.
AmerenUE Smart Lights Program
East St. Louis Community Foundation
The McKnight Foundation
U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Transportation
For more information about the East St. Louis Heritage Trail, see