Answer Man

Answer Man: What happened to the Oak Hill Golf Course near Bellevue Park?

Q. As a young boy in the late 1940s, I played and fished at Bellevue Park. I also seem to remember a golf course near where Hope Church is now. Is my memory accurate?

-- Jerry, of Belleville

A. Give your brain a hole in one for that little remembered fact about the crown jewel of Belleville's park system.

I'm surprised you didn't mention a swimming pool that operated nearby. Yes, they're long gone now, but in the spring of 1931, residents were buzzing about a modern "natatorium" and the Oak Hills Golf Course that were about to open near Bellevue Park.

And who was partially responsible for that golf course? Why, a former local Major League Baseball player who would go on to father a future city mayor. Here's the story (with thanks to Sandy Rhodes of Hope Church for some helpful pointers):

For those unfamiliar with its history, Bellevue became the city's first park during a gala dedication ceremony on May 28, 1922, complete with a christening and supper parties. (Somebody had stolen the flagpole rope, but fortunately the theft was spotted in time for a replacement so that Old Glory could be raised proudly over the new park.)

Three years later, the city formally annexed the 39-acre park into Belleville as it finally contemplated paving north 47th and 48th streets to help residents get to it. A long list of improvements followed, including a dance pavilion in time for the 1925 Labor Day picnic, new roads, a dam and an early amphitheater by the lake.

Then on Oct. 17, 1929 -- one week before Wall Street's infamous Black Thursday-- the International Golf and Recreation Club announced it was about to start work on a $100,000, 125-acre, 18-hole golf course.

Situated one-quarter mile north of West Main Street and one-half mile north of the old Notre Dame Academy, it would be the city's third golf course, complementing St. Clair Country Club and the Belleville Golf Club, which was near what is now Belleville East High School. It would be called Tri-Cities Golf Club because the group had members from Collinsville, Belleville and East St. Louis. The first nine holes were slated to open by the fall of 1930.

Among the group's three leaders was Otis L. Miller Sr., of Belleville, who had played half a season with the St. Louis Browns in 1927 and would return to the majors in 1931-32 as a Boston Red Sox infielder, batting .279 in 221 games. He later would be elected a state representative, and his son, Otis Jr., would be a popular teacher, alderman, Belleville mayor and coin dealer. Also heading the group were Max Hill, of East St. Louis, and Lavern Miller, of Belleville, no relation to Otis.

Apparently, the Depression waylaid the group's plans. By the time it opened on June 1, 1931, it was the 9-hole Oak Hills Golf Course with a new leader -- H. Grady Vien, of East St. Louis -- although Otis Miller was still on board. Finally, in late 1938, Belleville agreed to buy the course and annex it to the city for $36,000, which would be paid out of course fees over 20 years.

Two weeks after the new golf course opened, local swimmers took the plunge into the Belleville Swimming Pool Co.'s new $50,000 natatorium. The brainchild of Walter Schmisseur, it was a 175-foot by 100-foot pool, complete with hundreds of lockers, lights for night swimming and a chlorination and filtration system. Mayor George Brechnitz took the first dip on June 14.

"A large crowd witnessed the plunge and congratulated the mayor on his grace and agility in the water," the Belleville Daily Advocate reported the next day.

But both the course and the pool went down the drain over a half-century ago. Oak Hills, which was known for its sand greens (according to veteran News-Democrat photographer Bill DeMestri), was gobbled up by the development of Memorial Hospital and the church, which was founded in 1956. The pool, near where the Bellevue Park Apartments sit today, disappeared from the city directory by 1961.

Today's trivia

What's the largest library in the world based on shelf space and number of volumes?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Many historians point to Champ d'Oiseau in Paris as the world's first modern restaurant. Opened by an A. Boulanger in 1765, it featured a sign over its door that read, in Latin, "Come to me, anybody whose stomach groans, and I will restore you." Restaurant and restaurateur come from French terms meaning "to restore" or "restorer."

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