August 5, 2020
Mysteries of Sunbridge Hills
DEFINITION: Resembling an enigma; perplexing; mysterious
Tucked away in Sunbridge Hills Conservation Area are a few mysteries that have kept St. Joseph guessing and exploring for almost a century. From the urban legends swirling around Felix’s grave to the “park that’s not a park” the spirit of exploration calls us to take in the beauty and secrets of Sunbridge Hills.
The conservation area covers 225.5 acres and reaches between 229 Highway and the Missouri River. It is enjoyed for many activities including mountain biking, hiking, bird watching, fishing, hunting, and trapping. This area has long been planned for use as a park and was purchased by the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1972 as a multi-use recreation area…it is easy to see from the beauty of the heavily forested area why the Native Americans called this space on the bluffs “Lanowa” which means sacred region.
Stick around St. Joseph long enough and you will hear the the story of Felix’s Grave. Many long time residents might mention long forgotten tales of murder, witchcraft, hauntings, and even cults but nothing in our research could substantiate these claims as anything more than urban legends. In the video below Palmer unknowingly stumbles across the Felix-Liliger cemetery. According to the city records this small cemetery was established by Joseph Liliger, a farmer and German immigrant, who owned the property at one time. It is hard to imagine that his serene small family plot with about a dozen graves dating from the late 1800s to the early 1920s is anything more than a family’s attempt to give their loved ones one last peaceful view.
The only thing that is truly creepy about this cemetery is how it now seemingly appears out of nowhere to unsuspecting hikers. Although we should warn you the grave known as “Felix’s Grave” is long gone, as it mysteriously vanished decades ago…
The biggest enigma of Sunbridge Hills has to be the park that’s not a park. Long before 229 cut through the bluffs this stretch of land was slated to connect with the famous St. Joseph Parkway system. Hidden behind countless years of forest regrowth is the start of an ambitious parks project that would never see its full potential.
City records show the first mentions of a park in this area known as Prospect Hill Park and the River Bluffs Tract in 1904 which hoped to capture the spirit of the existing parkway in a space along the river. This project would take many twists and turns but in 1930s the dream would come alive again as a project for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) when stone shelters, foundations, and fireplaces were built as part of the now dubbed River Bluffs Park project.
The 1941 Key to the City publication describes the park as “A scenic natural park located outside of the city limits northwest of the city. It is noted for its natural beauty and magnificent views.” The directory goes on to mention that it was the most recent addition to the park system and currently incomplete. Unfortunately this description is still accurate to this day.
During World War II the incomplete park was used as a temporary campsite in 1942, known as Camp Petree, for Air Force personnel while they waited for the completion of Rosecrans Field.
So why was the park never finished? The changing landscape of the highway system, lack of interest, and likely a lack of funds to supply the large amount of labor that would be required to complete the project likely made it easy to prioritize other, more visible, recreation additions throughout the 20th century.
Luckily for us, the thrill of seeking out this long forgotten park did not die along with the plans for this ambitious park…
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