Westland Acres Can’t Move Forward

and Won’t Turn Back

by Ashley Winters

 
 
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William West

William West, a formerly enslaved person, bought 133 acres of land from his former slave owner, Lawrence Long for $798 in 1867. 150 years later, the descendants of William West who live on that property known as Westland Acres are still being treated like second class citizens.

The Westland Acres or “The Hill” commonly called by the residents is a historic African-American community that has existed since the 1800s. This small community straddles the border between Chesterfield and Wildwood in West St. Louis County. In an area that is considered economically secure, most of the residents that live in Westland Acres are living without the basic amenities of modern industrialization. However, new development has been ongoing for Chesterfield and Wildwood for the last 15 years and yet according to residents of Westland Acres their area has been conveniently skipped.

“We do really blame the city of Wildwood and Chesterfield because when plans were made for development they never included us. They never included this area and now we are kinda locked in,” said Kristie Frazier, the great great great granddaughter of West.


 
“[Westland Acres] residents use wells, propel tanks, and septic tanks in modern society.” -Ashley Winters, journalist

“[Westland Acres] residents use wells, propel tanks, and septic tanks in modern society.” -Ashley Winters, journalist

Union Baptist Church (Westland Acres church)

Union Baptist Church (Westland Acres church)

Where It All Began

In the late 1700s, Daniel Boone and Lawrence Long came to this area from Kentucky. Boone settled across the Missouri River in today’s St. Charles County and Long settled east of the river in the Bonhomme Creek area, which is today’s Chesterfield.  

According to the City of Wildwood historical documents, West was enslaved by Long and was traveling with him when he settled in the Bonhomme area. In the late 1800s, he bought over 100 acres of land from Long. West and his wife Matilda settled on the land and raised their 7 children. Family members say West was so enamored with the land he worked on, his slave owner decided to sell him part of his land, West paid $6 an acre and divided the land between his children and gave each of  them 23 acres a piece when they became adults.

Doris Frazier married the late Cliff Frazier, great great grandson of West in the 1950s when she moved to the historic community from Kirkwood, Missouri. She says she has been living in Westland Acres for 68 years and back then, there were over 40 families living in the area. Doris Frazier said, “She has seen a lot.”

Doris Frazier has seen everything from interstate 64/40 changing from a two lane highway to a four lane highway to the push of new development and half-a-million-dollar homes in her area. But now, there are 9 families living on ‘The Hill’.

“It’s historically significant and impressive that we still own the land after all these years”, said Kristie Frazier. Kristie Frazier is the daughter of Cliff and Doris Frazier.

Even in the 60s and 70s, that part of West County was still very rural and those who lived on ‘The Hill’ accepted how they lived. Certain things were common to them, like having a well drilled and not having fire hydrants or indoor plumbing.  

“In the early 1970s, the church still had outdoor toilets-- it wasn’t until the late 70s we had indoor plumbing at the church,” said Marie Frazier. “We had to go outside to get the water, we had to go outside to use the bathroom.”

Maria Frazier, daughter of Cliff and Doris Frazier, says her family’s town was still thriving. They had avenues of enterprise that small communities had. She describes her town, saying farms were plentiful and people knew where to get their bacon and beef.

But the future of this historical community is unclear because of the pressure of rising taxes and new surrounding development that further pushes the descendants of West away from the “American dream.”


Westland Acres Cemetary with Frazier tombstone

Westland Acres Cemetary with Frazier tombstone

Westland Acres Becoming A Distant Memory

At least four generations are buried in the historical cemetery of Westland Acres. Over a dozen headstones date back to the 1800s. The raw land sits around the rest of the community like a stadium, but through the trees in the wooded area, you can see the new development that surrounds them. These new homes constantly remind the community of Westland Acres of how far they still have to go. For the descendants of William West,  the taxes of Wildwood and Chesterfield stand in between them and a thriving community.

Doris Frazier says that when she moved to Westland Acres, the property taxes were almost nothing. She asserts that they were able to pay every year, and it was nowhere near what it is now.

“The taxes are beating us up and that has been my beef for several years now.  The taxes on the raw land with nothing on it,” said Doris Frazier. “It’s astronomical and we’re in a dilemma right now.”

The property tax increase has become cumbersome for the community of Westland Acres  and most of the residents are retirees that live on a fixed income. Doris Frazier says it is a struggle every year for them to pay taxes. She had to pay $10,000 in taxes for 2017.

Doris Frazier says the general rate of the property taxes  increases three to five percent every year.

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“There is no way, especially elders in the community should be paying that kind of money for raw land,” said Kristie Frazier. She adds, “With nothing on it, just raw land and then to pay these outrageous city taxes when you don’t have the amenities.”

Kristie Frazier asks, “If Mr. McMansion has a 1.5 million dollar home and is paying the same tax rate my mother is paying then who’s getting robbed? It’s robbery, this is actually robbery,” she said. “It’s the property tax, that’s what we’re complaining about, one of our properties a piece of land two or three acres it’s over $2,000 in property taxes each year for raw land.”

“The most significant point is, we still don’t have sewer service, or gas. I’ve been here 68 years and we’re still fighting for water and gas,” said Doris Frazier. “There is the only place that has gas lines and that’s because of the new subdivision that sits behind it.”

Kristie Frazier says development decisions are something she has been pondering for years, ‘How did we get skipped?’.   

The St. Louis Post- Dispatch reported in 2007 says there were development plans for single-family homes for the section of Westland Acres that reside on the Wildwood side. According to the Frazier family, those plans fell through and the development was halted by a nearby subdivision because they did not approve of the appearances of the new homes and feared they would attract the “wrong crowd.” The report also says Chesterfield officials approved a similar plan and 59 single-family homes were supposed to be built in the summer of 2007.

Retiree Doris Frazier pays $10,000 in property taxes on this home.

Retiree Doris Frazier pays $10,000 in property taxes on this home.

The report also shows there were plans for paved streets, adding street signs of historical figures of the West family, public artwork reflecting African-American culture and a new walking trail. But according to the West family, these plans were derailed by Pacland Place a nearby subdivision that is upper middle class and white.

Chesterfield officials say they have been told that any development plans for the area are made more difficult by the necessity of obtaining approvals from two separate jurisdictions.

One might imagine that if Westland Acres is left out of development plans, the rest of the county would look bad. But according to the West-Frazier family, their community is not important enough to the developers and officials to consider.

“There is no way you can build all this infrastructure and not consider the entire area,” said Kristie Frazier.

Walking through the community, there are very few houses. Some properties use wells and propane tanks in the old historic town. Westland Acres has one paved road and the rest of the streets are gravel without street signs.  Kane Frazier, Doris Frazier’s grandson says, walking through the neighborhood is like stepping back in time.

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Justin Wyse, Director of Planning & Development Services of Chesterfield, comments that Chesterfield is not actively involved in the development of Chesterfield, including Westland Acres. Chesterfield does not maintain fire hydrants, sanitary sewer, or private streets.  

“Westland Acres area was approved for a redevelopment several years ago by the city, but the project never came to fruition,” says Wyse.

Irene Brown, sister of Kristie and Marie Frazier says she thinks the city of Chesterfield and Wildwood are stalling. She believes they are just waiting for everyone to die or lose the land to taxes so they can get it for cheap.

On the Trulia website, 115 acres are listed for sale in Westland Acres for $15,107,000. This parcel of land has been on the website for almost three years. The listed property is one of the last large continuous land masses in the West St. Louis County cities of Chesterfield and Wildwood, and there are no options for individual parcel sales.

“It’s like I’m watching my childhood dreams being taken away, watching my community die right in front of me,” said Kane Frazier.


What’s next for Westland Acres

“First thing I would do is add some street lights,” said Kane Frazier, “Honestly it’s a lot of work to do up here.”

However, family members are in the process of trying to recover 15 acres that are currently for sale, and according to Marie Frazier, her family didn’t know that many acres are up for sale.  

“This goes back to whose hands are being greased. There was a large parcel of land that was owned by the heirs and for whatever reason, the county decided to send the notification to pay the taxes to a raw land address. Which there is no address because it’s on raw land, there is no mailbox there and no one lives there,” said Kristie.

She adds,  “We were unaware of what was going on, and we had the money to pay the taxes. We had set money to the side to pay the taxes!”

The West-Frazier family is working on some upcoming projects and they are currently working with a developer and someone in real estate. They mention they do have allies in the area, but not enough to convince the entire area that they belong in Chesterfield.

“It really would take a miracle... How many years can you keep doing the run around?” asked Doria Frazier, granddaughter of Doris Frazier.


 

Update:

Shortly after this story was published, the campaign to Save Westland Acres was fully funded! If you would like to contribute to ongoing efforts to preserve the Westland Acres community, you can still donate at the link above.

Located in the western part of St. Louis county straddled between the cities of Chesterfield and Wildwood, is an African-American community known as Westland Acres, formally “the Hill.” Purchased in 1863 by former slave, William West, approximately 133 acres, once inhabited by more than 50 West family members has now been reduced to approximately 10 families. The area around the community has undergone considerable development with expensive homes causing taxes to increase a great deal for those in Westland Acres. The residents have tried to develop the area but have been met with strong opposition from the surrounding community. Learn more by reading St. Louis: Disappearing Black Communities by John A. Wright.

In order to preserve this historical community, the families, whom are mostly on fixed incomes, are asking for assistance from all those who believe in the preservation of heritage, the restoration of disappearing, historical, black communities, and family. With your help the land that was once a thriving black utopia in the middle of an all white community won’t succumb to a tax sale, diminishing the dream that the former slave, William West, had for his family back in 1863. Please help save his dream and preserve the legacy and history of Westland Acres.

All proceeds will be applied to the increased taxes in hopes of avoiding any tax liens.

Christina Johnson
Resident of Westland Acres
7th generation of Willam West
— https://www.gofundme.com/savewestlandacres

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A note from Ashley Winters:

Writing and being a journalist has been a dream of mine since I was five years old. Born and raised in the city of St. Louis I graduated from McCluer Senior High School ( the infamous question in STL is "where did you go to high school?"), I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with my B.A.  in journalism with a concentration in magazine article writing. I've worked for a variety of local publications including St. Louis Public Radio, St. Louis American, and also Delux Magazine. I am the recipient of the Excellence in Journalism Poverty Award from Arch City Defenders. I love being able to dig deep aka "be nosey" into community/political issues and tell a fair and unbiased story to the community.