Every time I drive down Shaw Avenue, this tiny house whispers to me -almost hidden behind the large apartment building on the corner of Spring and Shaw, its gothic architecture and wooden siding seems an anomaly among the bricks and mortar of its neighbors.
I know from my extensive peering at neighborhood census records that there were houses along Shaw Ave. that predated the platting of the rest of the neighborhood. Could this one be a remnant from that era? My curiosity got the better of me once again…
Here is an image from Compton & Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis that shows the area in question. This is the corner of Grand and Shaw looking west – notice the Compton Heights reservoir (the water tower wasn’t built until 1898). According to the key on the plate – the houses belong to (starting in the upper left along Shaw)a M.N. Burchard (#1), Fred Holmes (#2), then on the NW corner of Shaw and Grand is N.C. Hudson (#3), north of that is J.G. Butler (#4), and the large building (demolished for Hwy 44) is the Episcopal Orphans Home. Notice that Shaw Place has not been constructed yet. (The oval drive was platted in 1879)
I am interested in #1 house – owned by Burchard. In 1878, Mortimer Burchard is listed as living on Shaw avenue west of Grand; the 1880 US Census lists him as living on Shaw Avenue, and in 1885 he remains listed on the NW corner of Shaw/Cabanne (currently Spring). According to this bio in the Book of Chicagoans (1905), Mortimer left St. Louis for Chicago in 1888.
Between 1885 and 1900 records are a bit sparse. (there is no 1890 Census) However, in the 1900 Census, 3801 Shaw was RENTED to a widow Francesca von Fragstein, her two children, parents Carl and Sophia Richter, an Austrian servant and two boarders – must have been crowded!
Take a look at the 1903 Sanborn fire maps for this area and note the location of our house in question. It is on the corner of (now) Spring and Shaw and listed as 3801 Shaw. Notice that DeTonty does not go through from Spring to 39th (then listed as S. Vandeventer)
So let me jump forward. The reason I believe the house now located at 3809 Shaw is the house built by Mortimer Burchard is due to the 1920 US Census AND a chance building permit discovery. So I was researching a house on the 3800 block of DeTonty (the same city block as the house in question) and came across an interesting building permit listing. In 1910, a house was moved from 3801 Shaw to 3809 Shaw (at a cost of $800) to make way for the construction of an apartment complex. Ok, that explains the shift of 3801 Shaw to the west. The von Fragsteins, who were listed on that building permit, are still renting at 3801 Shaw in the 1910 Census with the additional spouses and children of the former children, the loss of the Richters, the same Austrian servant and a boarder. By 1920, all the von Fragsteins had moved to Lake Co. Illinois.
Back home in 1920 St. Louis, 3809 Shaw (formerly our corner house) was inhabited and listed as owned by widower Mary LeDuc, her sister Julia Warne, and a border Hattie Chase. Doing a bit of sleuthing unearthed the fact that Mary LeDuc, Julia Warne, and the wife of Mortimer Burchard, Jennie Garrison Warne, were SISTERS. So in 1920, a house which is suspected to be owned by Mortimer Burchard in the turn of the century ends up housing his wife’s sisters? Bingo – amazing.
Without verifying the deed research (which I will next time I visit City Hall), I would highly suspect that the house at 3809 Shaw is indeed the oldest residence in the neighborhood by at least 15 years and should be put on the National Register. I would love to know if anyone has more lore about this Shaw treasure and will definitely be keeping my eye on our Gothic gem!