Who ees Van Deventer?

Ever since moving to St. Louis, I have been fascinated by the nearby street of “Vandeventer”.  It is so unusual and also so funny to hear it pronounced by the GPS voice (kind of like van DEE ven toor).  Knowing that most streets are named after local people or events or places, I sought to find out exactly who this Vandeventer was and why there was a street named after him.

The basics from Wikipedia:

Founder, Peter Lewis Vandeventer, came to St. Louis in the 1860’s with brothers William and Henry Barnum Vandeventer. Peter Lewis Vandeventer and Henry Barnum Vandeventer were Wall Streetstockbrokers with a firm located at 6 Wall St., New York City. They made their money from selling stocks and took the train west to St. Louis to invest it in land.

Peter Lewis Vandeventer died in 1879, during the development of Vandeventer Place, a gated, luxurious private placein the neighborhood with stately mansions and a beautiful fountain as its centerpiece. His Missouri estate was managed by several corrupt lawyers, who stole much of the money from the sale of the lots at Vandeventer Place. His family remained in St. Louis for some time after his death, living in Vandeventer Place in a large mansion.

Vandeventer Place met with its demise in 1947, when the eastern half was demolished for the Veterans’ Administration’s new hospital. The western portion was demolished about ten years later, when the City acquired it as the site for a children’s detention home. The fountain and east gates survive in Forest Park.

This info sounds good and provides a good hold from which to dig – however, when I tried to find Peter Lewis and Henry Barnum Vandeventer from New York City, the path was full of holes and rocks.  Now I know why I don’t rely on other people’s research – sigh.

First of all, Henry Barnum Vandeventer was born in Michigan in 1849 and died in Michigan in 1932 and was a farmer (from census records and birth/death certificates).  As far as it seems, he did not visit St. Louis, let alone purchase land for Vandeventer Place.  He also did not have brothers named Peter or William (1860 US Census – Milan, MI – ED#12).  So that made me think that the info on our Peter Lewis might be suspect as well.

I located a Peter L. Vandeventer’s Probate Court records from the MO Secretary of State’s page (love that website!).  He died November 17, 1870 (not 1879) and was listed as being “of the State of New Jersey” (not New York).  He left enormous tracts of land in St.Louis, Macon Co., Newton Co., Franklin Co. and St. Louis County – so no doubt he was wealthy.  It did look a bit suspicious that his executors in Missouri were selling and conveying individual lots and tracts rather freely and widely while recording the sales on the estate inventories.  Another clue listed his widow as Emily.  Now I could search census records with more confidence since there were several Peter Vandeventers of the same era.

There was a Peter L Vandeventer living in Bound Brook, Somerset, New Jersey with a wife Emily during the 1860 census (ED45).  He was born in New Jersey and was listed as a “Clothing Merchant”.  His wife Emily was born in Kentucky, and they had 6 children.  Emily born in Kentucky 1849, William born in Missouri 1852, Clara born in Missouri 1854, James born in Missouri 1858, and Nellie born in New Jersey 1859.  This would indicate that they lived in Missouri between 1852 and 1858 (not just coming to Missouri in the 1860s like Wiki said).

In 1870 (after Peter’s death in New Jersey), his widow Emily remarried rather quickly and moved her family back to her home state of Kentucky.  The census lists Charles Valleau, a New York born retired merchant, his wife Emily, along with children William, James, Clara and Nellie Vandeventer (Covington KY ED#66).  (so the Vandeventers did NOT stay in St. Louis, living in a mansion on Vandeventer Place)  By 1880, Emily was a widow again, and the family had migrated to Cincinnati Ohio. They lived with daughter Clara, her husband John Blair, a bank cashier, and their son Louis.  William Vandeventer was listed as a dealer in oils and soap and daughter Nellie helped with the household (ED#41).

So the TRUTH from Wikipedia seems to be the corrupt lawyers squandering Peter’s estate – leaving his wife destitute and having to remarry another wealthy merchant.  Peter did have two brothers, William and Henry Bergen (not Barnum) according to the Vandeventer family records.  The subdivision did meet with the wrecking ball and the gates are in Forest Park.

I was hoping today would be a glamorous look into a rich family from St. Louis, complete with daughter’s debutante balls, and perhaps a scandalous newspaper clipping.  Instead, it turned into a reminder never to trust information without verification – it is easy to take shortcuts and I know researchers that do, but as this shows, good research is all about the primary sources and taking the time to carefully sift through the information.  Even if there are multiple hits on a search engine that show the same information, do not trust!  Once things get picked up on the internet, they sort of virally propagate and become the perceived truth – it was amazing how many hits for “Vandeventer St. Louis” showed the incorrect text of the Wiki article – a shame really since the preservation of history should be about true history, not lazy history.

Mark Groth has a great post on Vandeventer complete with then and now pics – I would recommend a peek!  nextSTL

Oh, and by the way, Van DeVenter comes from the Dutch – the family is an old one that settled Monmouth County New Jersey.

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5 responses to “Who ees Van Deventer?

  • Chris

    Have you corrected Wikipedia?

  • Michael Boyd

    Maybe one day I’ll create a real Vandeventer Place website, I’ve been researching it off and on for many years. Thank you for your commentary – the false info here on the web just keeps getting posted and repeated over and over again. Yes, there were never any Vandeventers living in Vandeventer Place. There were not 86 houses, but 86 lots with many homes built on multiple lots. There were 49 homes standing in the “mature” incarnation of the street by the early 1900s, but there was at least one more, and possibly two homes that were demolished early on before the depression began taking it’s toll in the 1930s. Also, Pierce’s home did not cost $800,00. Probably more like $80,000 (the permit says $40,000 but they tend to usually be lowball). With the quadruple lot, the Olmstead landscaping, the later room addition, the off site tunnel accessed carrige house/servant quarters, and the extraordinary fittings and furnishings inside, Pierce likely had $800,00 invested in the property. Which he lived in for only about 15 years, stood standby but never occupied from around 1913 to 1927, couldn’t be sold after his death, torn down in 1937. (Pierce is a character in need of a book all his own).
    To be continued…
    Mike Boyd
    St. Louis

    • Cara Jensen, historical researcher

      I’d love to read your book – it’s good to know that there are others who are obsessed with details and the back stories – thanks!

  • Chris

    I want to read more.

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