My own house history

Isn’t there a quote or saying about not doing your own jobs if you are in the business?  Like an auto mechanic letting her own car get run down, or a piano tuner with a horrible sounding piano?  I’m guilty of something like that.  I’ve never written my own house history.  Gulp.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the research – in fact, that is what propelled me into starting this business.  Figuring out where to go for what records, maps, plats, deeds, pictures was part of the discovery process.  I have oodles of research on my own house, but have never gotten around to writing it up in the same format that my clients get.  Plus, I started this 15 years ago (no blogs or social media then!) and so many resources have been digitized and put online, which changes the game too.  So I’m cutting this week’s post short to actually go do my own house history report.  It would be a good thing to have, don’t you think?

17 Apr 1898
“My House”, 01 May 1898 St Louis Post Dispatch pg 37.

The Lost Homes of I-44: Marquis, 2005

My “Peeking into the Past” column and this article originally ran in the Lafayette Square ‘Marquis’, which was published monthly by the Virginia Publishing Company until 2011.  It’s always fun to go back and see what I was working on in years past – it inspires me to keep digging too!

Peeking into the Past: The Lost homes of I-44

By Cara Jensen


In 1950, the population of St. Louis peaked at 856,000.  The city could not grow beyond its fixed borders, and much of the housing stock had been become neglected.  The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 paved the way for suburban development and facilitated the population’s westward expansion. The construction of Interstate 44 cut block-wide swaths through St. Louis city neighborhoods,  permanently altering the landscape and changing the very identity of each community. Thankfully, this loss prompted the genesis of historical preservation legislation in St. Louis and emphasized the importance of community stewardship.  Here are a few memories of those lost homes of I-44:

1821 California:  Home of Joseph Kocien, a Bohemian frame carver and gilder.  Frame carvers were skilled artisans, crafting wood to enhance the beauty of each painting.  Gilders applied finish to decorative church and cathedral fittings, altarpieces, architectural ornaments, and panel paintings.

1803 S. Compton:  Home of Frank P. Crunden, president of Udell, Crunden & Co., makers of wooden and willow ware.  Frank was the brother of the St. Louis Public Library’s first chief librarian and director, Frederick Crunden.

1743 Missouri:  Home of German born William Bodeman, president and owner of Wm. Bodeman & Co.’s Tobacco. In 1873, St. Louis was the largest chewing and pipe tobacco processor in the United States. By 1890, St. Louis hosted the largest maker of plug-style chewing tobacco in the world – Liggett and Myers.

3300 Lafayette:  Home of Martha Roe, widow of a prominent St. Louis steamboat captain who mentored Samuel E. Clemens.  The vast estate included the family of her widowed daughter Emma Copelin, who dedicated Copelin Avenue when the land was subdivided in 1885, her California born nieces and nephews,  eight house servants, a German-born teacher, two African-American coachman, and two gardeners.

1818 S. Compton:  Home of Annie and Peter Oakes, owners of A. Oakes & Co., a candy manufacturer and confectionery shop with employed eight female salesladies in 1890.

Cara Jensen is the founder of Sherlock Homes, a historical research company.  She is the past president of the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association, serves on the Grand South Grand House Tour committee, and is active in the 8th Ward Independent Democratic Association. Contact Cara Jensen at 773-2881 or for information about your historic property.




Wandering Wednesday: Stories of Eminent Domain

St. Louis has been courting the National Geospace Intelligence Agency to locate it’s headquarters at a 100-acre site in north St. Louis.  The site is touted to bring economic stability to the area but it also houses families and businesses that would have to be removed by eminent domain.  Regardless of the shameless political disregard for the current residents, these buildings have important memories that deserve respect.  Babies born, elders passing on, celebrations, stories of joy and sadness, all have been absorbed by those walls.  So I thought to peek into those windows and share a few of their tales before they are crumbled to dust.

 2526 Montgomery:

Built in 1905 by Otto Williams for his new bride, Miss Pearl Perry.  Otto played baseball for St. Louis, Chicago, and was traded between New Orleans, the Athletics, Altoona outlaws, and Washington club of the American League all in one day!  He also raised pigeons.

Otto Williams 2526 Montgomery

Vander Weyde, W. M. (1904). Portrait of Otto Williams, baseball player [photograph]. Retrieved from George Eastman House

2526 montgomery
2 Feb 1922 Post Dispatch

2540 Benton:

There was a son born to Christopher and Mary Kelly here on March 15, 1888.  His name was James Marion. [22 Mar 1888 Post Dispatch]

2308 Warren:

Eula Brown was given a used 1969 Chevrolet by the New Life Evangelistic Center in 1986.  She stated that it would save her $25 a day in taxi fare to her nursing job in Affton. [3 Dec 1986 Post Dispatch]

2211 Howard:

A surprise birthday party was given to Miss Elsa Nagel by her friends at her home on Oct 21, 1905. [22 Oct 1905 Post Dispatch]

2227 Mullanphy:

A 1940 Chrysler Club Coupe was listed for sale here in 1949 for a ‘reasonable’ price. [9 Mar 1949 Post Dispatch]

image courtesy of Lord_K


2417 Cass:

During the absence of the family at the Veiled Prophet’s parade on Oct 3 1893, burglars entered the residence of Officer Edward Stanley and stole a suit of clothes and some small articles of wearing apparel.  [4 Oct 1893 Post Dispatch]

Wandering Wednesday: House on a Hill

Join me each Wednesday as I wander about the historical realm and examine what catches my eye!

I pass this house each day on my way to and from my kids’ school and it always catches my eye – something about they way it looks older than the other houses on each corner and how it is set up on a hill.

image via Google maps
image via Google maps

So it wasn’t built before 1875, as I checked my trusty Compton & Dry, next on to the city directories – 1891 listed a Henry Koch, clerk at Ely& Walker Dry Goods, as residing here, 1885 also listed Henry Koch, clerk at Crow, Hargadine & Co., and the 1883 directory also named Henry Koch as residing at this property.  Now who was this Henry Koch?

Henry Koch Book of St. Louisans 1912
via Marquis, Albert N., The Book of St. Louisans, 1912

It’s interesting to me that he is with the Missouri Cotton Yarn company as I am an avid crocheter!

A quick search of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brought these to light:

3000 Russell
16 Sep 1884
3000 Russell 1888
11 May 1888
3000 Russell 1890
22 Oct 1890

My surface scan of a few hours didn’t turn up if Mr. Koch actually was the first owner of the house, or who did build it, but it’s certainly nice to have a more personal connection when I greet this house on my daily routine.  See you next week for more wanderings!





Extra! Extra! The first Shaw Neighborhood Walking Tour is now available!

So excited and proud to unveil the first Shaw Neighborhood Walking Tour – a collaboration between the Shaw Neighborhood Housing Corporation and Sherlock Homes!!! This has been a long time in the works and has finally made it into print form – I wish it happy birthday and look forward to seeing it grow and evolve!

Shaw Neighborhood Walking tour Guide

Of course this gets me thinking about themes for the next walking tour – haunted, lawyers, roaring 20’s etc. etc.  What would interest you in a themed walking tour?

Is this Gothic Farmhouse the Oldest Shaw Residence?

via Google maps

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…

Compton & Dry's Pictorial St. Louis,1875, Plate 67

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!

MU Ellis Library Special Collections Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection

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!

via Google map


Hidden Gem in St. Louis County needs to be preserved

While I typically contain my research to St. Louis City, due to the fact that the Recorder of Deeds has put priority in conserving and archiving historical records (applause), my realtor friend called me the other day raving about this hidden gem in unincorporated St. Louis County near St. Ann.   She described a 1960s ranch complete with pool, poolhouse, studio, sunken white tiled shower, etc. – she said it looked as if Sammy Davis Jr. could have hung there – very retro!  So of course she was curious as to any info I could dig up for her clients and of course I obliged…

After an hour or so of digging, I found that the house had belonged to Don and Ruth Leonard, of Leonard Masonry.  The more I dug, the cooler it got – Leonard Masonry did the Eagleton Federal Courthouse, Citygarden, Grand Basin restoration, most of Wash U campus, among many other award-winning projects!

When I called my friend with the findings, I first asked if there was any interesting brickwork or stonework on the property.  She told me about the gorgeous stone wall that surrounded the pool, and 2 brick archways – then I spilled the beans about the residents!  She couldn’t believe that no one was marketing this unique aspect of the house and suggested that I contact the listing agent.  (her clients ended up writing a contract on another property, unfortunately)

Since the house is showing age, careful, considerate renovations should take place and we hoped that whoever bought the property would honor it’s historical value.  That is a valid concern and something which my research, coupled with historic preservationists, can ensure.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

3634 Arsenal Art Deco query

Image via

A neighbor recently visited an open house for this beautiful Art Deco condo in our neighborhood and asked me if I knew anything about it.   Not one to leave a curious friend in the dark, I did a bit of casual research.

Classified as Art Deco, it was built between 1930 and 1936.  One of the original residents was Van Graafrisled Hildebrand and his wife Cornelia Barnes Blank. Van Hildebrand was a federal claims agent for the Anheuser Busch Brewer’s Association.  They must have made the journey west since he died in Los Angeles in 1961.

In 1938, I found a Dr. Raymond Edward Doyle and his wife Margaret residing in the 3634a unit.  Dr. Doyle was from Pueblo Colorado and studied medicine at St. Louis University, served in WWI, and came back to St. Louis to practice in the Veteran’s Bureau at Jefferson Barracks in 1930.   Dr. Doyle and his family lived at 3634a Arsenal until his death from heart disease in 1958.

Image via


In 1940, Oliver Steele lived at 3634 Arsenal,  He founded Oliver Manufacturing in 1930 in St. Louis and then moved the company to Rocky Ford, Colorado in 1947.  It is still in existence.

Whew – all this in just an hour of research!  Sometimes I have to stop myself before I wade in too deeply and lose track of time.  So that’s it for now – I hope my neighbor enjoys this peek into the past as much as I have enjoyed my morning!


Thanks for visiting!

Clio, muse of History
image in public domain

This is the site which formerly housed my historical consulting and genealogy business, which I have shuttered in light of my full time employment at the National Archives in St Louis.  I still enjoy investigating historical mysteries and connecting people to their ancestors, but must do it as a hobby now.  I decided to keep this site up because I have connected to many new cousins who have commented on the blog posts about my family.  I hope that I can continue writing bits and pieces about my family lore so that further connections can be made.  Thanks for visiting!

Who lived on the 4100 block of DeTonty?

The 4100 block of the Shaw neighborhood in St. Louis has been slated for redevelopment since I have lived in the neighborhood (10 years).  I am hopeful to see this post from the Shaw housing corporation about a new plan for development this year:

According to the developer, Courtney Mcray, the historic tax credit application has been submitted, financing is in place and work should begin shortly.

The first phase will rehabilitate the building located at 4100 DeTonty. The completed building will be listed at around $150,000 as an affordable housing unit which will have an income requirement. The home will be completely renovated and include 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. The home will be about 2200 sq. ft. The home will have hardwood floors, an open kitchen, second floor laundry, walk out porch, etc. The home will also have a two car garage.

In addition, two NEW construction townhouses will be built on lots 5/6 (approximately) on DeTonty. The homes will be around 2200 sq. ft. Pricing to be determined. The homes will have a large open floor plan with a kitchen, breakfast area and family room all combined. The home will have 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. The home will have a large master suite with 2 walk-in closets and a large master bath.

Once the rehabilitated home is complete and sold and the two townhouses are complete and sold, multiple single family units are planned to fill in the gap. Long term, additional townhouses and single family homes are planned for the remaining lots to the west.

Thanks to Alderman Conway and CDA for working on the project.

Being in the business that I am, and being a curious person, I decided to find some of the people who lived, worked and played on these now vacant lots:

  • Herman Leslie Marten and his wife Pearl Blanche lived at 4100 DeTonty.  Herman was a salesman for the Thompson Biscuit Company and died of leukemia in 1945 at the age of 59.
  • Greek immigrant and restaurant owner Vasilios Millonas lived at 4112 DeTonty.
  • Mrs. Augusta Mallery slipped on a rug and broke her left femur at 4118 DeTonty – she died from her injuries.
  • 4160 DeTonty was home to Russian-born Albert Zasslow, who died of a skull fracture from a truck accident at the corner of Olive and 18th on June 19, 1952.
  • Twice-widowed Bertha Drabelle lived at 4174 DeTonty – she was a stenographer for the City of St. Louis Building Division
  • WWI veteran and Wright Chemical Company salesman Cornelius O’Hare lived at 4176 DeTonty.

This gives you a taste of the working-class neighborhood that was the 4100 block of Detonty – hope you enjoy this snippet of history as much as I have enjoyed unearthing it!