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Commentary Detail

Historic Homes
Commentary by: Nancy Kranzberg
Aired May 04, 2012

There are many opportunities for St. Louisans and visitors to our city to see one or dozens of historic homes and take a backward glance at St. Louis's rich history. These historic homes are owned and funded differently and are in different states of restoration and renovation. Some are now museums, some have guided tours, but all showcase the decorative arts and architecture in some way. Just to mention a handful of these homes might spark an interest in seeing some of these historic gems all over our region.

The Campbell House Museum reflects the high-Victorian opulence of the 1880's. Built in 1851, the first house in the elegant Lucas Place neighborhood, the Campbell House was the home of renowned fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family from 1854 until 1938. The museum contains hundreds of original Campbell possessions, and after a monumental five-year, 3 million dollar restoration now stands as one of the most accurately restored 19th Century buildings in America

The Eugene Field House and Toy Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. It was opened in 1936 as the first historic house museum in St.Louis. The Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has also been named a City of St.Louis Landmark. The Eugene Field House foundation is embarking on a much needed expansion project to improve the accessibility, exhibition, and education space beyond the existing museum row house.

The Samuel Cupples House is an historic 42 room, castle-like mansion located on the campus of Saint Louis University. The exterior of the building is in the Richardson Romanesque style with fortress-like towers and limestone gargoyles. The house has 42 rooms and 22 fireplaces and is filled with imported English oak woodwork. The University has one of the largest collections of glass art in the Midwest and many of its pieces are on display in the Cupples House.

Hanley House is the only rural landmark in the modern city of Clayton, and today is a house museum, revealing the personal story of the Hanley family and providing a link to the past before Clayton emerged as the county seat in 1878. Martin Franklin Hanley came to St. Louis in 1837 from Virginia. At first he established himself as a blacksmith, making ploughs, repairing local farmer's tools, and shoeing horses. This prosperous business started to decline and in 1878 Hanley and his wife donated four acres of land toward the newly created county seat. The last occupants of the Hanley House were Martins' wife and unmarried daughter, whose niece sold the house to the city of Clayton in 1968. It survives in an almost original condition, with no changes of furnishings.

The Florissant Valley Historical Society is housed in the elegant Taille de Noyer House. Taille de Noyer is an historic antebellum home with stately pillars across the front veranda and is believed to be one of the oldest remaining homes in St.Louis County. The oldest section, a two- room log cabin used as a fur trading post, dates back to 1790. Moved from its original site in 1960 by the Florissant Valley Historical Society, the aristocratic structure perhaps appears a little aloof from the modern interstate highway on which cars speed by close to its main entrance. Members of the Historical Society, enraptured by the beauty and rich lore about the house, began restoration with limited funds and donations of time and materials from labor groups, civic organizations and local business interests as well as school children.

The Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion was built in two sections by families with very different lifestyles. Henri Chatillon built the first section, a four-room brick farmhouse, in 1848. He was a guide and hunter for the American fur Company of St. Louis. Chatillon sold the farmhouse in 1856 to Dr. Nicolas N.DeMenil. DeMenil was a wealthy Frenchman who married a member of St.Louis's founding family, Emilie Sophie Chouteau. When Interstate 55 was being planned in the early 1960's the house was going to be torn down. The Landmark Association decided to buy the land and home from the State of Missouri Highway Commission. With a $40,000 gift from Union Electric they bought the house and land. Restoration of the Mansion began in 1964 and the formal dedication took place the following year.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is a 9.65-acre United States National Historic Site located 10 miles southwest of Downtown St.Louis within the municipality of Grantwood Village. The site, also known as White Haven, commemorates the life, military career ,and Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Five historic structures are preserved at the site including the childhood home of Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses Grant. The couple lived in the home from 1854 to 1859.

A not so grandiose, but very charming home where one can hear an authentic player piano is the Scott Joplin house. Joplin and his wife Belle lived in the home on Delmar Blvd. during their stay in St. Louis. The home is furnished as it would have been in 1902 when Joplin was composing songs that would make him a national phenomenon. Scott Joplin House is a State Historic Site and includes museum exhibits that interpret Joplin's life.

A visit to any or all of these historic structures can be very rewarding and enriching and there are many other wonderful homes available that time won't allow to mention.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Nancy Kranzberg

Nancy Kranzberg

Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.

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