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Mississippi Avenue Between Kennett Place and Park Avenue, Part One

Moving north of Kennett Place on Mississippi Avenue, we approach one of the most well-preserved stretches of Second Empire houses in St. Louis, and in Lafayette Square in general. But glancing at Compton and Dry above, we see that very few houses had even been built yet in 1876 when Pictorial St. Louis had been published.

One house that has been a fixture since at least 1876 is the John F. Hume House, built in 1866 in a clean Italianate style. It’s a beautiful house, anchoring the corner at 1552 Mississippi Avenue since just after the Civil War.

In this photograph below from 1940, we can see that very little has changed over the almost last century, except for the size of trees in the yard, as well as a good cleaning off of the coal dust and restoration of the cornice and other trim. It most likely lost its cast iron fence during World War II.

William Swekosky, John F. Hume Residence, 1554 Mississippi Avenue and Kennett Place, Built 1866, c. 1940s, Missouri History Museum, N33904

The next three houses, above, and then detailed below, are interesting; they were built after the economic fortunes of Lafayette Square had declined, but not catastrophically. I am going to challenge the notion that the neighborhood crashed and burned overnight (often attributed to the 1896 Cyclone). By analyzing architectural shifts, we can see instead that the overall wealth of the neighborhood lessened slowly over the late Nineteenth Century. I would agree, however, by World War I, it had become low income. Property records show that is when houses were divided up into boarding houses.

Update: Upon further analysis, I don’t think the house on the far left below was built by the same developer at the same time as the other four houses, despite looking very similar. Note the different shaped lintels on the windows and door.

But regardless, then we reach the quintuplets, those five Second Empire beauties that are perhaps some of the most famous houses in St. Louis. Built as a group, they all shine together. The one house has its ornamental railing restored, and probably the other four would have possessed the accouterments as well.

Then we get to these two houses, which have a very interesting past. The house on the right is a very nice Italianate house, though certainly not as grand as the one we saw at the beginning. The Romanesque Revival house on the left shows that even as the 1880s and 90s rolled around, well-to-do citizens were still building in Lafayette Square.

Well, look at that! They were both severely damaged by the Cyclone of 1896. But the popular story of people giving up and moving out of Lafayette Square does not seem to be so simple. As we can see, the houses were clearly carefully repaired, and continued to be occupied after the natural disaster. Both houses were repaired back to close to what I would imagine to be their original appearance. Also, I want you to go back and look at the far left house in the quintuplets; notice how its dormer windows are different than the other four?

Destruction in the Lafayette Park Neighborhood After the 1895 Tornado, Missouri History Museum, P0245-S03-00022-6g

4 Comments

  1. The historic photograph of the tornado damage is quite interesting. How many times have we all seen, and you have shown on this website, buildings with walls collapsed and their insides exposed like dollhouses? Invariably, those buildings are deemed too far gone to be restored and are demolished at the expense of the taxpayers. Here, we see a house in just as bad of condition, perhaps worse considering the roof damage, that was restored and has existed for nearly 125 years since then. What this house shows is that where there is a will, there is a way, and this house should be used as evidence whenever anyone claims that an otherwise restorable house is “too far gone.”

    • I completely agree; in fact, I can point to at least two instances in the last ten years where a house has been brought back from several collapse: on Arsenal, in between Michigan and Minnesota, and on 14th Street north of Crown Candy.

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