Construction and First Owner (1851-1853)
A unique survivor, the Campbell’s house was the first built on Lucas Place and a social center during the 1870s. By 1938 it was the only building left from the original Lucas Place.
On May 15, 1851, dry goods merchant John Hall and his partner James Donaldson bought the lot on which 20 Lucas Place would be built. The lot had 50 feet of street frontage and was 155 feet deep from the street to the alley. Hall paid $5,000 for the lot.
Noted St. Louis architect Thomas Waryng Walsh (1826-1890) designed the house. At the time Walsh was in partnership with Joseph Edgar.
The original house was of a large townhouse design — a rectangular plan, three floors with an attic and English basement and a two story flounder wing at the rear. The house is of no particular architectural style although it closely resembles townhouses in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore also built in the 1850s. The cast iron balcony on the front of the house is Gothic in detail, while the front entryway is in the Greek-Revival style popular during the 1840s. All facades are of finished and painted brick, except the west facade, which was not painted.
While the house itself is rather conventional the placement of the house on the lot was unique. The house “represented a pivotal and transitional moment in the development of housing and neighborhood form in St. Louis.” Built in the middle of two empty building sites, and even though its form is that of an attached row house its side walls were built well within the adjacent property lines, providing it with clear space on all of its four sides. This was the beginning of the development of the freestanding urban residence in St. Louis.
Second Owner (1853-1854)
Cornelia Hempsted Wilson (niece of renowned fur trader Manuel Lisa) became the second owner when she bought the house on April 1, 1853. When Hall sold the property to Wilson he reduced the lot size to 371/2 feet of frontage. The new lot was 121/2 feet smaller than the original resulting in only 12 feet between the house and the eastern property line, while the west side of the house was on the line. Wilson lived in the house with her husband and mother for only 18 months and owned the property in her own name, which was very unusual for a 19th Century woman.
The Campbells (1854-1938)
The house on the smaller 371/2 feet frontage lot was sold to Robert and Virginia Campbell on November 8, 1854 for about $18,000. The same day they bought 20 Lucas Place the Campbells also bought a large lot at the southwest corner of 16th and Lucas Place for more than $21,000. They may have intended to build a larger house on the empty lot in the future as their family grew or perhaps it was just an investment (they sold the lot three years later at a $7,000 profit).
Upon moving in, the Campbells immediately found their new house too small. This was the first of the family’s numerous additions and alterations to the building as they made the decision to enlarge and renovate their house rather than move to a bigger one. Within seven months of buying the house they added 15 feet to the rear flounder wing of the building to accommodate a larger kitchen and dining room and more servant bedrooms. “I am very glad to hear you are having our back building enlarged, it will contribute greatly to our comfort,” Virginia wrote to Robert from Philadelphia in June 1855.
In 1856 or 1857 the Campbells purchased an additional lot, between the house and 15th Street for about $10,000. This lot had 54 feet of frontage giving their property 91 1/2 feet on Lucas Place. They used the addition for a yard and built a carriage house at the rear of the lot.
Also in 1867 the street numbering system was altered to reflect the sequence of blocks, changing 20 Lucas Place to 1508. Later additions made by the Campbell boys after the parents had died included the creation of the Morning Room in about 1885 from an existing porch, the installation of electricity, including the conversion of the original gasolier light fixtures and the updating of the heating system.In 1867 while they were on an 11-month tour of Europe the Campbells began the most ambitious program of renovations, resulting in three major changes to the house. The wall between the front and back parlors was removed and a large bay added creating the one large parlor space familiar today. A three-story bay was added on the east façade creating an enlarged dining room and second floor bedroom (Mrs. Kyle’s bedroom). And finally three rooms were added on top of the existing two-story flounder wing at the rear of the house creating an expanded third floor.
After James died in 1890 his brothers changed very little in the house. Besides the addition of veneer hardwood floors in the Dining Room and the installation of leaded glass windows not much else was changed. One thing that did change was the name of the street — Lucas Place became Locust Street in about 1900.
Had James, Hazlett, or Hugh married, had children, or moved to another building the Campbell house would have vanished along with the other homes of the once stately Lucas Place.
By 1943 when the Campbell House Museum opened, Lucas Place had disappeared, transformed from an upscale residential neighborhood to a commercial area lined with large buildings and warehouses.
Death of Hugh and Hazlett (1931-1938)
Both Hugh and Hazlett had been the beneficiaries of their parent’s and younger brother’s estates. When Hugh died in 1931 his estate, which included the Campbell House, other real estate and more than $2,000,000 in cash and securities was held in trust for his brother Hazlett. When Hazlett died in 1938, Hugh’s estate was dispersed according to his will.
Two of the additional bequests left $60,000 each to the Campbell’s last two servants, Gus Meyer and Mary Boerste — both had worked for the Campbells for more than 30 years. The last bequest left the contents of the entire house to the Campbell’s Otey cousins (descendants of Virginia’s sister Eleanor). Hazlett’s estate (consisting of real estate and about $1,800,000 in cash) was a different matter. Hazlett had no will, so after his death his estate went to probate court. Legal Battles (1938-1941) The death of the Campbell brothers and the complexity of the family trusts and wills prompted a lengthy string of litigations between the trustees for both estates, banks, descendants and people claiming to be descendants. After six years of litigation and a final decision from the Missouri Supreme Court in 1938, Hugh’s will remained unchanged. Both deaths and the size of the family fortune were well published in St. Louis’ newspapers, resulting in more than 1,200 people from the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Australia claiming part of Hazlett’s estate as it went through probate. The court appointed a special master to determine rightful heirs. In the end Yale received a large part of Hazlett’s estate also with the remainder going to about 37 legitimate heirs.Hugh’s will dictated that his entire estate, excepting three bequests, was to go to Yale University in his brother James’ honor. Included in this gift was the large LeFebvre portrait of James and his dogs. The portrait was to hang in a memorial building built with money from the estate. Yale never built the memorial and after hanging for a short period of time, the portrait was put into storage where it remained until it was purchased by the Campbell House Museum in 1986.
Museum Takes Shape (1941-1942)
As the Campbell’s estates were settled the fate of the house and its contents became unclear. In preparing an inventory and evaluation of the estate, leading experts in history, architecture and art were called. All were amazed after visiting the house, pronouncing, “probably nowhere in America, possibly nowhere else, is such an intact and integral display of elaborate and ornate furnishings of the middle Victorian period to be found, as in the Campbell mansion.” It was clear that the house needed to be saved and the unique and important story of the Campbells preserved.
A local history group called the William Clark Society began to organize an effort to save the building and its contents as a museum. The committee formed for the task included architectural historian John Bryan, eminent Missouri historian Charles van Ravenswaay and director of the St. Louis Art Museum Perry Rathbone.
The Campbell’s Otey cousins who had inherited the contents of the house chose to auction everything. Local auctioneer Selkirk’s conducted the sale on February 24, 25 and 26, 1941. The Clark Society was able to raise more than $6,500 in just a few weeks, purchasing the majority of the furnishings. Buyers donated many other Campbell pieces after the auctions. The Campbell House Foundation was formally incorporated later that year.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1942, local department store Stix, Baer and Fuller purchased the house from Yale and presented it “to the people of St. Louis through the Campbell House Foundation.”
Redecorations and the First 30 Years (1943-1973)
When the Foundation got possession of the house in 1942 they immediately began raising funds to “refurbish” the interior with new wallpaper, paint and carpets. This redecoration reflected a mid-20th Century conception of the Campbell’s Victorian interior and was not an accurate restoration of what had existed in the 19th Century.
The Campbell House Museum formally opened to the public on February 6, 1943. One of the first guests that day was Gus Meyer, the Campbell’s last servant and resident of the house for more than 40 years.
During the 1940s the Campbell House was one of the only museums dedicated to the history and decorative arts of mid-Victorian America. The museum was featured in Life magazine in May 1945 and National Geographic in March 1946.
The Museum’s interiors were redecorated again in 1967. In January 1973 the Campbell House was featured in the pages of Architectural Digest. Later that same year an important album of 60 photographs was donated to the Museum. The 8 by 10 inch photos show not only the house interior, room by room, but also the exterior and surrounding neighborhood. The photos date from about 1885 and may have been taken by Hugh Campbell, but for what purpose is unclear. The album was discovered in the trash of a law firm that worked on the Campbell estate.
This group of photos is the most significant artifact in the museum collection and is the most important piece of documentation supporting the accurate historic restoration of the Museum.
Early Restorations (1973-1995)
The discovery of the Campbell House photo album allowed for accurate restoration of the interior rooms. Using the photographs, the first room to be restored was the Morning Room beginning in 1980. During the mid-1980s the Dining Room was partially restored. False wood graining was restored or recreated in both rooms. In the Morning Room, wallpaper was recreated to match the pattern in the photos. In the Dining Room, the elaborate painted ceiling was recreated.