Tag Archives: Campbell

Calling all servants…

bells

 

 

If you’ve visited the Campbell House before, or have watched any of Downton Abbey, you know that one of the most important features of a large house with servants are the call bells.

At Campbell House, the original bells still line the top of the kitchen wall, waiting to ring. Eleven of the house’s rooms had a pull on the wall, and each bell made a different noise, allowing servants to go directly to the room required. If you’ve taken a tour, you know all of this. But what you don’t know is what is in the basement.

For the Campbell bell system to work, it needed a long series of cords and pulleys. For instance, a bell pull in parlor would require around 80 to 90 feet of cord to reach the kitchen! And this cord would have to be protected in some way to prevent it from snagging on loose nails or becoming tangled with other cords and wires.

The covered passage on the basement ceiling

The covered box on the basement ceiling, showing part of the cover cut away.

At the Campbell House, the cords were installed on the ceiling of the basement inside a covered box. This covered box still sits on the ceiling of the basement.

Using the covered box created a problem, however. To travel from the wall to the box cords now had to pivot 90 degrees three times: from the parlor wall to the basement ceiling, from that spot to the covered box, and from the covered box up to kitchen wall. To facilitate this process, the workmen installed metal pivots. Two of these pivots are still nailed to the basement ceiling near the front of the house. One of them has two separate pivots, perhaps with one for the front door and the other for the front of the parlor. The Campbells undoubtedly made use of several more of these pivots.

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This system was probably used thousands of times, whether to call for tea in the parlor, to give instructions for dinner, or to inform of the arrival of a guest. Although the cords themselves are long since gone, the remnants of the system are still there, waiting to call the servants into action once more.

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Ongoing Restoration Projects – It Never Ends!

Painter Dave creates a wood grain design on the primed outer front doors. The magical mixture he uses for this is made from stale beer and Karo Syrup. The sugar content of both ingredients means the design is easy to manipulate and takes a long time to dry.

Painter Dave creates a wood grain design on the primed outer front doors. The magical mixture he uses for this is made from stale beer and Karo Syrup. The sugar content of both ingredients means the design is easy to manipulate and takes a long time to dry.

If you’ve been to the Campbell House more than once, you know that something is different on every visit. Some new bit of history has been discovered or a new artifact is on display or maybe new window dressings have been put up. Last week, painters completed the finishing touches on two very special projects here at the Museum, both involving doors. Giant. Doors. The first project was our outer front doors. The substantial, 9 foot outer front doors provided the Campbells and their ornate smaller inner front doors a barrier between the house and the city street. They’ve been hanging on their hinges for 164 years and counting and have experienced a wide array of temperatures, precipitation, soot, smog and pretty much anything else you can imagine in their lifetimes. Ten years ago, as the Museum’s restoration came to a close, these doors were restored with a faux-grained wood finish. A decade later, they were beginning to show their age and the time had come to restore the restoration (anyone who has lived in an old house for any length of time will understand this).

Carefully... carefully... those doors were heavy.

Carefully… carefully… those doors were heavy.

The other project was even more exciting. A generous grant allowed us to tackle a restoration project that’s been on the back burner for years, decades really. The Campbells’ elegant double parlor has a set of pocket doors leading into it, designed to smoothly slide open and closed for a “grand reveal” of the gilded room and its contents. The thing is, they haven’t opened and closed very smoothly for about 70 years. In fact, they were jammed solidly open. The grant allowed us to hire some woodworking professionals to come in, remove a portion of the door frame and pull the doors off of their tracks. What they found was unexpected, but not surprising. The wheel mechanism in the bottom of the door still worked perfectly – the problem was that a century and half of dust and coal soot had built up inside the wall and piled at the bottom of the door’s enclosure, creating a solid heap which the door was riding up and jamming itself on. After removing the clog, oiling up the mechanics and replacing the doors on their tracks, they’re back to working as well as they did when Robert and Virginia bought the house back in 1854. The painters that worked on restoring our outer front doors then restored the pocket doors’ faux wood grain finish – and they look GREAT! Click below to see the “GRAND REVEAL” through the Parlor pocket doors and click through the gallery below to see the two projects happen from start to finish.

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Slavery: A Complicated Story

A story central to the history of the Campbell House and the City of St. Louis, especially as we recognize the historical contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, is that of slavery. Enslaved people served a variety of purposes in St. Louis homes, ranging from caring for babies to cooking and cleaning to working in fields on the city’s outskirts. Research over the past several years has revealed that Robert Campbell owned at least five slaves over a period of 16 years in the 1840s and 50s. The story of slavery at the Campbell House is a tricky one—there are a lot of unanswered questions, unclear records, and gaps in documentation. Here’s what we know:

  • Lucy Kyle

    Virginia’s mother Lucy Kyle, an ardent abolitionist and, for a short time, slave owner.

    1833: Virginia Campbell’s father, Hazlett Kyle, who had been a merchant and slaveholder in Raleigh, North Carolina, died when Virginia was 11 years old. He left an estate (which included his enslaved property) to be held for her until her 21st birthday.

  • 1841: There is no evidence that Robert Campbell owned slaves before his marriage to 19 year old Virginia in 1841, at which point the entirety of her inherited property became vested to her new husband. Three enslaved people were transferred to Robert, three to Virginia’s mother Lucy and two to Walter Otey, the husband of Virginia’s sister Eleanor. Lucy Kyle, who had been raised a Quaker, emancipated her slaves. Walter Otey, a slave trader and plantation owner himself, worked one of the slaves his wife had inherited and sold the other. Robert and Virginia brought their three slaves, each a child under the age of 12, to St. Louis with them the following year.
  • African American woman with her charge

    Enslaved African American woman with her charge, identities unknown. Enslaved women like Caroline and Eliza were often assigned the task of caring for a family’s young children. Unfortunately, there are no known images of any of the five individuals owned by the Campbell family.

    1842-45: The names of these enslaved children pop up periodically in family correspondence:  Caroline, described once as being “just at an age now to be contaminated by hiring her out”, Simeon, who appears to have been the oldest of the three and was hired out to work elsewhere by the Campbells, and a young boy named Hazlett, no doubt after the Kyle family patriarch. “Hazy” as he is referred to, was hired out by Robert to help another family with a newborn baby, “just that he may be learning something”. By 1842 Caroline and Simeon (the two oldest) had been hired out to work on a farm in Sulphur Springs owned by Robert’s longtime business partner William Sublette. Young Hazy was kept with the Campbell family to lend a hand with newborn James Campbell, his primary job being “to keep off the flies” from the infant.

  • 1845-49: At this point, the trail becomes tough to follow. We lose track of Caroline around 1845, when there are no female slaves listed in city records for the Campbell family. Four years later in 1849, the same thing happens when Simeon and Hazlett disappear from the record.
  • 1854-57: When the Campbells move into their Lucas Place home (today the Campbell House Museum) in 1854, there was just one enslaved person in the household—a young woman named Eliza. It is believed that Eliza helped to care for the Campbell children and may have come into Robert’s possession as early as 1845 (though this is not entirely clear). In January 1857, Robert Campbell emancipated Eliza and her two young children. The document reads:

“Robert Campbell, who is personally known to the court, comes into open court and acknowledges the execution by him of Deed of Emancipation to his negro woman Eliza, aged about twenty five years, of copper or mulatto complexion, together with her two children, to wit: Aleck, a boy aged about two years and a half, and an infant son born in October last, name not known, both of which children of the same complexion with the said Eliza.” See image below.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. Click to view larger.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. (Click to view larger.)

Why, you might ask, did Robert emancipate Eliza a full seven years before Missouri would abolish slavery in 1864? That’s an excellent question and, to be honest, we don’t have an answer. We do have some ideas though.

  • Hazlett Campbell I

    Hazlett Campbell (died 1856 at age 3). Eliza was his primary caregiver and likely very close to the child.

    Eliza had two children by this point, for which Robert Campbell was financially responsible by default. This also would have been a significant draw on Eliza’s time, since she was now caring for the Campbell family’s brood as well as her own.

  • The first Hazlett Campbell had died in November 1856 and Eliza was emancipated just two months later. Our impression from family letters is that Eliza was the primary caregiver to the child. His death may have eliminated a pressing need to have her around the house. It also is likely that Eliza would have taken the death of a baby to whom she was so close particularly hard.
  • At some point around the time of Eliza’s emancipation, Virginia’s mother Lucy arrived in St. Louis and took up residence with her daughter and son-in-law. Like we mentioned above, Lucy was anti-slavery and may have pressured Robert toward emancipation. It’s also a possibility that Robert didn’t want to offend his mother-in-law by having an enslaved person in the house.
  • Perhaps the most interesting tidbit we’ve found comes from a diary written by a family friend after a visit to the Campbell House in 1858. Sarah Lindsey, visiting Lucy Kyle, writes that:

“At one time they held a few slaves but Virginia Campbell not liking the system, nor the care of the young Negroes, they were set free. Their servants at the present time are Swiss, German and Irish.”

ElizaFreedomBond

Freedom Bond signed by Robert Campbell in the amount of $500 to vouch for Eliza’s character after her emancipation. Should Eliza have been arrested or in a legal pinch as a freed African American in slave-holding Missouri, Robert would have been called upon to pay up. (Click to view larger.)

While we would like to say that the Campbells freed their slaves due to their strong abolitionist beliefs, this probably isn’t the case. Though we do have on reference that Mrs. Campbell didn’t like “the system” of slavery, we can’t discount the difficulties that must have been faced in caring for a young unmarried mother with two very young children, especially in a house that had already lost seven children of their own. However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Campbells kept up a close personal relationship with Eliza after she was freed. After Virginia’s death in 1882, Eliza was left a gift of $100 (no small change in those days) and son Hugh Campbell lent her an additional $100 a year later when she and her family moved to Kansas City. We also have a letter dated 1918 from an elderly Eliza (she would’ve easily been 80+ years old at that point) to Hugh in which she says hello and thanks him for a Christmas gift he’d sent.

Needless to say, the story of slavery at the Campbell House is complex, with new information emerging every day as our team of volunteers and researchers continues to dig through the tens of thousands of pages of historic documents left behind by the Campbell family. It’s a complicated story, but it’s one that has to be told. To ignore the unseemly portions of our city’s history and and the lives of its most oppressed and unrecognized citizens would certainly make talking about history a whole lot easier, but it definitely wouldn’t be right.

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