Tag Archives: St. Louis

Guest Blog: Writing the Book on Campbell House

This week we’re handing the reins over to guest blogger Dylan McCartney, a Graduate Research Assistant working with us from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Take it away, Dylan!

When I arrived at the Campbell House in August, I knew very little about Robert Campbell, Virginia Campbell, or St. Louis. I didn’t even call St. Louis home. As a graduate student in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Museum Studies program, the Campbell House is where I will complete a two-year assistantship. And so, since I knew nothing about the Campbells, I was naturally asked to write up the definitive document about them.

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Specifically, it is a new, updated Docent Guidebook. If a docent leads visitors through the house on tours and relates the story of the family and house, then the Docent Guidebook does the same for docents. It is not a script, because the thing that makes a tour of the Campbell House great is that every docent builds their own tour. Instead, the guidebook provides a massive amount of information, too much to possibly fit on a single tour. The thing our docents do best is to internalize the information, relate the most important points, the things they find interesting, and the things the guest finds interesting.

To write the Docent Guidebook, I have spent the better part of five or so months diving deep into the Campbell House archives. I’ve read letters by the Campbells, poured through their receipt books, hunted down newspapers, and worked with the Campbell House Museum’s researcher, Tom Gronski. I researched the objects, the rooms, and even the history of the Museum itself. And, of course, I chatted with the docents, to see what they wanted out of a new guidebook.

touring visitors

Campbell House Docent Tom Keay leads a tour in the Master Bedroom

A new guidebook was needed because a lot of things had changed since the old one. For instance, when the old one was written, the collections hadn’t even been returned to the house after our major restoration was finished! We’re also learning more and more about the Campbells every day. Before this past summer, we didn’t know about a special cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry hallway. We only recently discovered the names of the Campbell House’s architects. And, until a couple of years ago, we weren’t even sure if the Campbells were slaveowners.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: Dylan's pride and joy and the product of many many hours of hard work and research.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: the product of many hours of research and hard work by Dylan!

A new Docent Guidebook also allowed us to correct any myths that have arisen over the years. As with anything dependent upon oral discourse, a comment made twenty years ago by one person can slowly morph into accepted fact. For instance, many visitors have been informed that Virginia Campbell spent $40,000 on the furniture in 1855. In truth, it’s impossible to tell from our archives the exact amount spent, although it is in the tens of thousands. It is also clear that Robert was buying furniture right there with her. The irony of these myths is that it obscures a wonderful story: that Robert and Virginia purchased their furniture half a continent away and shipped it all via train and boat to St. Louis. Robert was even purchasing carpeting and draperies from St. Louis by sending his brother Hugh the dimensions of the rooms!

The result of all this work is 120 pages of thoroughly sourced information about the Campbells, St. Louis, the house, and nearly anything else that we could think of. This document will serve as the go-to source for new docents, interns, researchers, and anyone else looking for a broad yet detailed summary of the Campbell’s story. So if you thought our docents were already great, come take another tour to see how we’ve managed to get even better!

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The View from Hazlett’s Room

The balcony as it appears today, sans enclosure.

Master bedroom balcony at the Campbell House Museum

April showers bring May flowers and May flowers bring a beautiful garden along with… a lot of gunk on our roof and in our gutters. Once or twice a year we get up on top of the roofs of the Campbell House’s various built-out bays to clear out debris and do some spring cleaning. This was much easier when the Campbells were living here because their servants could have opened the windows and climbed right out onto the roof. However, as part of the Museum’s restoration in the early 2000s, all of the windows in the house were sealed tightly shut – making a relatively straightforward job a little more interesting (think really tall ladders, lots of climbing and steep roof slopes).

HAZLET~1

Hazlett Kyle Campbell lived in his family’s downtown St. Louis home for his entire life, from 1858 to 1938.

Today we climbed up to the balcony off of the master bedroom used by Robert and Virginia Campbell and, later, their son Hazlett. During Robert and Virginia’s lifetimes, full length windows opened directly onto the copper surface of the open air balcony, which was surrounded by a detailed wrought iron railing. Some time after the deaths of Robert and Virginia, their sons  enclosed the balcony with an elaborate copper roof and trellised wooden walls. While we can’t be entirely sure of why or even when (our guess is circa 1910) this was put onto the house, our best guess was that it was to provide some privacy to Hazlett Campbell, who became increasingly reclusive and mentally unstable as he grew older. Accounts from servants working at the house recall that Hazlett spent much of his time in the master bedroom, rarely venturing outdoors. By enclosing the balcony, Hazlett would have been afforded some privacy in an era when the houses of the neighborhood were being torn down and replaced by large hotels and commercial buildings. As part of Campbell House Museum’s extensive restoration in the early 2000s, this enclosure was removed to return the east side of the house to its 1880s appearance. Check out the gallery below to see how the use of the balcony has evolved over the past 160+ years.

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Campbell House Museum Announces Move from Historic Downtown Location (some April Fool’s fun).

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Campbell House Museum – Saint Louis, Missouri

RE: Campbell House Museum Announces Move from Historic Downtown Location

The Campbell House Museum, a fixture of downtown St. Louis since its opening in 1943 and its construction in 1851 announced today its intention to relocate to the Hanley Industrial Park in St. Louis County. The intended move is being spurred by the results of a recent structural study of the property, which found the historic town house’s stone foundation crumbling as well as serious issues relating to the substructure of the building’s roof.

Campbell House Museum Executive Director Andy Hahn was quoted as saying:

“As much as we hate to leave this building behind, we here at the Campbell House Museum believe that our mission will be best fulfilled by moving out of the Campbell House. The issues presented by the structural study are simply insurmountable and, quite honestly, old houses are a pain to keep up. We’re very excited to present the Campbell family’s vast collection of original furnishings and decor in the white, sterile environment offered by the Industrial Park – we think it will really make the gold leaf stand out. Plus, the 2,000 square foot unit will be a lot easier to dust and vaccum than the 33 rooms and seven levels of Robert Campbell’s mansion.”

Currently planning is underway for a move-out date at the end of July. In addition to furniture, the Campbell House’s significant collection of original gasolier light fixtures and stained glass windows will be removed and placed in storage. Though no official plans have yet been made, it is expected that the 1851 Campbell House will be demolished in Fall 2015 to provide parking for area businesses.

Campbell House Museum:  “City Living Since 1851″ 
“Suburban Industrial Park Living Since 2015″

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