Many historic buildings and sites provide a glimpse into the pioneer days of St. Louis County. Although these early residents were primarily from France and Spain, they soon outnumbered the migrants from the Northwest Territory, and upland states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Many of these immigrants brought with them enslaved African Americans. Around 16 percent of the population lived within the borders of St. Louis County in 1840.
Early homesteads were constructed from brick and quarried limestone, but most often from logs. These homes were built using techniques borrowed from the migrant’s origin areas. These early settlers were primarily concerned with transforming the land for farm use. However, they also built the foundations for communities through the construction of general stores, post offices, and churches.
St. Louis County is fortunate to have many historic buildings that add character and depth to its neighborhoods and cities, even though their numbers are decreasing. These resources can help us understand the history of our communities and connect us with the roots that bind us together.
The Historic Buildings Commission (HBC), an advisory body of the St. Louis County Council, has designated County Landmarks as sites of cultural, architectural, and community importance since 1970. The list now includes 252 sites. While it is not comprehensive, it is meant to identify places that are worthy of preservation and those that contribute to the St. Louisans’ history. This post will focus on a few of the landmarks that reflect the pioneering spirit of St. Louis County.
You can explore all County Landmarks and see which ones are near you by using our interactive map.
Casa Alvarez is hidden from view by the trees, brush, and shrubs that line Rue St. Denis. Florissant. Casa Alvarez offers a rare link to the forgotten Spanish heritage of St. Louis. It is frequently referred to as the oldest house in St. Louis County. There are many different accounts of the origins of the property. Many believe that the first part of the house was built by Eugenio Alvarez, who arrived in the Florissant community of St. Ferdinand (now Florissant), around 1770. He served as a military storekeeper for Captain Pedro Piernas. But, some archival evidence discredits this story. Joel Musick, who testified before the United States Land Commissioners, swore that Baptiste Presse had built his home on the site which had been abandoned around 1810.
Casa Alvarez was built in a frame construction style called “Maison de poteaux sursole” or “sur une solge.” This means that vertical supports are placed on a sill and not directly into the ground, as in many pioneer dwellings. This construction style was rare and would have been much more difficult. It is also less likely to decay and rot, which is why it has survived.
The home could be deemed Eugenio’s child Augustine Alverez by 1840. The Alvarez family held the property until Humphrey J. Moynihan purchased it in 1905. Moynihan was elected as Florissant’s first Mayor in 1894.
The property was sold to Dr. Herman von Schrenk in 1914. He was a highly successful plant pathologist and inventor of a wood preservation process that is used by the American railroad industry. Harry Hellmuth, an architect hired by Von Schrenk in the 1930s, was hired to increase the house’s size.
Today, the Sappington family is best known for its namesake, Sappington Road, Sappington-Concord Area, and Thomas Sappington House. This public museum is located along Grant’s Trail in Crestwood. After purchasing the first grant of land along Gravois Creek in the previous year, John Sappington, the patriarch of the family, led the Sappington family to St. Louis. John, who served under George Washington at Valley Forge in 1778, was a veteran of the American Revolution. He was awarded a Kentucky land grant for his services, which he used to purchase his first land holdings in St. Louis. John and Jemima were the parents of 17 children. Through marriage and social activities, they became deeply entwined in the early history of St. Louis. The development of St. Louis County would be influenced by the Sappington family. The descendants of Sappington would play a crucial role in the development of St. Louis County. For instance, Thomas Jefferson Sappington was a grandson of John and Jemima.
Several homes that were built by John and Jemima’s children still exist. The Thomas Sappington House, mentioned above, was built around 1808. Although two of the Sappington houses have been relocated from their original locations, they still stand. These are the Mark Sappington House and Zepheniah Sappington House. They were originally built at 11145 Gravois Road and now reside at Lindenwood Park, St. Charles County. William Long, the husband of Elizabeth Sappington built the original section of U.S. Grant’s White Haven. The St. Louis County Parks Department maintains another of Elizabeth and William’s homes at 9385 Pardee Road. It was built around 1820. The Joseph Sappington House is the last still in existence. It is a horizontal log home that was built around 1816. This structure is not like the others. It was not built by John Sappington’s child. It appears that Joseph was either a nephew or cousin of John, who moved to the area at the time this structure was built.