By: Andrew Weil
The house at 2347 Virginia was built around 1870 as a country house by Andrew and Laura Scott Einstmann. Situated in the upland prairie at what was then the western
edge of the city, the home was one of many country estates built by wealthy St. Louisans who wished to escape the heat, congestion, and pollution of the city during the summer months.
The land on which the house was built, originally a 9.7 acre tract, was purchased from the city in 1848 by John Herman Oetting and John H. Albers for $417. The size of the
parcel and the dual ownership indicates that the purchase was speculative; the Albers and the Oettings each owned half of the property. Five years later, in March 1853, the Albers sold their half to Oetting at a large profit. The property changed hands twice over the next year and was owned by the notable St. Louisians Taylor Blow, who supported Dred Scott during his famous Supreme Court trial (and afterward purchased Scott and freed him), and a syndicate that included James Eads, the designer of the pioneering bridge across the Mississippi River.
In February of 1854, Compton Hill landowner James S. Thomas auctioned off his forty acre tract, which became the first major residential real estate subdivision in the vicinity of Tower Grove East. The day after the auction, the Missouri Republican reported that all but one block in the 10-block subdivision had been sold at an average price of $3,000 per acre. Within three weeks, the group that owned the future Einstmann property apparently took advantage of the publicity the area was getting and sold it to Charles Keemle. Keemle was involved in the far-west fur trade and was an influential figure in the publishing business and city government in St. Louis. His investment proved to be a wise one; within months, (in 1855), the city limits were expanded to a line 660 feet west of Grand Avenue bringing the newly purchased land (and Tower Grove East) into St. Louis proper.
When Charles Keemle died in 1865, the trustees of his estate sold the property to Daniel Catlin (the millionaire owner of St. Louis-based Catlin Tobacco) and his wife Mary, who held it as an investment until 1868, when they sold it to Charles Teichmann. Teichmann, who already owned an adjacent property at what is now the southwest corner of Virginia and Shenandoah, bought the property, acting as an agent for his friend and business partner Andrew Einstmann. Six months after Teichmann purchased the
property, he sold the land to Einstmann, who, with his wife Laura, built their country home on the property sometime around 1870. The original address of the property was 2347 Louisiana (at the rear of the property) because Virginia Avenue had not been cut through the area yet. The Einstmann family used the home during the summer months and boarded in hotels during the winter. In 1875, a map was made of St. Louis which depicted the area of Tower Grove East as a bucolic retreat with scattered country estates. The house is shown amidst a grove of trees and a substantial grape arbor with large combined servants’ quarters/ horse barn, and a chicken coop. To the north was Henry Haarstick’s cornfield; to the northeast were the fields and home of Charles Teichmann. To the south was the home of C. B. Field.
In the fall of 1876, Andrew and Laura Einstmann, along with Laura’s mother, left their summer home and checked in to the Southern Hotel in downtown St. Louis for the winter. Shortly before they planned to return to their country house the following spring, the hotel caught fire and Andrew Einstmann was killed. Following her husband’s death, Laura Einstmann moved with her sister Kate and brother-in-law Paul Phillippi to Kansas City where they remained until Paul’s death. In 1883, Laura Einstmann, along with Kate and her two children, returned to the country house in St. Louis. Kate’s son (Laura’s nephew) Paul Phillipi, later described the property as he remembered it during his childhood in the 1880s and 1890s. He remembered a high, seamed tin roof, which was deposited in the middle of Virginia Avenue by the tornado of 1896, and a front porch with a second story balcony (today the porch is gone, but the second story door remains on the north side of the facade). Apparently the feisty Laura used to stand on the balcony and fire a rifle into the trees to scare away noisy birds. The house was divided into a front portion with 2 stories and a rear, two-story kitchen addition with a bathroom and a butler’s pantry. Behind the house (to the west and southwest toward Louisiana Avenue) was what Paul described as a brick “chick sale” (early 20th-century slang for an outhouse). A cinder driveway encircled the house and a two-story frame stable stood on the “Louisiana side” of the property. The ground floor of
the stable had four horsestalls and a carriage house; the second story had a hay loft and three living rooms for servants. Adjacent to the stable was a two story chicken house and fenced chicken yard. A vegetable garden was located next to the chicken yard, and in the northwest corner of the property there was substantial berry patch and an orchard. Directly south of the house was a grape arbor, and the whole complex was surrounded by a six-foot high fence.
The sisters, along with the two children, lived in the house from 1887 until 1896, when the home was damaged by a tornado that devastated much of the surrounding area. In that year, Laura’s sister Kate remarried and moved out of the house with her children. Laura Scott Einstmann apparently lived in the house until 1900, when she married J. L. Griswold, owner of the Laclede Hotel in St. Louis. She moved to the Laclede with her new husband and in 1901 sold the house on Virginia to Arthur and Claraphilia
It is often asserted that the Einstmann house is the oldest house in Tower Grove East, but this point is still up for debate. The common perception of the building’s antiquity may be based in part on the St. Louis City Assessor’s database, which inexplicably attributes to the home a construction date of 1848, the year in which land was first sold by the city. Nevertheless, the property certainly stands out in the streetscape due to its style, scale, and departure from the uniform setback of surrounding houses. The latter feature is a testament to the fact that the home pre-dates both the surrounding deed restrictions and the street (Virginia Avenue) which it now fronts. The stone wall that surrounds several homes and the TGE Community Garden running west along Sidney and north along Virginia and Louisiana was likely built as a retaining wall either by the Einstmann family or by the city when Virginia Avenue was put in. The new road would have cut deeply into the Einstmann property, which sloped to the east. The cut would have also necessitated alterations to the grade of Sidney, resulting in the need for a retaining wall along the streets at the corners.
Sadly, the Einstmann home is currently abandoned and has been condemned for occupancy. Though the brickwork appears solid, the roof of the house is in deplorable condition and is essentially open to the elements at the northeast corner. The house was listed on the Eleven Most Endangered Buildings list published in 2008 by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, although it is not protected by any official historic designation. Unless significant steps are taken toward preservation in the immediate future, Tower Grove East and the people of St. Louis could easily lose the Einstmann home forever.
[Editor’s note: The current owner, as of March 2009, has indicated an intention to renovate the home.]
Reprinted from the Tower Grove East Newsletter, Spring 2008.