Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Formal Affair; on Its 70th Anniversary as a Museum, Campbell House Displays a Collection of Elegant Gowns

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Formal Affair; on Its 70th Anniversary as a Museum, Campbell House Displays a Collection of Elegant Gowns

Article excerpt

The Campbell House Museum celebrates its 70th anniversary as the best-preserved 19th century building in St. Louis this year with an exhibition of some of its most colorful assets: women's gowns.

Campbell House was built in 1851 on Lucas Place (now Locust Street), a fashionable address. In 1854 it was purchased by Robert and Virginia Campbell, a wealthy Scots-Irish immigrant businessman and his wife (and unofficial business partner), who moved with their three sons, James, Hugh and Hazlett.

None of the sons married, and they kept the house largely as their parents left it. When the last brother, Hazlett, died without a will in 1938, a lengthy probate fight meant the house sat empty until 1941. By then the neighborhood had changed definitively: The stately residence was surrounded by warehouses and other commercial properties.

Experts in art, architecture and history who evaluated the estate realized they were looking at a treasure. The house offered a unique perspective on late Victorian life.

The William Clark Society, an organization devoted to local history, saw an opportunity and went to work to save the house and its furnishings.

The contents were auctioned off in 1941, an event that caused a major stir locally, notes executive director Andrew Hahn. The society managed to purchase most of the items in the front of the house. In 1943, Campbell House opened to the public as a museum, showing how one family lived in the late 19th century.

"It's not the first public house (museum) to open in St. Louis," says Hahn. "That distinction belongs to Field House. But we are certainly the best-preserved house in St. Louis, and probably the best-preserved 19th century building in St. Louis."

Hahn says that, unlike many other historic houses, Campbell House was never a boarding house and was never vacant. "It went from being a family home to a museum in less than five years," he says.

Unusually, the Campbells had a set of 60 high-quality photographs taken of their house ("our crown jewel"), almost all of them of the interior. …

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