ST. LOUIS: CAMPBELL house
Ready to step back in time, right in the middle of downtown St. Louis? A visit to the Campbell House Museum will drop you off in the 1880s, when St. Louis was booming and was one of the most well thought of cities in the world.
Robert Campbell was an Irish immigrant who arrived in St. Louis at age 19, making a name for himself in the fur trade which later led him to success in banking, steamboats, real estate and more. He became one of St. Louis’ richest and most successful men and he became good friends with President Grant, advising on political matters and policies. Campbell built the tall, elegant house in 1851 as part of the Lucas Place neighborhood.
Robert married Virginia Jane Kyle who was 18 years younger than he, and they had 13 children. Sadly, several of the children died tragically young (dear 2022: thank you, science and medicine!). Their oldest son, Hugh, maintained the house for more than 50 years and was a generous community supporter, helping the city and the children of the poorer neighborhoods adjacent to Lucas Place.
When we visited, the house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, just as it would have been in the early 1900s. The dining room was set for Christmas dinner and our docent brought the time and holiday events to life, sharing photographs of past holiday celebrations experienced at the house. The Victorian opulence, furniture, fixtures, paintings and sculptures are amazing and to be able to get so close to everything to examine details was a treat. Everything from the wallpaper to the carpets has been carefully maintained and restored and are absolutely accurate to details of the originals.
The tour includes the double parlor, the library, the kitchen, servant quarters and the carriage house with carriages and more. Our docent, who also serves on the museum’s board of directors, was thoroughly knowledgeable and could answer everything we were curious about. On a quiet winter Sunday afternoon, our party of three received a private tour for the extremely reasonable $10 fee per person.
One statue in the dining room was brought back by the Campbell sons from Paris and there are only two others in the world—one is at Buckingham Palace and one is in the Louvre. I admired a very unique lamp in Mrs. Campbell’s bedroom (The rich always had separate bedrooms. Who needs to hear the mister snore when you can afford another bedroom?). It was porcelain with a beautiful design carved into it and when lit, had a remarkable artistic effect where it looks like a sketch. The gift shop has a variety of similarly crafted nightlights, which I could not resist.
While we may take it for granted, it was fun to see one of the first indoor toilets of the time. Hilarious to me was the boldly featured logo of the toilet maker! Having a toilet was a big deal, but apparently a Rumsey toilet was special enough you were fine with a giant logo.
There is a special exhibit room as well where we saw textiles from the Campbell family on display, including Mrs. Campbell’s dress that looked slightly tie-dye-ish, but was a rare woven example of fabric of the time (well, if you could afford it!).
Campbell House Museum stands out from downtown St. Louis’ office buildings and adjacent parking lots, but once you are inside, it truly feels like you have traveled through time. The museum is recognized as a landmark by the National Register of Historic Places (1977) and was designated a National Trust for Historic Preservation during the Save America’s Treasures project (2000). It is truly a St. Louis treasure.
Campbell House Museum, 1508 Locust Street, St. Louis, Missouri – 314.421.0325
Check website for current hours and tour times. Free parking and an amazing gift shop well worth your time (cards, jewelry, décor, mementos of the museum, history books about St. Louis). Note: The house has several floors with stairs, including the front door entry. If you need accommodation, let them know and you can use the elevator via the gift shop.