August 27, 2019
Photography by Emily Baumann, Alysa Ramsay, and submitted by the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau
DEFINITION: Accepted and recognized or followed by many people.
When visitors and locals visit historic Hall Street in St. Joseph, they usually look up. A lot. And then they stop and stare. They take pictures and walk very slowly. They usually return, because this neighborhood known as “Millionaire’s Row” tells the story of St. Joseph’s turn-of-the century wealth and opulence like nothing else.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hall Street Historic District is truly a gem for old-house lovers, architecture fans, history buffs and everyone in between. While one of several beautiful and historic pockets of architecture across the city, this multi-block, 40-plus building area manages to capture attention and inspire in a remarkable way, season after season.
A big part of the surge in both preservation efforts and tourism to the Hall Street area is credited to Isobel McGowan. McGowan moved to St. Joseph from Denver in 2012 and owns the Shakespeare Chateau, a fully restored mansion and showpiece home along this street that sits just north of downtown St. Joseph. She has helped organize a true community effort to not only highlight the city’s outstanding architecture, but to help unite all neighbors and residents in sharing the positive message that connects everyone to these landmark areas.
“When you walk down Hall Street, it is so easy to imagine how the horse-drawn carriages must have looked as they traversed this street of great mansion houses. The Schuster mansion with its widows-walk, the ornate Robison mansion, the castle-like Tootle mansion designed by Harvey Ellis, the antebellum Hosea and Garth houses, and of course, the chateauesque beauty that was home to Nathan and Elmarine Ogden,” says McGowan. “The district showcases some of the best examples of Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Victorian Cottage, Second Empire, and Chateauesque mansion homes, each one notable and unique.”
Most of the homes and mansions belonged to the merchants and traders who flourished in bustling St. Joseph during Western Expansion. For a number of years around the time of their construction, St. Joseph boasted the highest per-capita income of any city in the United States. Because the merchants were so successful, their homes exhibit some of the finest craftsmanship available – work that can’t be duplicated today. (Think ballrooms, carriage houses, multi-story turrets, stained glass, rare wallpaper and incredible stone and granite work). McGowan seems to never tire of showing guests her own piece of this architectural magic, with regular events and tours at the Shakespeare Chateau. Located at 809 Hall, the mansion has 47 original stained glass windows; carved cherry, mahogany, oak, and walnut woodwork; ornate fireplace mantles with original tilework, and of course, an intricate bust of Shakespeare himself above the front foyer fireplace.
Rebecca Thacker, Hall Street Historic District resident, agrees that the area is “magical” and encourages others to get involved. “The grandeur of the mansions, herringbone sidewalks, brick streets, stone walls … it’s all amazing and it’s right here in the heart of our community. A number of homeowners have put their heart and soul into restoring properties in this neighborhood and have saved architectural gems that would have otherwise been lost. We need more people to do this. There are still homes in the area that need work. There’s so much potential,” she says.
Some Hall Street properties are open to visitors throughout the year; others provide a rare glimpse of completed preservation and ongoing restoration work during annual events. One of the most popular events – the Jewels of St. Joseph: A Showcase of Architectural Gems – homes tour will give up to 600 guests a first-hand look at these grand old homes. The event is now in its fourth year as a fundraiser to help the ongoing preservation efforts of the Historic St. Joseph Foundation. a nonprofit organization. It’s typically a sell-out weeks in advance.
McGowan has played a key role in the Jewels of St. Joseph tour every year. “This tour is about educating and inspiring the community to learn about these properties and take pride in the incredible asset they are to all of us,” she says. “People come from long distances because they know how rare and impressive the neighborhoods featured are. We introduce them to the hard work and dedication of the homeowners and area preservation activists, including homes, properties and churches across multiple historic neighborhoods.”
A self-guided walking tour will accompany the Jewels of St. Joseph ticket for visitors who want to learn more. “These are fabulous properties, reflecting who our city was during a unique part of history. Prominent architects like Harvey Ellis and E.J. Eckel designed several of these, whose work graces many of our historic municipal buildings and is still admired across the country by students and professionals. The work we do is, in essence, preserving a piece of American history. It’s really fascinating to see the different stages of restoration,” says McGowan.
Hall Street Historic District resident Kayte Hale-Langner appreciates both the ongoing preservation efforts and the questions the properties inspire. “One of the first things I noticed about the neighborhood was the sound of power tools and hammers. It can be easy to assume that an old neighborhood is a dying neighborhood. Some of the properties, like mine, are still in need of work. Others definitely look like jewels in our St. Joseph treasure box.”
“Every day brings people in their cars that are taking time to marvel at the architecture, but the foot traffic is my favorite. I have been known to answer questions and drag the truly curious on a tour through our house. Since our home is still a project, I get to hear lots of ideas. The enthusiasm of those that stop a minute to use their imagination is a treat for me,” says Hale-Langner.
Reflecting a renewed overall interest in preservation in St. Joseph, the Jewels of St. Joseph tour homes are grouped in three historic neighborhoods: Hall Street, Museum Hill, and Krug Park, and tourists can visit seven locations in any order. One property on the tour is under active preservation, allowing guests to see key pieces of that process. In some properties, guests can talk with the homeowners themselves and a raffle allows participants the chance to take home historic items from St. Joseph. The featured homes read like a who’s-who list of early St. Joseph wealthy families: The Tootle Mansion. The Henry Krug Jr. Mansion, the Hax House. “The wealth of these ‘Merchant Princes’ who once lived in St. Joseph is legendary, and the architecture of their homes is without a doubt some of the finest in the Midwest, if not in America,” says McGowan. “These homes are still flush with ornate detailing of every imaginable type. Hall Street is a mecca for architectural historians and for photographers –and something our community can claim and celebrate as uniquely its own.”
Many visitors and guests are doing just that. In 2019, the Missouri State Historic Preservation Conference was held in St. Joseph. In May, the annual Beer Walk for the Arts combined local arts fans, local food, local beer and local homes, including tours of several Hall Street historic properties, with a sell-out crowd. The soon-to-be-released movie “Christmas at the Chateau” will shine a whole new light on the Shakespeare Chateau and the surrounding downtown St. Joseph area.
All of this is just the start of an ongoing story that combines uncommon beauty, craftsmanship, dedication and history. Or, as resident Hale-Langner says, “Living in the Hall Street district is like living inside of a sculpture that is still being molded by the artist. There are always new details to see. The vision of those that live here not only includes their home, but the long-term life of our neighborhood and others like it.”
Note: The 2019 Jewels of St. Joseph tour starts at the Shakespeare Chateau at 809 Hall Street. It also includes the Tootle Mansion, 802 Hall; the Browne-Craig home at 402 S. 12th; the G. Hax home at 417 S. 11th; the H.K White home at 503 S. 11th; the H. Krug Jr. mansion 1105 Krug Park Place; and the First Baptist Church at 1225 Francis. Advance tickets are $20 per person. Tickets on tour day will be $25 if any are available. Call 816-232-2667 for more information or visit www.shakespearechateau.com/meetings to purchase tickets.
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