Irish St. Louis

A shamrock atop the Campbell House gazebo

The above photo shows the oldest gazebo in downtown St. Louis. As you might gather from the shamrocks crowning the roof line, it stood in the garden of an Irishman. Robert Campbell emigrated to St. Louis from Plumbridge, County Tyrone in the north of Ireland, when he was twenty. The year was 1824 and before he died at age seventy-five, in the house just beyond the gazebo to the left, he had become clerk, fur trader, tribal brother to two important Indian chiefs, merchant, entrepreneur, bank president, and one of the financial founders of Kansas City. He died one of the wealthiest men in Missouri but Robert Campbell wore his wealth lightly and was quietly very generous.

The home he made in Lucas Place (today Locust Street) with his wife Virginia and their children is preserved today as the Campbell House Museum. In time this, the first house constructed in the first elegant residential street in St. Louis, would be surrounded by mansions, churches and private schools. In time, all of the Campbell’s wealthy neighbors would move west but they would remain, enlarging and improving their home and creating this garden. The gazebo has been standing since at least 1885 when Robert and Virginia Campbell’s oldest surviving son, Hugh, photographed it. But museum director, Andy Hahn, believes it could date to as early as 1875.

It is quite symbolic that this, the oldest Irish house downtown remains, while all of its fashionable neighbors have given way to warehouses, skyscrapers and lofts. During the worst famine to ravage Ireland in the 19th century none of the Campbell family or their tenant farmers in County Tyrone were dispossessed of their land and forced to emigrate, because Robert Campbell was supporting them from St. Louis, Missouri.

The Campbell House Museum is one of the most remarkably restored 19th Century Victorian townhouses in the United States and a wonderful place to visit in person and online: http://www.campbellhousemuseum.org

The Irish, being the second-largest immigrant group to settle in St. Louis(only the Germans were more numerous), flood the streets of the city in and around March 17th to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – with two separate parades, floats carrying dancers and musicians (who practice the whole-year long in preparation for the festivities), marching bands and dignitaries from St. Louis and Ireland – sometimes but not always – from Galway, our Irish Sister City.

From now until March 17th this blog commemorates the Irish in St. Louis.

© 2010 Maureen Kavanaugh

The copy & photos on this blogspace are the work of Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh and may not be used without the express permission of the author. Permission to reprint may be obtained by contacting: maureen@stlouiswalkingtours.com.

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About stltourguide

I am a walking tour and narrated coach tour guide in St. Louis, Missouri specializing in the history of the area.
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