Overview – Defining Moments: Central Webster

Before You Begin Your Walk

Webster Groves is an outdoor history museum, reflecting the early stages of St. Louis County’s development. The oldest communities in St Louis County grew up along the railroad; later communities developed along the streetcar lines, and finally, highways made all of St. Louis County convenient for commuters who lived in the county and traveled into St. Louis for work.

Webster Groves followed this same pattern of development, with Central Webster the site of key moments in the history of the town. Some of Webster Groves’ earliest subdivisions were laid out here. The first Webster Groves Public Library was located in the Monday Club, an early women’s club in Central Webster, and the Webster Groves City Hall crowns the highest hill in Central Webster, all defining this community for generations.

The Central Webster Walk begins on the north side of Lockwood Avenue which was part of the original Payne Tract. Nancy Jackson subdivided one of the large lots in the Payne Tract in 1883, after her husband died. The walk then leads through two of the original 40-acre lots of Choteau’s Subdivision of the Sarpy Tract, those of William Plant and Elizabeth Richardson.

William M. Plant purchased the 40 acres bounded by Lockwood, Plant, Swon and Elm avenues in 1858. He and his brothers Alfred, George and Samuel, owned the Plant Seed Company, founded by their father in 1845. William and Alfred helped to establish the Congregational Church of Webster Groves in 1866, but died in 1867.

His son, William E. Plant, was a public accountant with a large firm that had offices in St. Louis and Chicago. He married Sally Allen in 1870, and they had two sons, William and Ernest, and a daughter, Lulu, who died young. Plant built a large Queen Anne house for his family on Elm Avenue, but Sally died in 1881, shortly before the house was completed. William and his two sons continued to live with his mother in the old Plant mansion on Lockwood Avenue.

Plant loved Webster Groves and became one of the first businessmen to try to attract other successful commuters to live here. In 1883 he laid out the W.E. Plant Subdivision between Elm and Maple avenues, in the southwest quarter of his father’s 40 acres. In 1889, he subdivided the remainder of his father’s forty acres into the Frances L. Plant Subdivision, named for his mother.

Elizabeth Richardson’s 40 acres, bounded by Lockwood, Selma, Swon and Plant avenues, was purchased by her third husband, Thomas Jones. In 1851 Jones died of pneumonia after his wagon loaded with building supplies for his house on Swon avenue overturned in the River Des Peres in December 1851. Elizabeth was the proprietor of the boardinghouse on the river front, and John Richardson, an English hotel owner, married the grieving widow one month after Jones died. Richardson died in 1875, and the Elizabeth Richardson Subdivision was laid out in 1876, dividing the 40 acres among her children of various fathers and putting the main house on Swon Avenue in a trust for Richardson’s widow, Elizabeth for as long as she lived.

The oldest houses in the Central Webster Valley were built on large, deep lots along the main streets, Maple, Plant and Swon avenues. Then, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, local builders, like the Horspool Brothers, re-subdivided the empty lots between the large old houses and built homes on their smaller lots.

Utilities, paved streets and granitoid sidewalks were built throughout Webster Groves during the first decade of the twentieth century. The Monday Club, a one-story Craftsman building designed by Lawrence Ewald was built at the corner of Maple and Cedar in 1911, and its Art Deco addition was designed by architect Harris Armstrong in 1929. It housed the first public library in Webster Groves, and it served as a cultural center for women of Webster Groves during the twentieth century.

In 1923 Webter Groves passed a zoning ordinance, one of the first in St. Louis County. It ensured that Webster Groves would remain a residential community of single family houses, except in areas that were already commercial. Lockwood Avenue was zoned commercial from Rock Hill Road to Plant Avenue. James F. Allen, who lived at 29 Plant Ave., owned several acres running from his house to Lockwood, and in 1923 he subdivided his land and sold small lots along Lockwood for commercial buildings. The lots sold quickly because they were convenient to the streetcar which ran down Lockwood Avenue all the way to Kirkwood.

This overview of “Defining Moments: Central Webster” was compiled and written by Ann Morris.

Sites on the Historic Webster Walks have been selected for their architectural or historical value, and they are identified on this website by the names of the people or businesses that originally occupied them. Distinguished sites have been awarded bronze medallions which are embedded in the sidewalks in front of those sites.