Before You Begin Your Walk
Long before it was parceled into grand estates and later into subdivisions, the American Indians called the high land rising up above Shady Grove Creek “Dry Ridge.” The ridge ran north and south across the land that John and James Marshall purchased in 1832 and across part of the Sarpy Tract that Pierre Choteau Jr. subdivided in 1845. Bare and exposed in the hot sun, the land provided beautiful vistas.
In 1829, the State of Missouri constructed the Jefferson Barracks Military Road along Dry Ridge, running from Manchester Road to Jefferson Barracks. When Artemus Bullard came to preach the first sermon at the new Presbyterian Church in 1845, he was so taken with the countryside he decided that along the ridge he would build a prep school and college to rival Princeton. Bullard suggested that the area be called “Rock Hill” and the church be called “Rock Hill Presbyterian Church.”
It is no wonder then that some of the first St. Louis businessmen to build homes in the area chose to build along Dry Ridge, now called Rock Hill Road. The Missouri Pacific Railroad opened the area to commuters in 1853, and Bullard’s Webster College for Boys opened that same year. In 1857, John Philip Helfenstein and Stephen Gore, built a summer cottage on Rock Hill Road. Three years later, he built a brick Italianate mansion on the same 60 acres, establishing a grand estate and family connections that would fuel much of the early development of the new community of Webster Groves.
During the Civil War, Helfenstein did not want Union soldiers marching past his house when they traveled down Rock Hill Road, also known s Rock Hill Military Road, to Jefferson Barracks, so he fenced in his entire 60 acres. This forced soldiers on Rock Hill Road to cut over at Lockwood Avenue and march up Jefferson Avenue and then cut back over to Rock Hill Road to get to the barracks. Local children nicknamed the property “Hell Fenced In.”
In 1865, after the war, Robert Studley, owner of the R.P. Studley Printing Company, built a frame Italianate mansion on a large tract of land on Rock Hill Road. The next year, his friend, Edward Rice, secretary and treasurer of the R.P Studley Printing Company, built a large Federal Style house at Jefferson Road and Jackson Avenue. These and a few other large estates with Italianate mansions were all that stood along Dry Ridge during the recession of the 1870s.
In the late 1880s, retired businessmen living in Webster Groves began to subdivide their estates and build large, frame Queen Anne houses for their children or as speculative ventures to attract other successful businessmen to Webster Groves. Webster Groves was becoming a suburb. Commuter trains made it possible to work in St. Louis, yet escape the dust, smoke and cholera epidemics that plagued the city each summer.
In the 1890s, other St. Louis businessmen bought lots in Webster Groves subdivisions and hired Webster Groves carpenters like John Prehn and John Berg to build Queen Anne and American Foursquare houses for them so they could raise their children in the country. A few of the avant garde built Shingle Style or Colonial Revival houses with classical details. From the turn of the century to the 1920s, Webster Groves builders such as the Horspool Brothers and Robert Mackey filled in the vacant lots betweeen the older homes with Craftsman houses and bungalows, taking their designs from The Craftsman magazine or assembling them from home kits purchased from Sears Roebuck.
In the 1920s, real estate developer Wilford P. Joy built revival style houses of stucco on Jefferson Road, Blackmer Place, Planthurst and Gray Avenues. His grandfather, Edward, and his father, Justin, had developed Old Orchard and built many of the houses there, and now Wilford was continuing the family’s building tradition. As each house was completed and for sale, Wilford Joy held an open house on a Sunday afternoon, wearing a tuxedo and a tall silk hat.
This overview of “The Ridge at Rock Hill Road” 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.