Campbell House Museum

The Campbell House Museum, which opened on February 6, 1943, commemorates the home and Victorian lifestyle of Robert Campbell and his wife, Virginia Kyle Campbell.  The house is located in St. Louis, Missouri, and was first built in 1851 by John Hall. Robert Campbell purchased the house in 1854, and he and his family lived there until the death of his last surviving child in 1938.

The home was purchased for approximately $18,000, and soon after moving in, Robert Campbell enlarged the back of the house by adding a larger kitchen, dining room, and more servant bedrooms.  In 1867, the Campbell family continued renovations that included combining the two front parlors into one larger space; and adding extra windows and bedrooms.  In 1885, an exterior porch was enclosed, and a morning room was created.  In 1900, Lucas Place became known as Locust Street, and the house was renumbered to 1508 Locust Street, where it sits at its current address.

The Museum at the Campbell House Museum, St. Louis, MO

Hazlett Campbell, the last surviving child of Robert Campbell, died at home in 1938.  The death of the Campbell brothers and the enormous complexity of the family estate prompted a lengthy litigation cycle between the trustees for the estate, banks, and descendants, as well as people claiming to be descendants.

As the Campbell estates were settled, the fate of the house and its contents became unclear.  Professional estate historians, as well as art and architecture experts, were called in to assess the property and its contents.  The experts were amazed at the contents after touring the house and said, “Probably nowhere in America, possibly nowhere else, is such an intact and integral display of elaborate and ornate furnishings of the middle Victorian period to be found, as in the Campbell mansion.”  It then became clear that the house and its history needed to be preserved.

The William Clark Society, a local historic preservation group, organized the movement to save the building and its contents as a museum.  The committee included architectural historian John Bryan, eminent Missouri historian Charles van Ravenswaay and Perry Rathborne, the St. Louis Art Museum director.

At the time, Robert Campbell’s cousins, who had inherited the contents of the house, chose to auction everything through a St. Louis auction house on February 24, 25, and 26, 1941.  Fortunately, the William Clark Society raised more than $6,500 in just a few weeks, purchasing most of the furnishings. In addition, buyers donated many other Campbell pieces after the auctions.

In 1942, while celebrating its 50th anniversary, a local St. Louis department store, Stix, Baer, and Fuller, purchased the house from Yale University and presented it to St. Louis through the Campbell House Foundation.  The house had been bequeathed to Yale University by the will of the oldest Campbell son, Hugh, in honor of the youngest James, who had died at the age of 30 and attended Yale University.

Today @ the Campbell House Museum

The museum was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey between 1936 and 1941.  It is also designated a City of St. Louis Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  The Museum became a National Trust for Historic Preservation Save America’s Treasures project in 2000 and is owned and operated by the Campbell House Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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