Maplewood History: A Serendipitous Encounter with the McGregor Family Home and History

Dogs are wonderful creatures.  My wife and I have had four during our time here in Maplewood.  The last two lived to be over sixteen years old. No dog lover would be unhappy with that but now they’re gone and we still feel the loss.

Dogs are fairly unique among pets in that they are very good at getting the owners out of the house and around the block.  Most of them seem to be able to do this.  When they are young you can make good time and get a pretty good workout.  As they get older the walks gradually become more of a feast of smells.  In their last few years, getting around one block might take 45 minutes or more.

I’m not complaining.  These slow walks are great opportunities for meeting your neighbors.  Without an old dog you’d never be able to loiter on the sidewalk in one spot for 15 minutes or more.

These days we have arranged to walk our neighbor’s dog while they’re at work. There is much joy in this for us and for the dog. Even though their dog is young and fast, we still managed to meet Kathy who is selling her landmark Maplewood home.

Kathy and her husband have lived in their home at 7380 Flora for only four years before jobs have made it necessary for them to sell.  But in that time they have completed many high quality upgrades including a new kitchen, new hardwood floors throughout, and a new furnace as well.

Additionally they have learned much about the history of their home because it was once the home of the McGregor family that owned an early bakery here.  One of the McGregors, Evelyn, occupied the home for very many years.  She kept her home in tip top shape and she also kept a diary.  It was from this diary that family members produced a very interesting book.

The title of this book is “Then We Went to Powhattan’s”. (sic) The correct spelling is Powhatan. “The Diaries of Evelyn May Whitcomb McGregor.”  Kathy was kind enough to show me this book and allow me to take some photographs of it.  We should have a copy in the Maplewood Public Library if we don’t already.

The McGregor’s house today. The 1982 Maplewood Community Profile by Rosemary Davison gives the year of construction as 1904. It states that the home was sold to George McGregor in 1922. I highly approve of the color. We have far too many white ones in my mind.  This splendid home is important historically because it preserves much of the original exterior.  Take a good look at it because there are not many detailed exteriors like this around.

Here is a view of the side porch from the McGregor family book.

The original mantelpiece survives in the living room.  There are several other mantelpieces that survive as well.  This home will soon be offered for sale at which time many photos of the interior will be posted online.  I am going to post just a few to give you an idea of what a treasure this home is.

This has to be one of the best original staircases in Maplewood. Note the paneled wall and the finials on the newel posts.

Current owner Kathy displays one of two of the original finials that was damaged. She and her husband had exact copies made to replace them. You cannot tell the difference. It looked to me as if the entire stone foundation had been repointed.

A small storage area probably four feet above the floor. One of those curious details that makes old houses so interesting.

A McGregor Model TT (not a typo. The cars were T models.) Bakery truck parked at the curb directly in front of the home. This image is also from the McGregor book.  The 1912 Maplewood Business directory gives 7303 Piccadilly Ave as the address of the bakery.  Readers of this blog will know from past posts that the McGregor Bakery and the Powhatan Theater both had once been occupants of the same building at 3107 Sutton.

These signs are thought to have come from the Powhatan Theater. This particular image is from the Renaissance Society collection at our library. A black & white version taken at the same time appears in the McGregor book. This makes me think these were once stored at their home. I hope they still exist. I’d like to get my hands on one.

I have saved the best for last. One of the most beautiful features of this property is the 100-year-old landmark ginkgo tree in the front yard. This tree has many admirers including myself. I try every year to photograph it when its leaves are at the height of their glory.  For a decade I accompanied St. Louis County historian Esley Hamilton on his history hikes through Maplewood.  This tree was always a feature of the tour.  Its future is cause for concern.  It sits squarely in the middle of the only space to put a driveway.  Potential buyers of this property must be made aware that this is a significant tree in our community.  One of the few that has a group of fans who regularly check its status.  (The magnolias at Hazel and Maple are others.)  I wish this tree could get special recognition so those who might destroy it to put in a driveway could be dissuaded.  This photo was taken on 11/24/2010.

Here is another angle from that same day. I’m sure most of you already know that one very interesting characteristic of ginkgos is that after this intense burst of color they drop their leaves almost immediately, completely covering the ground beneath them with a brilliant yellow carpet.

Occasionally we’ll get lucky and have a bit of sunshine while the tree is in full bloom if you will. This shot was taken on 11/08/2009.

46 thoughts on “Maplewood History: A Serendipitous Encounter with the McGregor Family Home and History

  1. This is a lovely article on our McGregor family home. My great grandparents owned the home and my grandfather lived in the home, John McGregor, brother to Eve. I remember Thanksgiving evenings as a girl here and visiting again with family a few years ago. The gingko tree is very enchanting. How fun it would be to have the house back in the family. A whole new era of family pictures! How exciting!

  2. What a great story! And what great running commentary. I’m hoping that when a book is made available, you’ll let us readers know, so that I can purchase one, too. Thanks, Doug.

    • Patty, You are welcome. Thank you for the kind words. Don’t worry, I’ll let everyone know when the book is ready. I am about 1/3 done at this point and I’m slow. It’ll have a maximum amount of historic photos and also a large number of color photos. It is meant to compliment Joyce Cheney and my 2008 centennial book which is still available at the C of C on Sutton.

  3. Dear Readers, I have to come clean. The correct title of the book referred to here is, “Then We Went to Powhattan’s, Evelyn May Whitcomb McGregor’s Diaries, 1892-1947”. Well, Evelyn spelled Powhatan’s wrong. The correct spelling is with one “t”. I knew this as I was writing the article but I just stayed with Evelyn’s spelling because after all she never meant for all of us to be reading it. My concern for accuracy finally causes me to make this correction. My apologies to the family.

  4. This article makes me want to cry, beautifully done!! I love that the current owners have upgraded this house and kept it in great shape, our family has so many memories there. Our cousins have a classic family photo of all of us sticking our heads through those stair railings. I have a copy of my great-grandmother Evelyn’s diary (correct that Evelyn Brockman, the homeowner, is her daughter), and my aunts are discussing printing more copies for the library and the homeowner. So wonderful! I can’t wait to see the listing price and more photos, perhaps I can convince my husband to move there 🙂

    • Jenna,
      We would love see more pictures of the house, if you want to share 😉 We have absolutely loved living here. Its a great house and neighborhood. The house will be listed in MLS later this week. Thank you for your interest. Kathy

    • Jenna, that truly would be wonderful if you and your husband became owners of your grandparents home. It would be great for us who are fans of the tree because we wouldn’t have to worry about it. Having more copies of your book printed would be a very nice gesture as well. I am now working on my second book of Maplewood History called appropriately enough, Maplewood History, (Enhanced selections from my blog) Volume One. If you would like your family’s home represented in my digital archive of Maplewood history, (Everything eventually makes it to our library) and possibly in my book, put me in touch with whoever has the historic photos. I’ll arrange to get some high resolution copies.

      • That would all be wonderful Kathy and Doug! My email address is jennamcgregor10 @yahoo.com, if you want to get in touch that way. I’ll get in touch with my other family members and we can put together more photos and stories. Very exciting!

  5. How Awesome! Spent many Thanksgivings with Aunt Evelyn McGregor Brockman. She and Uncle Ace Brockman always made you feel so welcome. The kids loved being there and were intrigued by the Hidden Staircase. We drive by at times and recall the wonderful times we had at this beautiful historic homestead.

    Such treasured memories at Uncle Ace and Aunt Ev’s classic Maplewood home.

    Rob & Diane Brockman

    • It is a great one, Rob and Diane. For those who might not know about your “hidden staircase”, I believe you are referring to the small back staircase that led to the kitchen. Since you are members of the family, would you know how we might get one or two copies of your family’s book for our library. Additionally the departing owner, Kathy, would like to get one as well. She is generously leaving her only copy for the next owner of the house. On the title page there are four persons listed. Susan McGregor Denny, Kay McGregor Palmer, Jean McGregor Gardner and Joan McGregor McCollum. would you know how I can get in touch with any of these ladies? If you could help us get a few copies of the book, we’d be very grateful. Thank you for your comment.

      • Hi Doug, I am Susan and Kay’s brother. Our father, John McGregor, told me about our grandmother’s diaries when I started doing our genealogy in the 80’s. His sister Evelyn was so close to her mother she wouldn’t let anyone see the diaries. When Evelyn Brockman passed away, I asked my father to find the diaries so we could preserve them for posterity. It is an interesting glimpse at history from the common person’s perspective covering the periods of WWI, Spanish American War, and WWII and how it affected our family. Our McGregor family came from Canada having been banished from New York for choosing the Loyalist side during the revolutionary war. We have many cousins still in Canada that I have met through Ancestry.com. One had letters from the 1930’s and 1940’s written my my grandfather, George Albert McGregor. The diary and his letters both mentioned Donald’s death, but not the cause of death. I can be reached at dgmcgregor@att.net.

        Doug McGregor

  6. These pieces of yours are always good to read. This one opened with something extra special. Those first paragraphs — those canine ones — are so nicely written, with a tuneful cheer and a companionable ease that really stands out. Bravo!

  7. Thanks Doug, this is a great article. I sold this home in early 2000, Mrs. Brockman’s niece and nephew handled the sale. The Gingko tree is supposedly from the Botanical Gardens. The home doesn’t have a driveway because Mrs. Brockman didn’t want to take out the tree. The family’s bakery was within walking distance, so there was no need for a driveway. All of the millwork was original wood, and if I recall was mahogany. Diane Watkins brought a buyer from California at the time.

    • You are welcome, Kay. Thanks for adding to the interesting history of this home. I always appreciate your comments.

  8. I believe the Missouri Conservation Department has an interest in large trees and not just in the country areas. There used to be a huge cottonwood in University City that they came out and measured and registered. They might be someone to contact about the tree in regards to helping us keep it around.

    • Esley Hamilton sent this by email, ” the owners could give an easement on the tree to the Conservation Department or some other environmental entity. Possibly the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center would help them get the documents together. Bill Hart may know about easements too.” Bill Hart is the Executive Director of Missouri Preservation. Thanks for your comment, Mark.

  9. I guess I should add that “our” Evelyn McGregor Brockman, who worked with me at the Maplewood Public Library and lived at 7380 Flora for so many years of her long life, was the daughter of Evelyn May (nee Whitcomb) McGregor (1871-1949) and George McGregor (1872-1946). I assume, then, that the diary was her mother’s writing.

    • Thank you, Barb for helping us to get this sorted out. If only folks wouldn’t name their children after themselves. It makes things confusing later on. Right, Doug Jr.?

  10. Hey, Doug, FYI — Evelyn McGregor Brockman, b. 1912, was a librarian at Maplewood Public Library for over 50 years. She was born in the family home on Greenwood, and the McGregors moved to the house at 7380 Flora when she was a small child, maybe around 4 years old. They made the move after one of her older brothers was killed in a train accident across from their Greenwood home. She often mentioned going to movies at the Powhatan Theater on Sutton near her father’s bakery. Apparently it was an old fashioned outdoor theater, like the old Shady Oak Theater in Clayton was in its early years.

    • Hi Barb, Much thanks for all of these interesting details. You wouldn’t know if there is a copy of the McGregor book in our library, would you? I’m going to try and find one through the family. You are quite right about the Powhatan Theater. I have blogged about it in the past. From memory (always dangerous) 3107 Sutton was built to house the McGregor Bakery. Sometime later it was converted to the Powhatan Theater. The joist pockets in the walls (for the sloping theater floor) were uncovered during the remodel after Paul’s Maple Leaf Tavern had moved out. The name in many advertisements was the Powhatan Theater and Air Dome. The “air dome” was a generic name for an outdoor theater. In this case the air dome was just south of the building. Later a larger building was built for the Powhatan Theater most likely on the site of the first air dome. If I remember correctly, this much larger theater still had an air dome next to it too. A necessity no doubt in the days before air conditioning.

  11. Doug, This article has brought tear to my eyes. It has been an emotional few days as we move on to our next phase of our lives in California. We love our house and tree so very much. The house and tree will be treasured forever in our memories. We consider that we have done our part in trying to preserve its historical value as well as beauty. We will try to perhaps mention to any buyer that the tree is a treasure to keep.

    Best Regards,
    Kathy and Javier Rosario

    • Kathy and Javier, The beautiful home at 7380 Flora is much the better for having had you two as owners. Unlike some who we have to fight to keep them from diminishing our historic fabric, you both have increased it. All of us who love these old buildings appreciate the many improvements you’ve done with yours. The McGregor house will always be the McGregor /Rosario house. Good luck to you both in your new location.

      To the reader: Kathy is the founder of Pour Favor, a nonprofit organization with an important mission. Read about it here. https://www.pourfavor.org/about/

      • Kathy, I’d love to get more information on the sale of this house. It would be an honor to live in my great-grandparents’ house, and I guarantee we’ll keep the history of the house and the tree in excellent condition.

        • Jenna, It’s karma. You already wanted to live in Maplewood! Make an offer. Love, Dad, George McGregor’s grandson

          • Paula Givens,AKA Jenna’s mom. I am looking for those Christmas pictures right now! Your dad is right. This must be karma! Go for it! Plus we all love the Ginkgo tree.

  12. I also think the new color scheme is outstanding and agree that there is too much plain siding colors in the area. Look what adding color does! That ginko is amazing. I hope stays for a hundred more years. This ones low limbs always remind me of the Weirwood trees from Game of Thrones!

    • Luke Havel is an historic Maplewood aficionado and regularly supplies me with historic details he has uncovered. I appreciate it and want to have a post in the future that features the results of his research. If he is agreeable to that, of course. Luke, you mentioned to me once an idea that you had about creating an Historic Trees of Maplewood Registry. Have you given any more thought to that? I think it’s a great idea. Perhaps the list could be supplied to our appropriate city agencies so when an application for an alteration comes before them that would remove a designated tree, an alarm would sound, a fence and and volunteers would surround the threatened tree until the folks causing the problem give up and move away to a less dialed-in community. It could happen.

      • Hey Doug, I do still think it would be a great idea to have a Historic Tree Registry and that is just the sort of thing an active Historic Preservation Commission should catalog. Perhaps our new mayor, whoever that will be, will breath some life into our seemingly dormant Historic Preservation Commission.

        Thanks
        Luke

        • Luke, Your Historic Tree Registry idea is a very good one. There must be plenty of tree huggers who’ll support it. Why not an online registry?

  13. I remember when that house caught on fire. The attic area was burnt pretty good. It was late 2009 or early 2010. I just remember that it was cold out.

    • Frank, I just went through this house from top to bottom and the only sign that it ever had a fire is the completely new roof. I mean everything, rafters, plywood roof deck and attic floor, and the architectural grade shingles are all brand new. There is not a trace of water damage anywhere, no scorched framing members, no burnt smell in the attic. The contractor that repaired it after the fire did an absolutely first rate job. The attic is very large with no obstructions. Two large rooms could easily be installed in that space. I’d have to say that the home is now in better shape than it was pre-fire. I was worried at the time but it survived that fire and is better than ever.

    • It is absolutely an exceptional tree. When I moved to Maplewood in 1975, the 7300 block of Flora was lined with many large trees of different varieties. They were a striking feature of the streetscape. Unfortunately now most of them have been removed. It’s no fault of most of the owners. Some died, some were lost to storms, etc. We have this one survivor that looks to be in great health and was always one of the most beautiful. We’re lucky. Let’s not lose it. Thanks for your comment, Gary.

      • Hi Doug. In a coincidence of timing, another current 40 South News post is about 2017 street work. One major negative of our city’s street planning is that many beautiful historic streetscape trees have been removed during street work, some undoubtedly unnecessarily. Drive or walk down Gayola between Big Bend and Bellevue and you will see one block where trees were considered, and two more where probably 40+ trees were removed. Which looks better? Trees provide so much benefit to a community, I hope our new mayor and council members can consider the trees more thoughtfully in future street work.

        My block is a 3 in the street rating, but me and my neighbors are dreading the repaving, as the city has already proclaimed its plan to tear down multiple trees, including a 40+ year old Oak planted by the neighbor when his first child was born.

  14. Passed this house yesterday on my walk and noticed the sign in the front yard. I have often driven or walked down Flora in the Fall just to look at the ginkgo tree. These trees have been a favorite of mine since way I was first introduced to them “way back when” by the nuns who taught us at St. Francis Borgia HS in Washington, MO. They had one in the convent yard. Sure hope this house is bought by someone who understsands what a treasure they have.

    • Me too, Ralf. It’s up to us to let them know. Any way we can we should try to inform potential new owners that this tree is an integral part of our historic community. Thanks for your story.