Maplewood History: Shady Greenwood – Part Two

My last post, Shady Greenwood – Part One, ended with an article from the 1904 Suburban Journal extolling the rapid transformation of the Greenwood subdivision from an overgrown “tangled bit of  underbrush with a few scattered houses here and there…” to a thoroughly modern well-populated suburb with all of the appointments one would expect in the very short space of three years.  One man in particular stood out and was described as the “prime mover” of this miraculous conversion of jungle to city.  His name was Alfred W. Syrett.

Mr. Syrett, born in England, moved first to Chicago where he stayed for seven years.  He moved to St. Louis in 1896.  By the time the laudatory article appeared in the Christmas issue of the 1904 Suburban Journal, he had been working for the Mississippi Valley Trust Co. for less than a year.  He was the head of their Sales Department, I assume, involved with the subdivision of large pieces of property into smaller lots for sale to individuals wanting to build homes for themselves and their families.

Keep in mind that the article was published in December 1904.  How quickly things can change.

Just two months after the article in the Journal this one appeared in the STL Post-Dispatch on February 27, 1905.  One day later the following article was published.

That’s pretty cheeky, swindling members of the police force after having named developments after them.

 

This article was published on March 10, 1905. He nicked Sam Bland! Sam was the subject of an earlier post of mine, Sam Bland’s Journal.

As followers of this space know, with rare exceptions, I confine my investigations to things occurring within the borders of or connected with our tiny burb, Maplewood, MO.  Usually the difficulty I have is finding much information on whatever the subject of interest is.  Not this time!  Thank Newspapers.com.  There is much more to this story of Alfred W. Syrett which I will try to wrap up in the next post.  There is an awful lot to read in this post.  I doubt if most of you will have the time to read it but I wanted to run these well-illustrated articles so you could have a look at the man.

Doug Houser           February 8, 2021

10 thoughts on “Maplewood History: Shady Greenwood – Part Two

  1. Your re-expose of this cunning crook was so interesting and informative and showed some timeless methods of swindling that seem newsworthy today: using fake documents, putting out false information, flattering people by ‘honoring’ them with naming things after them, forging signatures, hiding money that’s ill-gotten. Thanks for some local theatrics!! This type of cheating would make a great novel or play and wasn’t uncommon during the era.

    • You are welcome, Margaret. Syrett was a persuasive fellow. Of this there can be no doubt. I imagine his English accent served him well. It is amazing how long he could keep up his illegal activities. Part of the reason has to be that he was very smart and articulate as well as the primitive methods of long distance communication. I’m very close to posting the next part of his story. Please stay tuned. Much thanks for your comments.

  2. Absolutely love this series! thanks so much for all the time and research and putting it together, totally fascinating …it’s making me want to get an account at newspapers.com. I too had an English “bounder” for a grandfather, similar age as this chap. When he died in 1951, it came out that he had income from property in England, as well as a wife and daughter. Meanwhile he had married my grandmother and had two sons!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, MC. I smiled reading your post. Seems funny now, doesn’t it? It could not possibly have been funny for the folks involved. I love that English term, “bounder.” We certainly had a few of them. I’ll use it next time one turns up. Thanks for adding your story.

    • Your reaction is understandable, Hanna. If you had no knowledge of these events prior to reading these posts, I apologize for being the one who brought you the news. Such is the lot of a historian. History is filled with stories good and bad. Sometimes what is good for someone is not for others. Fortunately I am not a reporter who must try to cover all sides of a story. Mostly my posts aim for a feel good, community booster type of story. I have not, for instance, posted articles about murders, suicides or wife beatings which would only resurrect old mostly, or by now completely forgotten, memories for the descendants involved. Your 2x great grandfather was an exceptional character who was involved with the creation of the community we now know as Maplewood. Plus there exists a plethora of articles about him. I have just one more post to do about him. Look at it this way, at least he didn’t kill anyone. Does that help or make it worse?

      • Don’t feel bad at all! I love the story you have put together so far and I’m looking forward to the next part. Like you said, at least he didn’t kill anyone!

        I actually do quite a bit of ancestry research and already knew of his past. I broke the news about his “transgressions” to my grandfather, A.W.’s grandson Jim Syrett, a couple years ago 🙂 he didn’t know him growing up but he did have a good chuckle once he learned about his history. He did mention a rumor he had heard about him at one point and I’m curious to see if it’s uncovered in your next article!

        I did not know he went to Cambridge University. That’s cool!

        • Thanks for your open mindedness, Hanna. I’m glad I wasn’t the one to break this news to you. I am not certain what rumor AW’s grandson might have heard about him but it must not have been the one about him “marrying a chambermaid in Frisco.” If you don’t find it in my next post, I hope you’ll let us in on what it was. This is great stuff. Time heals all wounds as they say. And wounds all heels as your grandfather’s story seems to illustrate.

  3. I was amazed that Pinkertons became involved, If they couldn’t locate him for 2 years, he really gave them a merry chase. It must have left the police feeling as though they had been made fools of, I notice there is a McNamee Heights in University City (but not Maplewood), no Grifield Place but a Garfield place, and the Purcell Heights that exists is near Olive. Am I correct in this? From this I assume the names were changed. It never ceases to amaze me how someone can continue to lie when confronted with the truth. Great article, wonder which house was his on Greenwood. Great detective work, Doug, Pinkertons could have used you.

    • Hey Mary, I can’t say for certain but it seems likely that McNamee and Purcell Heights are the same developments that Syrett named. I think his home, which is pictured in the first post about Shady Greenwood, is on Cambridge close to the border of the City of St. Louis. As far as my research being great detective work, I appreciate the compliment but Pinkerton’s didn’t have Newspapers.com. Thanks for your comment. Good to hear from you.

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