Maplewood History: (Well, kind of) The Barron Mansion – Part 2

Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday which was in about the middle of the demolition process of the Barron Mansion. 
If you missed yesterday’s post you can link to it here.  Barron Mansion – Part 1

First I’ll back up a bit to give those who missed yesterday’s post a look at how the mansion appeared early into the demolition. Also Reader Mark asked a question regarding heavy equipment that might have been used during this process. This small bulldozer was the only piece of heavy equipment that I saw.  I don’t know what the demolition crew used when I wasn’t there but the building was mostly destroyed in a shockingly primitive manner.

This view is of the eastern side of the later addition to the mansion.

In this image the western side of the addition can be seen.  I imagine that the upkeep of the structure was a compelling reason for the church elder’s decision to demolish the building.  I wish they could have torn off this later addition and by doing so reduced the footprint by half.  Then perhaps the survival of the original building might have been possible.  Some of you may be aware of the renovation of the historic St. Louis Psychiatric Hospital on Arsenal where they did just that.  But I’m dreaming, of course.

Demolition of the rear addition.

I snapped the shutter on this one just as one of the members of the demolition crew had succeeded in knocking that large brick section loose.  What tool did he use to do it?  A large section of pipe that had come from somewhere else in the building.  These men worked with very few tools.  I have avoided using terms like “demo day” which you may have heard on some of the HGTV programs.  This was not fun for these fellows.  They were doing what they had to just to get by.

There were three or four men working most of the time while I was there.  I knew their names back then but regretfully cannot find them now.  At least three of these men took a bus to the job site.  They brought no tools of their own and there were very few for them to use once they got there.  They did not bring lunches.  I bought them lunch from White Castle a time or too.  One of the gentlemen told me I had blessed them by doing so.

Demolition of the rear addition.

Demolition of the rear addition.

I have forgotten exactly where on the building this gentleman was standing but I wanted to include his image.

Like something from a nightmare.

This gentleman was an enthusiastic, friendly fellow.   If I remember correctly he was 60 years old and had a club foot.  He spent all day scrambling around the piles of bricks, cleaning them of mortar and stacking them on pallets – 500 to a pallet.  He told me he was paid $40 per pallet but I later learned he most likely was only paid half of that.

This is some of that gentleman’s handiwork. This piece of scrap iron was his only tool to knock the mortar from the bricks. He didn’t bring that with him.  He found it on the site.

Why such a labor intensive demolition? Why not just knock the whole thing down and cart it off to a landfill. Here is the reason, I believe. Hand made bricks.  The wet clay was pushed into wooden molds.  The drag marks are from a board being pulled across the top of the molds to remove the excess clay. I wonder what a pallet of those will cost somebody constructing a high end residence in some far off city?

While in our own city we lose what was once one of the very finest homes around.


What makes it worse is that we keep doing it.  You’d think we’d learn.

Since it is now Halloween, here is a bonus ghost story about the Barron Mansion that is from photocopies that were in Joellen’s file.  I don’t know who the author is so I apologize to him/her ahead of time and will happily give them credit once I find out the author’s name.

Don’t you love a good ghost story!  I hope to see a lot of folks doing safe trick-or-treating.  Happy Halloween, everyone.

Doug Houser     October 31, 2020


2 thoughts on “Maplewood History: (Well, kind of) The Barron Mansion – Part 2

  1. Mary, My guess is that the church took the lowest bid. I do not recall the name of the company involved. There was no name that appeared on any of the vehicles that I saw. You make several good points. I am aware of the problems modern congregations face trying to support the aging structures especially the really large church buildings. In the case of the Barron Mansion I think it had been judged to be a fire hazard and unsafe to use for daycare, for instance. I don’t know if an effort was made to find a different owner. A couple of attorneys could have handled it I bet. It was very close to downtown Clayton. Also I believe a majority of the church folks just wanted the Barron Mansion out of their front yard. It certainly must have been a wrenching decision for some of them. What are the solutions. I don’t know but it will take all of us to solve them or we’ll lose some of our best architecture. Most historical societies have 0 funds. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  2. So sad the crew doing this work was treated so poorly, who is the demolition company, and why would they not prepare their workers with safety measures, and proper equipment? Many churches are in a catch 22, funds are only provided from aging members who are unable to support the large buildings they needed in the past. Crumbling structures can become uninsurable and pose a threat for kids who want the thrill of a haunted mansion. Did they try to find a purchaser for the property? I wish our historical societies had funds to purchase these treasures before they’re gone. Thanks Doug