Maplewood History: Built Plain or Became Plain Over Time?

Ellendale Home Place. The William and Kate Sutton Thomas home. Built in 1881.

Recently I received the following email from a reader that started me thinking about the disappeared and still disappearing architectural details that have occupied much of my time for the last decade-and-a-half.

Hi Doug, 

I walk my dogs all around Maplewood and study the different styles of architecture.

Most of the older (1906) homes like mine have very little ornamentation. There are one or two that have roof ornaments and about two that have Queen Anne style roof trim and more ornate windows.

Why are most so plain? They seem old enough that there should be more architectural detailing. Is this because they were a folk style? I have seen some farm houses built in this time to be called that.

I’ve never been able to find any old pics of my house, I’ve even asked you before. (Anyway)

Above is my question. Would love any info or guesses.

Built plain or became plain over time?

Sincerely, Melissa

The answer, Melissa, is all of the above.  Some were built plain while others have been stripped of most of their ornament. Styles changed.  Victorian era buildings, 1837-1901 and a bit later, typically had a great deal of ornament while buildings that were called modern when they were built (in the 1940s, 50s and later) had very little or none.

The Hunziker Home

The Hunziker home, 1890-91. 7324 Vine.
In this image from Google, some of the changes over time to the Hunziker home are evident.  The front porch has lost most of its original detail.  The shutters are gone.  Some vertical trim boards are no longer visible that can be seen under the first floor window in the early photo.  Also, the second floor window apparently had some sort of a very unusual decorative hood?

Ellendale Home Place

The William and Kate Sutton Thomas home, called Ellendale Home Place. Named after their daughter. Built in 1881.  2637 Roseland Terrace.
The Thomas home in 2014.  The shutters have disappeared.  Unfortunately, that’s normal.  The wooden front porch has been replaced by a small roof over the front door and a much smaller concrete version.  Fortunately, the cornice brackets survive.  None of the original clapboard siding or cedar shingles are visible.
The eastern elevation of the Thomas home.  Only the dark, painted columns and trim in the gable end are original.  The balusters appear to be later replacements.  The white half circles of gingerbread are recent additions.


This is the farm home known as Woodside at 2200 Bredell.  Woodside is the oldest known home in Maplewood built in 1848-50.  This image is the oldest image of Woodside that we have found.  It probably was made about 1895.  Woodside is currently for sale listed at $809,000.  Note the porches and shutters.
This is the image accompanying the Zillow listing today. Until the present owner bought this home from the City of Maplewood and restored it, I was more familiar with this building than anyone else in the world.  Many folks and myself worked to save it.  That effort took 17 years.  In this image there is absolutely nothing original.  Only the shape is the same.
This image was made in 1904.  A barn and an outbuilding or two can be seen in the distance.  The farm that once belonged to Charles and Mary Rannells, the builders of Woodside, has completely vanished beneath the residences of modern day Maplewood and Richmond Heights.  Bredell is the street in the foreground of this image.  Folk Ave. was later cut in right behind the home and Weaver runs through the front yard.
A companion image from 1904. Much thanks to the Rannells family for sharing these early images.

The 1916 Explosion

On February 28, 1916, dynamite, stored in a shed by a sewer company, exploded and caused much damage. I chose this photo for this article because the house in the foreground displays much of the mostly wooden ornament that was typical of a better home. We can see the clapboard siding on the first floor and also a small window? with  very ornate trim.  The second floor seems to have been completely covered with fancy cut (round and diamond-shaped) cedar shingles.  In addition, it has a rain flare just above the first floor.  This is a detail that I have heard called a shirtwaist as well. There is an ornamental bracket on the left upper corner.  The gable end has its own individual treatment.  It looks to me like it might have been beaded board (Correction: I have thought about this and beaded board just isn’t right.  I don’t know what the product is.  Beaded boards just wouldn’t work installed vertically on a wall.  It was mostly used outside for soffits and porch ceilings.) with diagonal trim pieces over it.  When this sort of exterior decoration fell out of style it was often removed with a hatchet and sided over with whatever was popular at the time, including but not limited to asbestos, coated steel or aluminum siding and, of course, the bane of the historic districts these days…vinyl.

The Sarah Sutton Harrison Home

Most folks are surprised to learn that quite a bit of the Harrison home survives today.
Three paintings, that have been displayed in the lobby in the past and I assume are still there, do a good job of showing the gradual transformation of this mansion into the J.B. Smith Funeral Home that we know today.
This painting shows what looks like an Art Deco style main entrance that was added to the front of the home. The hearse looks like it is late 1940s vintage.
In the third painting, a brick addition has begun to surround the building. The roof is still visible. My guess is the Cadillac hearse is a 1958 model.
This photograph was made in 2007. The home is still partly there. The second floor interior exists much as it was when it was built in 1893. The pitched roof has been removed and replaced with a flat one.  I truly was thrilled when these nice folks allowed me to photograph the inside of the mansion.  I am grateful that they have preserved what still exists so well.

The question that Melissa posed (Built plain or made plain over time?) is a subject that has no end.  We’ll continue to look at examples in upcoming posts.  I have plenty more evidence of “made plain over time” in my files.

This post is a milestone.  This is my 400th Maplewood History post on 40 South News.  My first was on October 27, 2013.  400!  Doesn’t seem possible.  Who knows what the final number will be?  All I can say is that I’m still going.  I am still enjoying it.  And I still have plenty of material.

I truly appreciate your interest and support.

Doug Houser      October 4, 2022


  1. Regarding the home shown in the explosion photo. Received this from reader Gary by email: I’m not sure that you were wrong about the bead board. I have installed bead board made from fir which, of course, is a good exterior wood (used in the walls of my bathroom) and there is nothing about the way bead board is moulded that would prevent exterior use. However, pine has always been used for siding extensively. The T and G (tongue and groove) of the sides block water penetration.
    Thanks, Gary. That’s one vote in favor. I wonder if there may have been a product that we’re unfamiliar with that was used in that photo?

  2. I really enjoyed this post Doug. As you and others mentioned, many of the details we would call unique today have been removed before current homeowners moved in. So its up to things like Design and Review Guidelines or creative tradespeople to show homeowners the possibilities. There are plenty of modern materials that “mimic” the look. There just are not enough nerds like us interested in perusing vintage house plan books on to get inspired before they start a project 🙂

  3. Doug, Gary and I just have to chime-in and ditto all the other wonderful comments already shared. We celebrate with you your 4ooth posting!
    Thank you so much for your long perseverance on this most interesting subject which has helped us all to gain a greater sense of place and historical connection. We, too, recognize all the time and skill it has required. Congratulations!

    Sharon and Gary

  4. Wonderful article! Thank you!! Probably mentioned the house at 7200 Sarah related to the 1916 explosion. The picture here appears to be behind a house near where the garage exploded. On Anna, I’m guessing. The two story houses behind this on Sarah were rebuilt as one story houses except the one on the corner that imploded the rear, west corner only…7200 Sarah. You can see burn marks on some of the boards and difference in lumber in the attic. The second floor bedroom has only broad board flooring. Later (1980s) the wrap around back porch with turned wood railing, rotting and peeling from many layers of white paint, was replaced with plain cedar rails due to costs (I know, paid for it. 😉) Again, thx Doug for your stewardship!!

  5. Did y,all know that some of the subheadings are links to earlier posts? I’m wondering if I should make them more obvious in the future? They just look like blue type.

    • It is my pleasure, Terry. Amazing to me is the fact that even after all of these years of doing this, I’m still able to keep finding interesting details about the history of Maplewood. I have only reported on the nearby neighborhoods a very few times. Not that I have anything against them, I like them too. Thank you for your support.

  6. I have seen some of both that Doug has mentioned. Some things go out of style. Some rot and fall off. Others are removed purposefully, often when some remodeling is done or even upkeep. Those little details increase the cost for the maintaining of the house. How much does it cost to find the material and someone to recreate those brackets on a gable end, then install then, then paint them a different color than the body of the house? They look nice but they do come at a cost.

    As for us getting plain I think that some us came to the party late. On many blocks you can find one or two older more ornate homes. These might have been the original homes in the areas, surrounded by a basic farm. As Maplewood grew there were infill homes taking up a place next to a jewel but the owners did not want to spend lots on small details on a small bungalow. How many of us want to dress up our small homes on the outside? I think many consider a nice yard and some things on the outside but a bunch of gingerbread and spandrels above the porch railings as something many don’t know about or only look at as too much money or time to maintain later.

  7. Thanks for another of your Maplewood History articles, Doug — your 400th! Your dedication is greatly appreciated.

  8. Doug, There is no doubt that what you have and are doing today to preserve what existed long before you will be appreciated long after you. Truly amazing is the work you have done. You name and work will survive you, just as these homes and stories have survived the folks who made their lives in the earliest days of Maplewood.

    As a retired career photographer, I understand the enormous skill and time you have put in on the photo restorations, not to mention the extensive historical research.

    Those who read your posts should also consider the untold hours you have spent.

    Good job !!!!!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Smith. It is nice to know that this hobby of mine is appreciated. I should mention to the readers that Doug Smith was an important part of my early introduction to Photoshop. it is a program that I subscribe to and use nearly every day. Thanks, Doug, for that.

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