Maplewood History: Rarer Than Rare – A Third Image of James Compton Sutton Found!


Depending on how long you have been following Maplewood History, you may recall the heaping chests of artifacts from the legacy of William Lyman Thomas? Or all of the terrific Kalb Electric stuff rescued from a tag sale by Marty Fischer.  Or how about the many Slavik/Irwin family images lent by Matt Irwin-Perkins?  It would be a crime not to mention the Fennell trove recently donated by Nancy Fennell Hawkins.
If you go back far enough you may recall the historic material that set me off on this journey, the many documents and images and even the home, Woodside, of the Rannells family.

Many of these items are now in the collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri, (SHSMO). I am very happy to have had a part in directing these fine folks to what is the best way to preserve their items and also share them with anyone who is interested for many years to come.

Just when I think the well of historic material has gone dry another gusher comes.  That is what has happened again.  This time I am being allowed to copy a lot of articles that once belonged to the Sutton and Harrison families.  We are benefiting from the generosity of Laura Varilek who is a direct descendant of James Sutton through his daughter Sarah Wilgus who married Charles S. Humphreys who passed away, then later married Johnson Harrison who she outlived as well.

The items in this post are a holy grail of local history.  I am stunned that once again some truly rare and valuable images and documents have come to light.  You just can’t do better than this.  This is the real deal.  The folks that we have studied, talked about and read about actually owned these items themselves.

The first two images are of framed photographs of James C. Sutton and his wife Ann Wells that are believed to have hung in the Sutton Mansion at 7453 Manchester.  These images are well known to this author and should be to readers of this blog. From memory I believe they can be found in the either the back of the 1909 Atlas of St. Louis County or else William Lyman Thomas’s 1911 History of St. Louis County.

Never seen before by any living eyes in this part of the country is what is written on the backs of these pictures.  The images are low resolution so I hope they will be legible on your phones.

James Sutton Harrison, James Sutton’s grandson, has, kindly and handily for us, identified himself as the author of these fascinating bits of local history.  They were living at 7456 Manchester, (occupied now by the J.B. Smith Funeral Home) “in old home of our” … (continued on the back of the next photograph).

He continues where he left off, “in old home of our…Mother Sarah Wilgus Sutton Humphreys – Harrison.”  The property left her by her father Jas. C.S. – we have cut it up in lots. and will hold the south east cor. of Big Bend & Manchester Rds. now leased to Standard Oil Co.

The old stone house of Jas. C. Sutton is about to be wrecked. A fire ruined the west end. All of his children are “gone”.  Jas C.S. Jr. left a queer will giving his brother’s widow and her two sisters a living (and then some) out of his estates  – We had a lawsuit, lost it so the estate is tied up? a disgrace to grandfather and Mother.”

In the first image James S. Harrison identifies, Sarah H. Holmes and Mary H. Silence as his sisters “living in the old home of our Mother Sarah Wilgus Sutton Humphreys – Harrison.”  Somewhere, probably in Thomas’s 1911 History again, I learned that her first husband, Humphreys died and she later remarried Harrison.  Her two daughters, judging by their last names, must have married.  Did they also outlive their husbands, I wonder?

Written on the back of the next image is “Persimmon tree east of 7456 Manchester.”  Bear in mind that east of 7456 Manchester today is downtown Maplewood.  Ms. Varilek asked if this tree might still be there.

Most curious to me is that the next image which was given to me by Zelli Fischetti at what was then the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at UMSL and is now the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO) records Sarah W. Sutton’s first marriage to Charles S. Humphreys on Mar. 30, 1864 and also Sarah W. Sutton’s marriage to William Wilson on June 19, 1889.  Go figure.

I am unsure as to which one of the photographs the back in this next image was attached to.

There are many folks who felt the same way about James C. Sutton as his grandson expressed in the above image.  All of these images are excellent but this next one blew me away.  It is definitely rarer than rare.

There is the old bird himself.  He looks older to me than he was in the first image.  This seems odd because this type of image seems to be older than the first one.  If you remember there was a past post where we wondered if  the man in the old photograph was Sutton as the family believed.  I didn’t think so then.  So how do we know now if this is really James Compton Sutton?  Wait ’til you see this next image.

There can be no doubt!  James Sutton Harrison has taken care of us again.  Laura Varilek of Rapid City, South Dakota and the owner of these amazing images has thoughtfully removed the image of James from its mount so we could have a better look.

There is spherical distortion from the camera lens that makes him appear a little bottom heavy. I would love to be able to see the camera that recorded this image.

Ms. Varilek also sent the following images which I am going to have to ask her to rephotograph as I am unable to read them.  Apparently Sutton also raised and bred racehorses.  These two printed sheets, one dated 1838 and the other 1839, appear to be advertising for stud services.  I guess there were locations where sheets such as these could be posted in order to attract interested parties.  A race track, maybe?

The whole thing is shown below.

She had one more of these framed as well.  I may have to run another post about them when I have learned more.  They are outside of my experience.  I can’t recall having seen anything like them in the past.  Others undoubtedly have though.  Probably the horse lovers will know all about them.

James Compton Sutton seems to have been an honest man.  Dependable, respected in the community, a good businessman.  All of the evidence indicates he was highly regarded by his peers.  He was also a slaveholder and most likely a southern sympathizer.  These things are irreconcilable to our modern minds.

Much thanks to Laura Varilek for sharing these images with us.  This is not everything that she has sent.  I’ll have a followup post in order to display the rest of it.

As always, I appreciate the support of everyone who follows this space.

Doug Houser    March 22, 2021


  1. The stovepipe hat one has always had me a bit curious. I guess it must have been the style but now I look at it and say “who said you look good in that hat”? In today’s world I would think it was photoshopped onto his head. Just looks out of place but what do I know.

    • Regarding the hat, Abraham Lincoln wore one. This image may have been made when Lincoln was still alive. I’m guessing, of course. I like the tie. Seems like it would be pretty easy to do.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here