At the Campbell House, Steampunk/Victorian Architecture, Home, and Garden

At the Campbell House, Steampunk/Victorian Architecture, Home, and Garden – A Steampunk Journal Series by Victoria L. Szulc

The Campbell House is an astonishing, completely restored Victorian Home in Downtown St. Louis, Missouri. The rooms have been preserved with stunning pieces of original furniture, art, fixtures, documents and even original carriages.

It was built in 1851 during the height of a prosperous industrial boom in St. Louis in the wealthy Lucas Place neighborhood. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Trust for Historic Preservation Save America’s Treasures project.

But before delving further into the house, let’s take a look at its fascinating owner.

A Brief History of Robert Campbell and Family

Robert Campbell was an Irish immigrant who came to St. Louis, Missouri, USA at the age of nineteen. A shrewd young man, he quickly immersed himself in the profitable fur trade business. He helped build the Oregon Trail into the Wild West and became one of the most successful businessmen in the Midwest, with interests in banking, steamboats, gold dust, and real estate.

Washington Irving wrote of Robert Campbell:

“His exploits partake of the wildest spirit of romance. No danger or difficulty can appall him.”

Robert married Virginia Jane Kyle, a cousin of his sister-in-law, who was also an Irish immigrant. Robert was ill when he met the thirteen year old Virginia (he was thirty-one). She reportedly nursed him back to health. When she was sixteen, he proposed, but the families and friends of both parties disparaged their romance. But even after they were separated for several years, Virginia’s mother finally approved their marriage in 1841.

Virginia, although eighteen years his junior, was said to be an intelligent and well-mannered woman. Together, they had thirteen children. Unfortunately, ten of them died before reaching the age of eight and none of the adult offspring had children of their own. The home of the Campbells became a museum in the 1940’s, with the original furnishings and décor intact.

A Visit to the House, Experiencing the Gilded Age in St. Louis

On a chilly early February afternoon, I had the opportunity to tour the House on a “free” day. Upon entering the Campbell House, I was immediately enchanted by a long staircase and delightful chandelier.

The friendly and knowledgeable docent led me to the ornate double parlor filled with majestic furnishings, gilded mirrors, and rich tapestries, including plush red velvet curtains. Easy to read notecards in each room told the details of the Campbell’s lives.

We moved into the dining room which was getting a decorative painting upgrade from local restoration artist Cindy Lugger. The House had a major renovation in 2000 through 2002, but is continually kept in amazing condition.

I was amazed at the dining room table that was eighteen and a half feet long. It takes seven leaves to extend it to its full dimension.

We moved into the kitchen and pantry. The pantry was filled with a lovely collection of Lemoge China. The kitchen still has the individual service bells, each with its unique ring much like the ones seen in Downton Abbey. The stove in the kitchen was made by the company that became the famous Magic Chef Corporation.

We went to the upstairs to see the bedrooms and Robert Campbell’s study. The master bedroom features exquisite lithopane lamps and several real Bird of Paradise displays that Robert collected from New Guinea in 1863.

Robert’s study features an incredible grandfather clock from the original Yale Skull and Bones Society (it is over two hundred and sixty years old), beaver top hats, and a collection of rare books.

Even the bathroom was lovely, with plumbing that was modern for its time.

We stepped out to the carriage house that featured the Mail Phaeton and Rockaway carriages, and a child’s push sleigh.

I took a last look of the garden. Although dead in the winter, I could imagine that spring would bring the greenery and flowers of the enclosure to a lush life.

A special thank you to the Campbell House for hosting the tour and providing a rich history. Photos: Victoria L. Szulc

The Campbell House Museum is open for tours, Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. and on Sunday 12 p.m. – 4 p.m., for $8, FREE to Museum members and children under 12 years old, other days and times are available by appointment. See campbellhousemuseum.org for details.

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Victoria L. Szulc is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer working her fourth Steampunk novel, “Lafayette to London”. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com

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