Early History of Old Webster
Gore Avenue and the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks formed the original intersection of Webster Groves, the nucleus of the commuter and commercial facilities from which the community grew. Buildings in Old Webster are predominantly one- and two-story brick buildings dating from the 1880's through the 1920's. The oldest commercial buildings are on Gore near the railroad tracks -- Italianate and Victorian Vernacular with cast iron fronts. Lockwood Avenue was originally lined with fine, frame mansions, all the way east to Old Orchard, but those properties became commercial in the 1920's after the Webster Groves Zoning Ordinance prohibited commercial growth in areas not already commercial.
In 1860 John Marshall laid out a subdivision of almost 280 acres, the southwest part of his property, around the railroad stop, a wooden platform, and he called it Webster (after the Webster College for Boys). The name was changed a few years later to Webster Groves because the Postal Service already had another town in Missouri called Webster. In 1861 Charles Connon, from Scotland, bought four lots from Marshall and established Connon Floral Co., the first greenhouses and wholesale florist company in the St. Louis area. In 1864 Connon’s brother-in-law, Augustus Moody, bought a lot by the railroad tracks and built a large frame grocery and dry goods store attached to his house. It served as the post office until Augustus Moody was killed by a train in 1872.
In 1865, Henry Prehn bought the northwest corner of Gore and the Pacific railroad tracks where he built a frame house for his large family and a grocery and dry goods store that handled a little bit of everything. Some time in the 1860s a board and batten railroad station was built at Gore Avenue on the north side of the tracks next to Prehn’s. The intersection of Gore and the railroad tracks was becoming the nucleus of a commercial district, the heart of Webster Groves.
In the early 1880's the commercial district developing on Gore contained mostly frame or board and batten buildings, saloons, dry goods, a carpenter's shop, a blacksmith, a doctor's office. Henry Prehn’s grocery store was a local institution. He dressed meat, accepted eggs as payment, gave credit and delivered. His pot-bellied stove was a gathering place for men and children. But in 1880,on the night his tenth child was born, Henry Prehn’s grocery store and home burned to the ground. His insurance had lapsed two days before. With a spirit that is a significant part of the community, the residents of Webster Groves appeared the next morning with money and helped to build a two-story brick store with living quarters above. Prehn paid them back in groceries. After Prehn's fire, two-story brick buildings with cast iron fronts were built in the commercial district, the Connon Building on Gore at Moody, the M. W. Warren Building on Gore at Moody, Parker's Livery Stable on Gore, Schulz's Grain and Feed Company on Church Avenue (now Gore) at Marshall Place, and Allen's Music Hall on the southwest corner of Gore and the railroad tracks were all built by the late 1880s. Allen's Music Hall burned to the ground in 1899, but for almost ten years its second floor held concerts, recitals, plays and meetings. An amazing variety of entertainment, from Antideluvian Minstrel Shows to classical concerts, brought residents from all over Webster Groves and from diverse backgrounds together for imaginative, creative evenings. And Nathan D. Allen's son, Harry, ran a bakery on the first floor.
Growth and optimism were especially evident in the commercial district at the turn of the century. In 1896, the Suburban Railway Company laid a trolley track down Lockwood Avenue, west to Kirkwood and east over Summit Avenue, through Tuxedo Park, to Maplewood. In that same year Dr. Bennet J. Bristol built the Bristol Building on Lockwood at the head of Gore Avenue. It was a three-and-a-half story brick Queen Anne building with a large arched door. There were cast iron store fronts on the first floor with entrances at the corners.
The Webster Groves Trust Company was organized in 1900. Previously local merchants had kept their important papers in Henry Schulz's huge safe in his grain and feed store. In 1901 the bank built three one-story brick stores with cast iron fronts on the southwest corner of Gore and the Missouri Pacific tracks where Augustus Moody's General Store and then Allen's Music Hall had been. The corner store by the tracks was the bank until 1909 when the bank built a large, two-story institution with Beaux-Arts details at Gore and Lockwood.
A new, Queen Anne railroad station was built in 1904, and in 1907 the Empire Real Estate Company built the three-story Empire Building on Gore Avenue, it had cast iron storefronts, and terra cotta articulates the upper windows. The original City Hall was located on the second floor of this building from 1907 till 1911. The cast iron storefronts were replaced in 1937 by large shop windows under a pseudo Colonial broken pediment. In 1910 the Gorlock Realty Company tore down S. A. Moody's old frame real estate office on the northwest corner of Gore and Lockwood and had the prominent architectural firm of Klipstein and Rathmann design a large, two-story commercial building. Theodore Bopp of Kirkwood built the building. The center section on Lockwood is only one story high and was built as the Webster Groves Post Office. It had a brick facade and a dome with skylights around its base with a flagpole on top. A large stone eagle stood on the edge of the roof above the post office door. The statuary, the dome and brick piers suggesting monumental columns gave the Gorlock Building a Beaux-Arts flavor. This largest and most elegant piece of real estate in the commercial district housed the city hall on the second story and the jail in the basement until about 1922.
In 1912 Webster Groves became the first municipality in St. Louis County to establish a full-time, paid fire department. Like the volunteers, the professionals continued to keep their equipment in the livery stables, Parker's in Webster and Bopp's in Old Orchard, until the firemen had raised enough money from picnics and carnivals to build a firehouse. In 1913 John Berg, a contractor from Northwest Webster, built the narrow two-story brick Fire Company No.1 on Lockwood. It has a square three-story tower in the back for drying hose.
Building continued on Lockwood Avenue West to Rock Hill Road. 115-117 West Lockwood was built by the Gorelock Realty Company without a permit in 1918. It originally featured a dry cleaners, grocery store and sewing machine store.