By Rebekah Icenesse
Even though technology drastically increases year after year and modernity forces us to keep up with fast-paced innovations, pieces of history still remain. These pieces are only fragments of what used to be, left behind in the dust and replaced with something shiny and new. However, St. Louis still enjoys a rich history, preserved in the architecture of its buildings and rare cobblestone and brick streets. From the Gateway Arch to Union Station to Ulysses S. Grant National Historical Site, there are multiple sites around the area dedicated to focusing on the city’s history. Even some downtown hotels display vintage accents to invite us into a less hurried time in history.
If you venture ten miles outside the city limits to the suburb of Crestwood, there lies a historical site that transports visitors back in time to the early 1800s. Set on two and a half acres of lush, green lawns, Sappington Park is home to the Library of Americana and Decorative Arts, The Barn restaurant, and the Thomas Sappington House Museum, which is judged to be the oldest brick house in St. Louis County. The park is also soon to be the home of the 1816 Joseph Sappington Log House.
The Beginning Foundations
During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, Thomas Sappington built a two and half story home for his wife, Mary Ann Kinkead and daughter Lucinda. Constructed with bricks made onsite and wooden pegs instead of nails, the Sappington House is a rare example of federal-style architecture in Missouri, which was popular during the post-revolutionary era. Considered a mansion at the time, it contains two original rooms on each level, all decorated with furnishings from the Sappington family and other antiques from the time period. With the eventual passing of Mary Ann, Thomas remarried and lived in the Sappington House with his second wife, Elizabeth Houser, and four children until his death in 1860. The house remained unchanged until the City of Crestwood purchased the property in 1963. After a three-year restoration, the house opened to the public in 1966 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another Sappington property listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the 1816 Joseph Sappington Log House in Affton, Missouri. It originally contained only two rooms. Eventually, the log cabin underwent additions with a second floor, another ground floor room, and a small porch. Joseph lived in the house with his wife and nine children until his death in 1849. Since then, the house has experienced multiple renovations, remodeling, restorations, and several minor fires.
The Sappington House Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to restoring and preserving the historic architecture of the Sappington family, championed the cause to dismantle and move the log house to the Sappington Park property. After 55 years of conserving history, the log house is the Foundation’s first major preservation project since the Thomas Sappington House Museum. In September of 2021, the Foundation’s request for relocation was accepted by the Crestwood Board of Alderman, and the reconstruction and financial plans were finalized. “The 1816 Joseph Sappington Log House will not just be a monument, a testament to the past, but a fully functioning multi-purpose venue for the community,” comments Mark Pratt, contractor for the preservation project and owner of Antique Logs Unlimited.
Unique Spaces Accessible for All
Whether guests crave natural beauty or a historical, cultural experience, Sappington Park has plenty of versatile space to enjoy. Located adjacent to the Grant’s Trail, a popular walking and biking trail for locals, Sappington Park is a stunning oasis with flower gardens, appearing as they did over 200 years ago, and a small lake with a fountain. The manicured grounds have a maximum occupancy of 200 people and are perfect for weddings, receptions, reunions, parties, and other events.
Sappington Park partners with the St. Louis chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America which conducted multiple digs on the property discovering over 5,000 artifacts, the Missouri History Museum, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and other schools, and Historic Saint Louis’ 25 sites, sharing stories about yesteryear of not only the Sappington family but of Native and African Americans as well. Public tours of the Sappington House Museum are offered Wednesdays through Fridays from 11am-2pm, and Saturdays can be booked by appointment. Group and special interest tours require advance reservation.
The log house will provide spaces to expand the educational activities, exhibits, and events of Sappington Park, offering five rooms for meeting space and a full-length porch that can be used for plays and concerts. The house will be situated between The Barn restaurant and the Library of Americana and Decorative Arts, both already popular spots for meetings and workshops. The Barn serves traditional farmhouse-style breakfast and lunch and offers catering services as well. Conveniently located on the second floor of The Barn is the Loft Gift Shop, a boutique with a wide variety of lifestyle, garden, and gifts for all occasions.
The Art of Heritage
First preserved by Carolyn McDonnell and Ruth Jones, founding members of the Sappington House Foundation, the Library of Americana and Decorative Arts offers a sense of literary ambiance for its guests. Among the extensive 4,000-book collection on history, antiques, and genealogy that guests can read during museum hours, the 476-square-foot space includes A/V equipment and Wi-Fi access. The library is accessible to everyone and can be rented for small gatherings and events. “The library is a hidden gem in our area,” says Holly Ellis of Ellis Dental. “[I rented] the library for meeting space a few times. The setup and availability made it a great event space for me to hold a few team meetings off-site. The location is close. The reservation process is always easy, and everyone there is friendly.”
Elizabeth Moreland, a local artist, has also rented the library space to teach her art classes, where people of all ages and artistic backgrounds come to copy works by Monet or Van Gogh. “I’m always looking for little, private places to teach. When I saw this place, it was perfect for the classes that I wanted to teach. It was private, it was out of the way, and so idyllic at night with the lights [in the park]. It was the perfect place [for artists] to meet and hide away.” The Sappington House Foundation had even recruited Moreland to draw the rendering of the log house in the early process of deciding how the house should look. Moreland is looking forward to the new spaces in the log house where she can teach larger painting classes.
Be a Part of History
From surviving the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 to overcoming several economic depressions and wars, Sappington Park has weathered many challenges and calamities. It stands today as a place with ample opportunities to absorb and experience significant history. With the addition of the 1816 Joseph Sappington Log House, which will officially open to the public in 2025, all of the buildings in Sappington Park help connect us to the past. They inspire guests to reflect upon and appreciate their own heritage.
As time goes by, it is important that we prevent history from becoming lost or forgotten. One way to prepare for the future is to learn from the past. We must preserve these buildings that offer tangible glimpses into a world we usually only read about in books. At Sappington Park, history is not only highlighted in a museum – it’s brought to life and experienced in the community.
Rebekah Icenesse is a contributing writing from St. Louis.