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Oakland was incorporated as a village in 1920. Almost one
hundred years earlier, Missouri became the 24th state. Public land was surveyed
and then opened to settlers. In 1824, Irish immigrants William Higgins and his
son-in-law Bernard Gilhuly owned most of what is now Oakland. These original
landowners were shopkeepers living in the City of St. Louis and never dwelt on
their wilderness property, although they may have leased it to tenant farmers.
Most Westborough golfers probably don’t realize their fairways
were once part of a plantation owned by Thomas Berry, a former Virginian who bought
the property from Higgins’ heirs and moved his slaves and his extended family here
in 1833. Their “Mansion House” stood
near the present Westborough club house. Berry’s holdings stretched along the
west side of Berry Road from Shady Creek in Glendale down to Big Bend.
The cholera epidemic and Great Fire of 1849 tempted those
with means to move their families from St. Louis to the safety of the
countryside. By 1853, the Pacific railroad reached newly incorporated Kirkwood
and the commuter age began – on a small scale.Former Kentuckian Henry Clay Hart owned much of the land between
Sappington and Holmes and lived on what is now the front lawn of Ursuline
Academy. Hart was a wealthy lawyer who rode the train to work in St. Louis.
Hart’s slaves toiled on his farms.
After the Civil War,
several African Americans who had served in the Union Army bought property
along Madison Avenue on both the east (Oakland) and west (Kirkwood) sides of
Holmes Avenue. They were soon joined by former slaves, many born in Kentucky. Descendants
of these “Kentucky Town” settlers still live in the greater St. Louis
At least six small lakes dotted the landscape in the 19th
century; only Ursuline pond remains. Early residents harvested ice to preserve
food in the days before refrigeration. There was a deep pond stockedwith bass by the Fach family at the southwest corner of Bethesda
Between 1862 and 1910, land between Berry Road and
Sappington was owned by a succession of highly successful entrepreneurs
including New Englander Hudson Bridge who made his fortune manufacturing cast
iron stoves. Bridge became president of the Pacific Railroad and was a founder
of Washington University. The Bridge family lake was near the site of the
Kirkwood Early Childhood Center. Later, George Myers, co-founder of Liggett
& Myers Tobacco Company, turned the Westborough land into an enclosed deer
park. On what is now Woodleigh Cove, Myers built Stancote, an imposing thirty
room mansion of granite and limestone for his only child, Georgie Myers Church.
In the front yard was a large pond on the east side of Sappington, a sister to
After the tragic suicide
of Georgie’s young husband, socialites James L. Blair and his talented wife
Appoline moved to Stancote. A
disgruntled former employee revealed that Blair had embezzled funds from clients
to maintain his lavish lifestyle. Blair died from a self-inflected head injury
in January, 1904. After the second suicide, the public whispered that the
residence was haunted and called it “Hoodoo House.” A fire destroyed the
magnificent Stancote in 1912.
One of the oldest extant residences in Oakland was built in
1896 for Trustin Boyd, founder of Boyd’s Department stores. His wife had
jet-black hair and was known as “The Crow.” Their house on Fortune Lane was
dubbed “The Crow’s Nest.” By 1900, parts of the old estates had been subdivided
for middle class houses and the area was soon populated with professionals,
shopkeepers and craftsmen. George Robinson, a co-founder of what became Ralston
Purina, moved the 1904 World’s Fair Nevada House to his six acre lot on Schultz
In 1912, the Oakland/Glendale area was still unincorporated.
Neighboring Kirkwood and Webster Groves threatened to annex it and area
residents joined to form the Village of Glendale, which was mostly in Oakland.
The new municipality between Berry Road and Holmes Avenue included the land
between the Kirkwood-Ferguson trolley tracks (just north of the current
Glendale City Hall) and Big Bend.The
original Board of Trustees for Glendale met at the residence of Howard Nichols
on E. Monroe Avenue. The Nichols’ residence, built in 1902, was enhanced with
elements from the World’s Fair West Virginia Building.
By 1920, tension between North and South Glendale fractured
the young town and 92 of the 96 voters south of Lockwood chose to incorporate
as the Village of Oakland. In 1946, the village became a fourth class city.
For more detail see Oakland:
A History of the People & Their Homes, which is available for sale at the
Webster Groves Book Store.