History of Saint Charles County Historical Society
By Dennis J. Hahn
The Saint Charles County Historical Society (SCCHS) was founded in 1956. In May 2009 the St. Charles County Genealogical Society (SCCGS) merged with the Saint Charles County Historical Society. The Society is a not-for-profit Missouri corporation with its membership consisting of individuals, businesses, and organizations with an interest in St. Charles County, history and genealogy; and who are supportive of the Society’s stated purpose.
“The purpose of the Society”, as stated in its Bylaws, “is to collect and preserve information pertaining to historical events of St. Charles County; to pursue recognition and preservation of various historical landmarks, relics, souvenirs and Missouriana; to honor pioneers of the County by arranging celebrations and meetings in their memory; to develop educational programs on the history of St. Charles County and Missouri; and support County museums, libraries and archives.” As a result of the SCCGS merger with the SCCHS, our mission was expanded to include the preservation of the genealogical records of St. Charles County.
The SCCHS was founded 187 years after the founding of the City of St. Charles. The Society was preceded by two previous organizations. The first historical preservation organization started in 1916 and ceased operating in 1924 due to a lack of interest. All information gathered by this organization was given to the Missouri Historical Society. The second historical preservation organization was started in 1937 and ceased operating in 1939 for the same reason. Again, all the information gathered was given to the Missouri Historical Society, or burned. The information passed on by the earlier historical organizations to the Missouri Historical Society remains in their archives.
The third, and present, historical preservation organization, the SCCHS, was founded in early 1956. The St. Charles Community Council determined there was a need to have a County historical society with the mission to “preserve our heritage and illuminate the past”. Chairman of the Council was Eugene C. Conover. A major motivator in 1956 to form a County historical society was the buildings that housed the First State Capitol (1821-1826) on Main Street in St. Charles were becoming available for purchase. The St. Charles Community Council, and subsequently the SCCHS, was interested in protecting and eventually restoring the First State Capitol buildings.
On March 22, 1956 the St. Charles Community Council met at St. Charles High School located at Kingshighway and Waverly Streets and appointed a committee to form a County historical society. Appointed to the committee were: Dr. Homer Clevenger, Chairman; Mr. Arthur C. Baue; Mrs. Francis C. (Charlotte) Becker; Mr. Richard Bushnell; Mrs. Roscoe Jordan; Mrs. Alfred M. (Edna McElhiney) Olson; and Mr. Reinhardt T. Stiegemeier. Community Council Member, Mr. Kurt Schnedler, was appointed to head a committee of the Community Council to negotiate the purchase of the First State Capitol buildings.
A second meeting of the committee was held at the home of Mr. Arthur C. Baue located at 620 Jefferson Street in St. Charles. In attendance were Mr. Arthur C. Baue, Dr. Homer Clevenger, Mr. & Mrs. Rosco Jordan, Mr. Henry Rauch, and Mr. Reinhardt T. Stiegemeier. At this meeting it was confirmed that the First State Capitol buildings were buildings numbered 212 and 214 on South Main Street (known as Pecks Row) in St. Charles.
An organizational meeting of the SCCHS was held on April 5, 1956 by the St. Charles Community Council at the St. Charles County Court House located at 100 North Third Street in St. Charles. Interested individuals were invited to attend the meeting. In attendance were Mr. Arthur C. Baue, Dr. Homer Clevenger, Mr. & Mrs. Rosco Jordan, Mr. Henry Rauch, Mr. Reinhardt T. Stiegemeier, Mr. Alfred M. Olson, Miss Ruth Lawing, Miss Wilda Miller, Mr. Robert Niedner, and members of the St. Charles Community Council for a total of 15 people. The Director of the Missouri Historical Society, and historian, Mr. Charles Van Ravenswaay, was in attendance to offer encouragement and support. It was expressed at this meeting that there was a concern over the condition of the First State Capitol buildings and that there was a desire to preserve and restore the historic buildings. At this meeting Dr. Homer Clevenger was elected Temporary Chairman (President) of the Society and Miss Wilda Miller was elected Temporary Secretary. Mr. Kurt Schnedler was appointed Chairman of the Charter Member Committee, Mr. Robert Niedner was appointed Chairman of a committee to draw up a constitution and bylaws, and Mrs. Charlotte Becker was appointed Chairman of the Invitations Committee for the inaugural meeting.
The inaugural dinner meeting of the SCCHS was held on June 7, 1956 at the St. Charles Hotel located at 205 North Second Street in St. Charles. (The St. Charles Hotel has since been torn down.) Tables were decorated with vases and with red roses donated by Mrs. Charlotte Becker. One hundred County residents were in attendance at the first SCCHS meeting, and those who paid dues became Charter Members. It was agreed that evening that members joining by July 1, 1956 would be Charter Members. The Society’s Constitution and Bylaws were read to the attendees by Mr. Robert Niedner. Membership dues were set at $1.00 per year. A six member Board of Directors was established. At the meeting, Dr. Homer Clevenger was elected to serve as the first President of the SCCHS. Dr. Clevenger was a former Mayor of St. Charles and a Professor of History at Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University.) Other officers elected were Mr. Robert Niedner, First Vice President; Mrs. Charles Karrenbrock, Second Vice President; Miss Lois Karr, Secretary; Mr. Kurt Schnedler, Treasurer; and Mr. Reinhardt T. Stiegemeier, Historian. The first Archivist was Mrs. Edna McElhiney Olson. In the first year, membership grew to 234. Memberships eventually reached about 1,200. Memberships currently number approximately 750. A listing of Charter Members is available at the Archives.
Dr. Floyd C. Shoemaker, historian and Secretary of the State Historical Society headquartered in Columbia, Missouri, was the speaker at the inaugural meeting of the Society on June 7, 1956. Dr. Shoemaker told those in attendance that “knowing and preserving your local history is the great opportunity of your organization”. He expressed that “your group is in a strategic position to promote interest in local and State history among the school children of your area”. He gave suggestions for collecting information, preserving government records, placing markers, promoting people to write articles, publishing folders and books, preserving landmarks, etc.
Mr. Homer Clevenger served as President of the Society for one year. In accordance with the Bylaws, an individual can only serve two consecutive years as president of the Society. After a one year break a Board Member can again serve as president of the Society. Individuals serving as the Society’s president have served anywhere from one to four years. A listing of the SCCHS Presidents is available at the Archives. The Society displays photos of past presidents at the Archives.
Mrs. Edna McElhiney Olson served as Archivist for thirteen years until her death in 1969 at age 76. She was a driving force in the Society’s organization and its survival. From 1959 until her death she wrote a weekly historical article on St. Charles County for the St. Charles Journal. Her house at 554 Madison Street and then at 125 North Fifth Street served as the first Archives building for several years. Her entire house became the Society’s Archives and people visited daily to do research from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Her house was so filled with documents that only paths existed through the house. A listing of the SCCHS Archivists is available at the Archives.
The beginning of the Society’s archives consisted of the documents that Edna McElhiney Olson had saved, protected, and preserved throughout her life. Whenever you see a document marked with the initials “EMO”, these are Edna McElhiney Olson’s personal documents that she donated to the Society and the early volunteers faithfully stamped with her initials. These documents formed the core of the archives.
The Society was formally chartered in the State of Missouri on October 23, 1958. The Board of Directors at the time of chartering were: Mr. Dayton Canaday, Mrs. Esther Thomson, Mrs. Ruby Menscher, Miss Lois Karr, Mr. Kurt Schnedler, and Mr. Reinhardt T. Stiegemeier. The legal name of the Society is “Saint Charles County Historical Society, Inc.”. Signatures of the Board of Directors were notarized by H.K. Stumberg and Charles Carr.
In 1962 the Society found permanent headquarters in the building known as Eckert’s Tavern located at 515 South Main Street in St. Charles. This building dates back to 1818. For a time the building was also known as the St. Charles Hotel. The Society borrowed $6,500 to purchase the building, and then spent $20,000 restoring the building to serve as an archive for records and a museum. Society members Henry Jadrich, Dayton Canaday, Tom Cox, and Tom Cox’s father gutted and renovated the building. It was in this building from October 28 to December 7, 1827 that the three Commissioners for the Santa Fe Trail (Major George Sibley, Benjamin Reeves, and Thomas Mathers) met to write their report of the survey they conducted of the Santa Fe Trail. The Society acquired various historical artifacts and displayed them on a rotating basis in this building. A donation was made that permitted an addition to the building to house additional records and artifacts
In 1969 the Society acquired the Newbill-McElhiney House at 625 South Main Street in St. Charles. The house was restored and furnished with private donations, Federal preservation funds, and State preservation funds. It was opened to the public for tours. Volunteer hostesses conducted tours of the house from April to Mid-June and Girl Scouts conducted tours from Mid-June until September. Collier’s Cottage behind the house was also renovated and opened to the public. The house was built in 1838 by Franklin S. Newbill and later owned by Dr. William J. McElhiney, a prominent physician who represented St. Charles County in the State Legislature. The extensive cost of operating and maintaining the house resulted in the Society selling the house.
From 1976 through 1979 the Society’s headquarters was located at 117A Jefferson Street in St. Charles. This building is in the rear of and across the alley from the current building that houses the Society.
In 1982 Miss Aimee Marie Louise Becker (a Charter Member of the Society) bequeathed to the SCCHS the Marten-Becker House at 837 First Capitol Drive (formerly Clay Street) in St. Charles. The house was built in 1865 by Francis Marten and remained in the Marten/Becker family until 1982. The cost of maintaining this property was prohibitive. In 1991 after being leased for three years to Miss Aimee B’s Tea Room & Marketplace, it was sold to the owner’s of Miss Aimee B’s. The sale of the Marten-Becker house and the Newbill-McElhiney house became the financial anchor of the Society. These funds have been invested since 1991and proceeds from the investment support a significant portion of the Society’s annual budget.
In 1982 the Society obtained from the City of St. Charles an inexpensive 25 year lease to use the old St. Charles City Hall originally known as the “Market and Fish House” at 101 South Main Street in St. Charles as it’s headquarters. This lease was subsequently renewed for another 25 years. The City used this building from 1833 to 1886 as the Market and Fish House and from 1886 to 1973 as the City Hall. This is where the Society is presently located. The Society renovated the interior of the building for use as its headquarters, to archive records, and to display some artifacts and exhibits. When the Missouri State Capitol was located in St. Charles (1821-1826), William G. Pettus, Secretary of State for the State of Missouri, saw a need for a public market. William Pettus envisioned a market place where farmers and fishermen of the County could sell their food items to other residents of the County. On March 28, 1823, William G. and Caroline R. Pettus purchased the lot on Main and Jefferson Streets from Antonie Reynal. Later in 1823, a two story building with a basement was built and opened as the Market and Fish House.
In 1981 the Society celebrated its 25th Anniversary by having an Annual Meeting/Anniversary Dinner on April 23, 1981 at Bogey Hills Country Club. It was a sit down dinner featuring “Old Market House Cake” for dessert. The Master of Ceremonies was Society Past President Harry B. Smith. Dr. James F. Hood, Chairman, Department of History, Lindenwood Colleges was the guest speaker.
On October 13, 2006 the Society celebrated its 50th Anniversary by holding a celebration at Stegton Regency Banquet Center. The cost was $50 per individual and $500 for a table of 10. The celebration consisted of a social hour at 6:00 p.m., a dinner at 7:00 p.m., a program at 8:00 p.m., and a historical pageant consisting of readings, music, and dancing at 9:00 p.m. The pageant was conducted by Hal Berry, Professor of History and Theater at St. Charles Community College. The St. Charles Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps performed at the celebration. A silent auction was held from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Robert G. Schultz, PhD and Daniel T. Brown, PhD autographed their books the Heritage Treasures and Westering River, Westering Trail – A History of St. Charles County, Missouri to 1849. The history of the Society was displayed for each of the five decades of existence (1956 - 2006). There was a display showing the names of the Society’s founders and charter members. A commemorative gift of an engraved silver plate was presented to the current president and the living past presidents.
Over the years, the Society has played a significant role in collecting and preserving historical records and documents and making them available to members and the general public. The Society’s Archives have been designated an official depository for Probate and Circuit Court documents and for various records of St. Charles County. The Archives building is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and on selected Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Archives building contains an open display area, archives and research rooms, and storage areas. The Society initiated a website on the Internet to assist the public in learning about the Society, its holdings, and services.
The Society has initiated and/or assisted in the printing of books relating to St. Charles County history, has obtained old St. Charles County films and made them available on DVD’s, has sponsored educational programs promoting local and Missouri history among the county’s youth, has financially supported history related projects, has made historical presentations to different organizations, has participated in history projects, has provided historical speakers to various organizations, and has conducted scholarship programs for high school students.
The Society publishes a quarterly bulletin entitled the “St. Charles County Heritage”. The “Heritage” is sent to members in January, April, July, and October. Four times a year the Society sends to members a newsletter entitled the “Newsletter From The Archives”. These publications contain historical articles, articles of interest, book reviews, people features, general information, news, volunteer information, etc. The Society annually recognizes articles published in the “Heritage”, which have been selected by a Society committee, with the “Heritage Article Award”.
Over the years the Society has had fund raising projects. These projects have consisted of events such as Antique Shows, Book Fairs, Quilt Raffles, a booth at the Festival of the Little Hills, Trivia Nights, and House Tours.
The Society presently operates with a fifteen member Board of Directors, with five members elected each year for a three-year term. An individual must be a member of the Society to be eligible to serve on the Board of Directors. A Board Member can serve two consecutive three year terms and then must take at least a one year break. The President can serve two consecutive one year terms and then must take at least a one year break. The Society has two paid employees (the Archivist and the Secretary) who work three days a week. The Society has contracted with individuals for a particular service such as bookkeeping, janitorial, and Saturday Archives hours. Donated time by volunteers is how the Society operates. The service of volunteers is vital to the Society, and is very much appreciated. The Society recognizes the service of volunteers annually.
The Society’s Archivist and volunteers are available to give visitors an overview of the archives and to assist in any historical and/or family research. The Society will provide assistance to visitors, to those who call by telephone, and to those who correspond by mail and e-mail. Some services are provided at no charge and some services are provided at a nominal charge. Members can obtain services, Society produced books and DVD‘s, etc. at a reduced price. Some services are provided to members at no charge. More detailed information on this subject can be found elsewhere on the Website or by contacting the Society by phone or e-mail.
The Society holds a general membership meeting quarterly in January, April, July, and October. The quarterly meetings include a business session, a luncheon, and a program that has a historical bearing. The April quarterly meeting also serves as the Society’s annual general membership meeting where Board of Directors are elected and some awards are given. The Board of Directors meets monthly to conduct the business of the Society and the Society’s committees meet as necessary.
Since the beginning of the SCCHS in 1956, several other community historical societies have started in St. Charles County: Wentzville Historical Society, St. Peters Historical Society, O’Fallon Historical Society, Foristell Area Historical Society, Augusta Historical Society, Boone-Duden Historical Society, and the Land Between the Rivers Historical Society. The Society strives to work in cooperation with these and other organizations. As noted above, the St. Charles County Genealogical Society has merged with the Saint Charles County Historical Society.
In October 2010 St. Charles County opened the St. Charles County Heritage Museum. The Society works with the St. Charles County Heritage Museum and displays some of its artifacts and photos at the Museum.
The Society works in conjunction with the St. Charles County Community College in presenting genealogical seminars.
The Society has worked with the State of Missouri in microfilming early Missouri records contained in the Society’s archives.
The Society has provided services and information relating to St. Charles County and Missouri to individuals, local communities in the County, the State, businesses, other societies and organizations, schools, colleges, newspapers, magazines, film and video makers, book and article writers, and others.
If you are not a member of the Saint Charles County Historical Society, we encourage you to join with us in preserving the history of St. Charles County and of its past and present citizens.