“Fragrant the rose is, but it fades in time.” This is the first line of a poem stitched on a wall hanging in the best historic house in the Saint Louis area. Every town in America, it seems, has restored the most elaborate mansion once owned by the town’s wealthiest and, usually, most important and/or famous resident. Lots of them are open for tours. The one to see in St. Louis is not elaborate. In fact, on the outside it looks rather ordinary. Inside it’s not, and its value soars when you hear the story of the family that built it. They knew Daniel Boone.
Sappington House is actually unusual for the St. Louis area because it’s a rather simple federal structure. This style known for its relative plainness and perfect balance was popular from 1780 to, roughly, 1830. If you’ve ever had a historic house tour in Boston, Washington, DC, Savannah, etc. you’ve likely seen it. It’s speculated that when Thomas Sappington came to Missouri from Kentucky, he had house plans with him.
The home Thomas built is now thought to be the oldest brick house in St. Louis County. The house is actually in Crestwood, a southern St. Louis suburb. For visitors not familiar with the area, it might be a bit hard to find without GPS. It’s between Big Bend Blvd and Watson Road on, to no one’s surprise, South Sappington Road. Thomas built the house in 1808 for his new bride, Mary Ann Kinkead. It was built by slaves who worked with wooden pegs and bricks made on site. The family lived in it for almost 70 years. Thomas and Mary Ann had one child, Lucinda. After Mary Ann died Thomas remarried at age 60 and fathered 3 more children.
A major Sappington House restoration occurred in the 1960s and it’s now filled with elegant period furniture and decor. Also on the premises are a small research library that looks like someone’s living room and the excellent Barn Restaurant that’s opened for breakfast, lunch, and special events. Erected in 1969, the Barn’s building was modeled on an actual barn that had been on the Sappington property. Dining in the Barn is like being in a tearoom with a bucolic view.
Phoebe Apperson was born in Missouri’s Franklin County when the Sappingtons still lived in this house. Franklin County is not very far from Crestwood, but to my knowledge the Appersons didn’t know the Sappingtons. Phoebe married and moved to San Francisco where she became a noted feminist and raised one child. She faded and died during the major Spanish flu epidemic in 1919. Her son, William Randolph Hearst, was moving into the castle he had just completed that year.