Saint Louis, MO

Exploring the significance and history of the amazing Chatillon-DeMenil House in St. Louis

CJ Coombs
Historic Chatilon-DeMenil House in 1936, St. Louis, Missouri.Photo byTheodore LaVack, working for Historic American Buildings Survey.

The Chatillon-DeMenil House is located at 3352 DeMenil Place in St. Louis, Missouri. This Greek Revival-styled home was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on June 9, 1978.

At the time the house was nominated for the NRHP, it was under the ownership of the Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation. For information about tours of this historic mansion, visit here. It's closed in January and February.

This huge house

This house was built in an L-shape consisting of two sections. The main part of the house faces east and the wing faces west. The three-story house was constructed with brick. The main section of the house also includes a basement, and the wing of the house only has two stories.

The foundation of the house is limestone. The window frames and shutters have been painted a shade of green. The porches are painted white with black wrought iron balustrades. A balustrade is a railing that is held up by supporting posts. The two-story front porch is massive and powerful with its Ionic columns.

Each floor including the basement has a central hall with a staircase. The wing also has two floors containing halls with staircases. The rooms on the floors open into the hallways.

In 1966, the rooms were restored and decorated by the American Institute of Interior Designers. Instead of replicating the interior as the DeMenils had it, it was the notion of this company that the house should reflect a mid-1800s showcase. The original items include marble mantelpieces, ceiling medallions, and a chandelier downstairs.

Some of the furniture and accessories came from the DeMenil family and date back to the period from 1830 to 1870. Reproductions of the draperies, rugs, and wallpaper reflect the same period. The first-floor hall had a parquet floor that dated back to the 1890s and fortunately, it was in good condition because it was covered with linoleum for years.

The first floor consisted of a drawing room (or parlor), library, sitting room, dining room, and kitchen. The central hallway runs from the entrance all the way to the kitchen. On the second floor of the main house are three bedrooms. The rooms on the second floor of the wing that had a den and maid's room were converted into an apartment for the caretaker of the house. Also on the property is a gazebo and carriage house.

The southern half of the carriage house is original. In 1967, it was restored as a restaurant. In 1970, an addition was made to the north side because of the restaurant's success. The restaurant, Café DeMenil, has been reported as being permanently closed.

The significance of the Chatillon-DeMenil House is associated with architecture, its historical nature, and social history. The house represents the Southern heritage of St. Louis. There were settlers coming up from New Orleans, and many traveled from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The men, Henri Chatillon and Nicholas DeMenil, and their wives, Odile Delor Lux and Emilie Sophie Chouteau, were part of St. Louis history.

Henri Chatillon

Chatillon lived in Carondelet, which was a French town five miles south of St. Louis. His first wife was an Indian woman who died in the mid-1840s. In 1848, he married Odile Delor Lux who was the granddaughter of a French military officer, Clement Delor de Treget, who founded Carondelet in 1771. According to the Chatillon-DeMenil House website, Chatillon built the first section of the house in 1849.

In 1855 or 1856, Chatillon sold the house and accompanying land to Nicholas DeMenil and Eugene Miltenberger (visit here to see Miltenberger's house). The DeMenil family was prominent in St. Louis and represented the American version of the aristocracy.

DeMenil was a doctor who built a successful practice. He supposedly built the first successful chain of retail drug stores in the city. In 1861, DeMenil purchased Miltenberger's share of the property and Henry Pitcher who came to this country from England was commissioned to remodel the house. The work was completed in 1863 which was when Dr. DeMenil and his family moved into the home.

After Dr. DeMenil died on July 9, 1882, at age 69, his only son, Alexander, inherited his whole estate. (According to Find-a-Grave, there was a female child who died in infancy.)

Dr. DeMenil was married to Emilie Sophie Chouteau, a descendant of St. Louis' founding family. Emilie died on March 20, 1874, at age 60. Their son, Alexander, grew up to become a doctor too. He was also a poet. When he died on November 29, 1928, at age 79, his son, George, moved in with his family. However, because the area had changed and didn't look as grand as before, they moved.

In 1940, the house was sold to Lee Hess. He converted the second floor into two apartments. He and his wife lived in one.

The caves

The property and surrounding area are intertwined with caves which is somewhat interesting. One cave that had its entrance near the house, called Cherokee Cave, also runs into the Minnehaha Cave.

Hess came up with the idea of creating an underground beer garden and while investigating options, he found some animal bones which turned out to be an extinct peccary known as Platygonus compressus.

As you can imagine, in 1945, the house served as a laboratory for prehistoric animals who lived in the area, especially on the land the house was built on.

In 1950, there was another issue with the Missouri Highway Commission wanting to build a route for the Ozark Expressway where the house is located. It's a good thing an alternate route was chosen in 1961.

Hess wanted to sell all the property and the house to the Highway Commission. The Commission only needed the front acreage. The plan was to tear down the house and sell it to a developer. Thankfully, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis put in a bid for the house and 40,000 square feet of the property.

With necessary funds raised to restore the house, that work started in 1964, and in 1965, the property was dedicated. At that time, the Landmarks Association turned the property and house over to the Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation,. To this day, the foundation owns and manages the property.

This beautiful house which is more like a mansion in its appearance is part of the heritage of St. Louis and was worthy of being saved and restored for the public to visit.

Thanks much for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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