The Day Home Place Burned
Volume XXI, Number 1
By Francis M. Barnes III
The 100 years of Leonard Matthews have been told before in the Kirkwood Historical Review. Mr. Matthews’ memoirs were privately published in 1927 and were the subject of an article in the Review of July 1976. One part of his life is not mentioned in the memoirs and a recent search of court records brings to light the fire and destruction of his property known as the “Home Place.” One can only guess why Mr. Matthews did not recall this event. Perhaps it was not of great importance to him by 1927, but from 1887 to 1897 the litigation over the cause and fault of the fire would drag on through the courts and reach the Supreme Court of the United States before a final decision.
In 1867 Mr. Matthews purchased property near Oakland Station, now the crossing of Sappington Road and the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks. In 1869 he added to his property by purchasing another 14 acres and a house from Mr. Leonard. In 1869 he also added another 50 acres by acquiring the property of Dr. J. J. Clark. This additional property was west and south of the Oakland property and included the tract now on the west side of Holmes between the Missouri Pacific and Frisco (Burlington Northern) tracks. In 1869 Mr. Matthews owned 65 acres in Kirkwood and by 1878 he would own a total of 91.5 acres.
Mr. Matthews’ property in Kirkwood was right in the way of the post Civil War railroad expansion. The Missouri Legislature had chartered the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad on March 3, 1851. This line, completed to Pilot Knob, was known as the Iron Mountain Branch of the Pacific Railroad, and bore the legal name of the Pacific Railroad of Missouri. The first bite from the property would be taken in 1872 when the decision was made to link the line from Kirkwood to the Mississippi River. This became the Carondelet Branch, which gives us the name Kirkwood Junction. At the river the ferry to Illinois was started which went on until the eve of World War II. Mr. Matthews’ property was in the right of way and 3.7 acres were sold for the branch.
In 1882 the Frisco built its own tracks to St. Louis largely parallel to the Missouri Pacific and again Mr. Matthews’ land was in the plans for the new line. The parties could not agree on the price for the land and the Frisco sued in condemnation to acquire rights through the property of Mr. Matthews. As in the practice today the court appointed Commissioners to determine the value of the property to be taken for the new railroad. The Commissioners were H. W. Hough and W. T. Essex. These Commissioners awarded Mr. Matthews $9,000 for damage to all of his property, separately stating the damage to the residence to be $3,000. The Commissioners stated that in estimating the damage they took into consideration the danger from fire which might be set by Frisco engines.