Tower Grove House
Tower Grove House

Tower Grove House, founder Henry Shaw’s restored country residence, is located in the Lichtenstein Victorian District. The Victorian District also includes Shaw’s mausoleum, the Kresko Family Victorian Garden, Herb Garden, Kaeser Maze and Piper Observatory.

Born in Sheffield, England on July 24, 1800, Henry Shaw was the oldest of four children. Sheffield was the center of the English steel and cutlery industries, and the Shaw’s manufactured ironware. In 1818, young Shaw traveled to the New World with his father on business affairs. Not long after, he decided to branch out on his own. On May 3, 1819 he arrived at the small French trading port, St. Louis, by way of the steamboat, Maid of Orleans.

Shaw started a new business, selling cutlery and general goods to those passing through on their way to the frontier. Over the course of the next 20 years, Shaw’s frugality and business acumen reaped great dividends. At age 39, Henry Shaw retired from his successful hardware business and focused his attention, skills and resources on real estate, buying and renting many city and rural properties.

Shaw traveled to Europe on three trips that totaled about a decade. After his first trip, Shaw decided to make St. Louis his permanent home and became a U.S citizen in 1843. In 1849, he commissioned George I. Barnett, an English-born architect and friend, to design both Tower Grove House and his townhouse, originally located at 7th and Locust. Tower Grove House is Barnett’s first design with an Italianate influence, a style popular among Americans who traveled to Europe in the Victorian era. The name Tower Grove House was inspired by the house’s significant tower, which overlooks a grove of oak and sassafras trees. Inspired by his last trip in 1851, Shaw decided to build a garden around his country estate.

Victorian District

Shaw inhabited the west wing of the house, which boasts ceilings over 12 feet high downstairs and over 15 feet high upstairs. Authentic deep moldings and ornate woodwork are unique to the original structure. The east side was the servants’ wing in Shaw’s time. Like the Garden, the house has undergone many changes over the years. In 1890, the east side was completely rebuilt, and running water and gas service were added. Electricity was added in 1912 and a stucco exterior was applied in 1918.

After 100 years of use as a private home, school, dormitory, and office building, the house underwent meticulous renovation. Furniture and materials once belonging to Shaw were located and returned. It opened to the public in 1953. Tower Grove House was rededicated on October 29, 2005 after another period of extensive restoration. The house has been restored to reflect Shaw’s original country home. Many of the 19th century furnishings belonged to Shaw; others are of the same era.

Today, staff and volunteers encourage visitors to take a step back in time and experience the country home of Henry Shaw. Artifacts and furniture that belonged to Shaw are on display. Timelines help visitors discover how Tower Grove House was used after 1889. Voices from the past tell stories of those who helped build Shaw’s Garden. The Garden has expanded in the years since 1859; come see for yourself where it all began.

Reception Room
The home’s eastern half was rebuilt after Shaw’s death in order to expand and modernize the home for the new Garden Director, Dr. William Trelease. A five-minute video introduces visitors to Henry Shaw and Tower Grove House. Visitors may learn about the Garden during and after Shaw’s time by following a historical timeline, exploring Trelease’s contributions to the Garden and changes in Tower Grove House itself.

First Floor Hallway
The hallway has been restored to reflect what Shaw would have seen upon entering the home. The linoleum flooring is a reproduction of the lower of two layers of the home’s original linoleum which were uncovered during restoration.

Front Parlor
In this room and throughout the house, visitors can see items acquired during or inspired by Shaw’s travels. Some examples of original pieces are an oak table with in-laid marble top from Italy and a unique rosewood upright piano from England. Additionally, a translucent archival photo in the window will allow visitors to compare the 19th century view to the present one.

Tower Grove House Holiday Decorations

Formal Dining Room
Although a dining room, Shaw planned and managed the Garden from this room. Replica maps, correspondence, and a ledger book are spread informally across the large table in this room where Shaw often worked and occasionally entertained guests.

Informal Dining Room
This small room on the first floor was added to the back of the house in the 1880s to provide a more pleasant and healthy dining space after Shaw’s basement dining room had become polluted by poor drainage.

Second Floor Hall
A trompe l’oeil mural was revealed during restoration when a large wood and glass display case was pulled away from the wall and relocated. A section of the mural has been cleaned and kept for display. A panel shows photos from the tower then and now. Another panel explains how the house has changed physically and what was and is in the east wing that visitors do not see.

Guest Bedroom
The guest room is presented as if a visiting botanist is doing research. Shaw’s sister Caroline and botanical scientists such as Asa Gray and George Engelmann were among the guests who probably slept in this bedroom.

Shaw’s Bedroom
The impressive furnishings in this room are largely from Shaw’s city residence. Replica gardening periodicals and a copy of Shaw’s will are on the desk. Through his will, Shaw established the trust that runs the Garden today, endowed the Washington University School of Botany and provided for many local charities.

Gate to the Victorian District

Basement
In the southwest room, visitors are invited to sit, read and listen as photographs, text and audible quotes tell the stories of Shaw’s staff. Photographs of housekeeper Rebecca Edom, Shaw’s personal assistant John Feugh and head gardener James Gurney are authentic. Other photographs are representative of the era. One panel discusses the enslaved people that Shaw owned.

The northwest room displays large photographic murals with tools and other implements used at the farm and garden. In the hall, a panel tells visitors about how the original location of the kitchen was determined, and why the east wing was demolished and rebuilt. In Shaw’s time, the kitchen was on the east side of the house and was entered through the basement.

Tower Grove House is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays, Tuesdays and the months of January through March. The House is also closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.

Staff and volunteer interpreters are on hand in the House to enrich and inspire you about the rich history of the Garden, Henry Shaw and Tower Grove House. Entry is included with Garden admission.