Tower Grove House, the original country home of our founder Henry Shaw, is located in the Lichtenstein Victorian District of the southeast corner of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Tower Grove House is open to visitors seasonally Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and the months of January through March. The House is also closed every year on Thanksgiving Day and on December 24 and 25.Learn more about the exhibits and activities offered daily at Tower Grove House.
Staff and volunteer interpreters are on hand in the House during open hours to enrich the visiting experience and to talk with you about the rich history of the Garden, Henry Shaw, and the St. Louis community. Entry is included with Garden admission. Learn more about all the experiences in the Victorian District.
Tower Grove House in the 20th Century
Tower Grove House was designed by famous St. Louis architect George I. Barnett in a traditional Lake Cumo Italianate style of architecture, one of the first of its kind in St. Louis in 1849. Henry Shaw split his time between his city home, a 17 room townhouse located at 7th & Locust (now on Garden grounds) and here at Tower Grove House, his much smaller country residence. The western side of the home, including a parlor, formal and informal dining space, and 2 bedrooms, would have been Shaw’s domain. With high ceilings, marble fireplaces and hand carved woodwork, Tower Grove House is an ideal example of Victorian style. The eastern part of the home would have reflected a much smaller, dormitory style space for his hired house help to reside.
Like the Garden, Tower Grove House has undergone many changes over the years. In 1890, the east side of the home was completely rebuilt to accommodate the needs of Dr. William Trelease, the Garden's first director, and his growing family. Trelease, his wife Julia, and their four children made Tower Grove House their family home for 23 years. Beyond expanding the number of bedrooms, the Trelease family updated the home with a number of the newest home technologies, including a state of the art bathroom and an indoor kitchen. This allowed the residents to enjoy improved sanitary conditions. During the Trelease family's residency (1889–1912), Tower Grove House changed with the world around it. From this place, the Trelease family would navigate the achievements and the hardships that come with everyday life and create a scientific legacy that would establish the Missouri Botanical Garden as one of the best in the country.
After 100 years of use as a private home, school, dormitory, and office building, the house underwent meticulous renovation. Electricity was added in 1912, and a stucco exterior was applied in 1918. Furniture and materials once belonging to Shaw were located and restored. It opened to the public as a historic home in 1953. Tower Grove House was rededicated on October 29, 2005, after another period of extensive restoration on the western part of the home to share Henry Shaw's life and legacy. The eastern bedrooms on the second floor, which opened in 2019, underwent complete transformation to share the narrative of the Trelease family. Many of the 19th century furnishings belonged to Shaw; other are items from 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, along with the stories of their role in Victorian culture. 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.
Room by Room Narrative
A part of the 1890s renovation, this room served as Dr. Trelease's study space. Upon visiting, 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.
East Wing Dining
Rebuilt in 1890 and used as the dining space for the Trelease family, this space now serves as a changing exhibit space and area for educational programming. Offering storytime every open day at 11:oo a.m., Tower Grove House also offers educational programming for families in this space daily on a variety of historical and botanical topics.
Kitchen (East Wing)
This indoor kitchen space from 1890 also gives a glimpse into the historic food preparation. It features a coal-burning stove and material about the outdoor kitchen that Henry Shaw's house help would have used to prepare his meals before the Trelease family had the indoor kitchen built in 1890.
First Floor Hallway
The hallway has been restored to reflect what Shaw would have seen upon entering the home in 1849. The linoleum flooring is a reproduction of the lower of two layers of the home’s original linoleum which were uncovered during restoration. Henry Shaw would have had linoleum installed when it was first invented in the 1860s–the pattern is a reproduction of the original he would have chosen.
A classic representation of a Victorian parlor, this room shares the social world of a wealthy man like Henry Shaw. 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.
Formal Dining Room
Although it is meant to be used as a dining room, Shaw planned and managed the Garden from this space. 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. A sideboard offers a look at traditional Victorian furniture pieces, sharing the importance of entertaining.
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. Used by Shaw independently, this is a more simplified and practical space that shares a more intimate view of Shaw's day to day life.
Second Floor Hall (West Wing)
The most interesting item of note in this area is the trompe l’oeil mural, which 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, helping orient the architectural changes in the 1890s renovation.
Guest Bedroom (West Wing)
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, as a trip to the country would have warranted an overnight stay. See artifacts like a Wardian Case, an early enclosure that helped trasnport plants across continents.
Shaw’s Bedroom (West Wing)
This room offers a glimpse into the final days of Henry Shaw's life. In here, visitors encounter some of his personal belongings, including his cane, books, and artwork from his European travels.
Kids' Bedroom (East Wing)
This space shares how the Trelease children grew up in Tower Grove House. As visitors explore, they imagine what childhood was like in twentieth century St. Louis and learn about life within the Garden walls.
Adult Bedroom (East Wing)
This exhibit explores the life of Dr. William Trelease and his wife Julia as they navigated life within the Garden walls. Period furniture, artwork, and other feminine details share Julia's experience as a wife and mother in 1900.
Office (East Wing)
This space shares the botanical legacy that Dr. Trelease and his colleagues established at the turn of the century. Here, visitors will learn more about his discoveries, trials, and tribulations as new science unfolded before his eyes.
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. Mr. Shaw owned an unknown number of enslaved people from 1828 until at least 1860. Existing records provide an incomplete picture of Mr. Shaw’s participation in the institution of slavery, and of those who were enslaved. However, a review of Shaw’s personal papers, tax documents, and government records provides some insight into this history. For instance, records show Mr. Shaw freed an enslaved woman named Juliette in 1839. But in 1855, Shaw hired a bounty hunter to track down four enslaved people who attempted to escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Those four, including a woman named Esther and her two children, were captured at a site commemorated today as the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing. Archival records include the names of some of the people enslaved by Shaw: Peach, Juliette, Bridgette, Joseph, Jim, Sarah, Tabitha and her daughter Sarah, and Esther and her children.
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 every year on Thanksgiving Day and on December 24 and 25.
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.