Hazelwood Restores The Utz-Teson/Tesson House; Hosts Event Celebrating the History
(Special to the Independent News)
A large crowd of residents, elected state officials, City Council members, City employees, as well as regional history enthusiasts recently attended an Open House dedication ceremony for the City’s oldest home, The Utz-Teson/Tesson House. The event took place at Hazelwood’s historic Brookes Park, which is located at the end of Brookes Drive alongside I-270 and next to the Bommarito Volkswagen of Hazelwood dealership.
The Utz-Teson/Tesson House is the oldest and most significant of the three structures on display at Brookes Park. The other two buildings are The Little Red Schoolhouse and The Knobbe House.
Not only is The Utz-Teson/Tesson known for its sequence of distinguished owners over the years, but also it shows the different construction techniques used to build and expand the structure since the 1780’s.
It began as a simple one-room log structure, hand hewn from the forest around 1782 just after the United States gained its independence. A French-Canadian farmer named Joseph St. Germain is believed to be the person who built this home for him and his wife. They were among the first pioneer settlers who starting farming in the St. Ferdinand Common Fields, which is now the Hazelwood area, after the British and Indians were defeated at the Battle of St. Louis in 1780.
A second log cabin was built after Judge Alexander Stuart purchased the property in 1819. Since the property he owned quadrupled in size, he needed to add more room for the slaves who farmed the land. He added another log cabin, extended the roof with dormer windows, created a new enclosed entrance hallway and put in a Creole porch. Stuart later sold the farm to Julius Utz in 1832. Utz is the one who covered the logs with weatherboard and transformed it into the gracious home seen today.
The original location of the Utz-Teson/Tesson House was at the northwest corner of Utz Lane and Tesson Park Drive. In 1997, it was offered for sale by RCW Corporation, a developer who wanted to put in a new subdivision of 19 homes known as Tesson Park Estates. Unless somebody bought it, the home would be destroyed. The City of Hazelwood stepped in to save the home by paying one dollar to the developer. In 2003, another developer, the Mills Corporation, paid to have the historic structure moved in one-piece to its current spot at Brookes Park.
In addition, Hazelwood retained the services of restoration architect Ted Wofford to oversee the renovations of this home. His expertise in rehabilitating historic structures, including the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, is well-known throughout the region. The purpose of the City’s restoration efforts has been to showcase the different construction methods used on the building. Plans are to make it a museum-house which will eventually be accessible to the public, illustrating how these techniques changed over time.
Restoration of the exterior portion of the building began about a year ago. The City pre-qualified Seal Enterprises, in partnership with The Country Gentlemen, because of their specialization in log cabin restoration. Some of the exterior work on the home included the following: log replacement; rough sheathing; new siding; new wooden guttering; and a porch floor. Also, a new roof, using white oak shingles specifically hand-cut for this project, was added. Monies from the City’s economic development sales tax budget, which can be used for tourism purposes, were used to finance the project.
The Open House event marked the successful completion of the exterior renovations of the home. When Wofford was asked “why” restore a structure like The Utz-Teson/Tesson House, he said, “It speaks to us of ‘cultural continuity.’ It reinforces the notion that our past matters and plays an important role in shaping our present and future. Education of each new generation counts as well. What makes this house interesting and an asset to our region is what it can tell us about our heritage and therefore, ourselves.”
Hazelwood’s Historic Preservation Commission chairperson Jailethe Judy used the quote of a famous author to explain the event’s purpose. According to Frederic Harrison, author of The Meaning of History, “All our hopes for the future depend on a sound understanding of the past.” The completion of the home’s exterior renovations is the next step of the ongoing work at Brookes Park to preserve people’s understanding of Hazelwood’s past for future generations.
House Has History of Interesting Property Owners
Joseph St. Germain, a French-Canadian pioneer settler, was the first recorded owner and is resumed builder of the first log cabin of The Utz-Teson/Tesson House in the 1780’s.
In 1804, St. Germain sold his farm to Auguste Chouteau, who at age 14 gained the reputation as the co-founder of St. Louis (1764) with his step-father Pierre Laclede. This land sale is the first documented deed found in the City of St. Louis Archives.
In 1819, Chouteau sold the property to Alexander Stuart who was a distinguished lawyer and the son of a Revolutionary War hero. President Madison sent him to the St. Louis area in 1809 to help bring order to the chaos of the new Louisiana Territories. Also, he was a close friend of Lewis and Clark and was appointed co-executor of Lewis’ estate. From 1823 to 1826, Stuart served as the 4th Circuit Judge of the territory and played a key role in bringing the rule of law to the new state of Missouri. Additionally, he is the grandfather of J.E.B. Stuart, the Confederate General.
In 1832, Stuart sold the house and farmland to Julius Utz who subdivided the property among his relatives and gave the house to Franklin Utz, his nephew. Franklin’s son, Maj. James Morgan Utz, was arrested by Union soldiers as a Confederate spy and condemned to hang. He was imprisoned at the Gratiot Street jail. A party consisting of Catholic Bishop Ryan and family members rushed to Washington, DC, to plead the Major’s case to President Lincoln. They succeeded in convincing Lincoln to grant the pardon, but upon their return on December 26, 1864, they discovered sadly that the prisoner had been executed shortly before their arrival.
In 1914, Mary Herzog, the sister of Maj. James M. Utz, sold the property to Gregory Teson. He had two sons, Lawrence V. Teson and Chester J. Tesson. Chester was about 12 years old when he moved into the house and he lovingly maintained it and preserved its historical status for most of the 20th century.
You must be logged in to post a comment.