The St. James Hotel in Edwardsville was the scene of great celebration on Nov. 24, 1886. Frank Kirkpatrick, son of the hotel owner, married a former St. Louisan, Miss Lulu Rippey, at the Presbyterian Church a short distance away, then returned to the hotel for a lavish reception. The bride wore “a magnificent gown of white faille Francais silk” with cap sleeves trimmed with Irish lace and long white gloves that just met the sleeves. The couple greeted their guests in parlors adorned with large floral tributes to the occasion, then led them into the dining room where a feast awaited them. Dancing for over 300 guests at the St. James Opera House next door lasted into the early morning hours, making it one of Edwardsville’s biggest social events of the time.
The St. James Hotel, reportedly the finest hotel in southern Illinois, was destroyed by fire in the early 1930s. It was located in the 200 block of North Main St. where the city parking lot is now located. The bricked-in entrance that connected the hotel to the opera house can still be seen on the second floor of the building south of the parking lot.
A suite of rooms at the St. James Hotel was Frank and Lulu Fitzpatrick’s first home. Frank was manager of the Kirkpatrick Brothers Store, also on Edwardsville’s Main Street. He was described as “a good manager with an abundance of energy and good judgment.” In 1889 his wife, Lulu, purchased a lot on St. Louis Street from Mary West Prickett for $800. The deed stipulated that the buyer agree to build a house worth “not less than $1,500.”
The house they built at 603 St. Louis Street was designed by Charles H. Spilman, a prominent local architect, responsible for many of Edwardsville’s finest buildings of that time. The Eastlake Victorian style also contains elements of Simple Queen Anne, Shingle and Late Victorian architectural styles and would have been considered a very modern home. The original colors on the house included reddish brown siding with green trim.
Unfortunately, the Kirkpatricks would not enjoy their new house for long. Frank died “of a lingering illness” on May 29, 1891, at the age of 25. He was being cared for at the St. James Hotel when he died. There was a short service at the hotel, and then his body was returned to the residence on St. Louis Street where the funeral sermon was given followed by a procession to Woodlawn Cemetery. Two years later, Lulu sold the house to Benjamin H. Richards for $5,000 and moved back to St. Louis with her two children.
Richards was born in St. Louis, MO in 1843. He was orphaned at the age of five, and taken in by relatives, but he left home at the age of 14 with nothing but a “deer skin and grip.” He came to Edwardsville because he had an older brother here, but before reaching his brother’s home, he met John Prickett. Prickett was one of the city’s most respected businessmen and leaders. He was so impressed by Richards that he invited him to his home, where Richards stayed for the next five years while attending school in winter and learning the bricklaying trade in summer.
Richards then lived on a farm outside Edwardsville from 1879-1889 where, when the bricklaying was slow, he could make a living from farming. In 1890 he became involved in the brick manufacturing business, when he purchased half of Springer and Tunnell Brickworks which became the firm of Richards and Springer. Fifteen years later, in 1905, he bought out his partner and Richards Brick Company was formed. More than a hundred years later, the business is still thriving in Edwardsville. The company has been responsible for many of the brick buildings seen in the community including the brick buildings at the Historic N. O. Nelson Campus of Lewis and Clark Community College, an early customer.
Just as Richards Brick Company would become a family business, 603 St. Louis Street became a family home. Four generations of the Richards family lived in this house from 1893-2008. But that legacy almost came to an end in the spring of 1964 when it was announced in the newspaper that the General Services Administration would confiscate the house as well as others on the block to build a new Post Office for Edwardsville. Florence Richards Sills, granddaughter of Benjamin Richards, and her neighbors were not notified in advance of the announcement.
Eighty-two year old Florence Sills, her daughter Leigh, neighbors and members of the business and social community rallied. An organized protest sent letters and telegrams to senators, congressmen, and even President Lyndon Johnson, protesting the poor choice of locations, the disregard for the neighborhood and the callous manner in which the homeowners were notified. They suggested alternative sites and circulated a petition that gathered 800 signatures which at that time would have been nearly 10% of the population of Edwardsville. Despite being told “you can’t win against the government,” they did. The new post office was built on Kansas Street, and the beautiful old home at 603 St. Louis Street is still here for all to admire.
Information for this article was obtained from resources at the Madison County Historical Society Library, Edwardsville Public Library, and the Madison County Court House. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Cindy Reinhardt
Originally published in Edwardsville Intelligencer as part of the This Old House series
Revised May 2021