725 St. Louis Street
The W.R. Brink House
Wesley Raymond Brink believed that when a woman gave birth to a child, her husband should reward her. Hence, before the birth of his first child in 1876, he built a house at 725 St. Louis Street where his daughter Florence was born, and put the house in his wife Eleanor’s name. We don’t know what the house looked like when originally built, but it would certainly have been a handsome reward for Mrs. Brink.
There are no surviving pictures of the early Brink home which was heavily damaged by fire in September of 1891. The fire completely destroyed the second story of the house, but neighbors were able to save furnishings. Losses from the fire, estimated at $2,500-$3,000, were fortunately covered by insurance. The family sold furnishings undamaged in the fire and moved into a suite of rooms at the St. James Hotel. Charles Pauly, a noted architect and builder was hired to plan and rebuild the house at a cost of $2,500. In July, 1892, the Brink family returned to their “home place.” Designed with elements of Italianate and Queen Anne Victorian architecture, the exterior of the house you see today at 725 St. Louis Street, looks much the same as it did in 1892.
W. R Brink is a name familiar to any local historian here in Madison County, because Brink recorded our history. He was born in Frenchtown, New Jersey, Feb, 23, 1851. He followed an older brother to Illinois where he studied law and was admitted to the bar, but found another vocation before beginning a practice. Brink was asked by a friend to join him in the business of publishing atlases and county histories. His daughter Florence once asked why he didn’t return to law, but was told “The work I am doing is more important than anything I could accomplish in the practice of law and it will be more important as time passes.”
Brink published dozens of atlases and county histories in Missouri and Illinois and then branched out to edit publications in other areas of the country. He would be gone from home for weeks at a time, keeping in touch with his family through daily correspondence. Brink hired excellent writers and artists to compile his atlases and histories which are generally considered some of the best of the genre. One of the artists hired was his younger brother Ordemus Edgar Brink, who suffered sun stroke while sitting for hours in the hot Illinois sun sketching family estates. He suffered brain damage from the stroke and was in such despair from the injury that he committed suicide a year later.
While Brink was away at his work, an active social life was enjoyed by his family at 725 St. Louis Street. W. R. Brink and Eleanor (Nellie) Gillespie were married in the home of her brother, David Gillespie, on December 25, 1873. Two years later they purchased an adjoining St. Louis Street lot from him as a site for their home. Their first child, Florence was born in 1876 followed by Julia in 1879 and Sherman in 1882. As previously stated, Brinks gave his wife the St. Louis Street house as a gift for their first child. He presented his wife with a Steinway piano after the birth of Julia and diamond earrings when Sherman was born.
Although Brink was not a native of Madison County, his wife’s family settled in Madison County in 1819 and had a prestigious history of public service and leadership. As a result, the family enjoyed social prominence, and the income earned by Brink was substantial enough to afford a life of privilege. Daughter Julia was a talented musician who sang for an opera company, served as soloist for many St. Louis congregations, and of course, at Brink parties. The family hosted many gatherings at the house that was by all accounts filled with joy and laughter, but never more so than when Mr. Brink arrived home from one of his business trips.
All the Brink children left Edwardsville, and went on to lead interesting and exciting lives. Florence married Jose Alarco, a Spaniard educated at the University of Illinois who accepted a job as an electrical engineer in Mexico. She was joined there by her sister, Julia, who married an American businessman she met there. The sisters were both caught in Guadalajara during the 1914 Mexican Revolution and had to leave their belongings behind and flee for their lives. Julia sent articles detailing their experiences to the Edwardsville Intelligencer. The Alarcos then settled in Havana, Cuba and were joined by Julia after the death of her husband in 1919. Sherman went on to serve as Indian Agent in Oklahoma. During the Depression he was Asst. Administrative Director of the W.P.A. for Oklahoma.
Although very wealthy at one time, much of Brink’s fortune was lost in poor investments. But his history business remained sound, and he was working on a history of Salt Lake City when he died in Utah in 1902. His wife sold the house shortly after his death to the Harrison Barco family who would occupy the home for the next half century. Eleanor Gillespie Brink passed away in 1903 just one year after her husband.
Information for this article was obtained from resources at the Madison County Historical Society Library and the Edwardsville Public Library. W. R. Brink co-published the 1873 Brink McCormick Atlas of Madison County, Illinois. He also published the 1882 History of Madison County, Illinois. To read more about Brink and his work, read “Wesley Raymond Brink: History Hustler” by Betty and Raymond Spahn (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 1965). If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Edwardsville Intelligencer as part of This Old House Series