915 St. Louis Street
The beautiful Victorian home at 915 St. Louis Street is located in the Gillespie Addition. Although this addition to Edwardsville was subdivided in 1883, the property where this house was built didn’t sell until 1893, ten years later. In February of that year 3 lots were purchased by Stith Otwell Bonner. The newspaper reported that he intended to “erect a handsome residence.” Construction was soon underway and by May 17th the Intelligencer could report, “The foundation for the residence of S. O. Bonner, on St. Louis Street, is complete, and the erection of the building will be pushed.”
Bonner’s residence did turn out to be handsome – a multistory Queen Anne with spindlework adornment and a front-facing gable, typical of the style. The house has been beautifully preserved over the years with its turned porch posts, “gingerbread” trim work and horizontal bands of shingles on the exterior walls, all in keeping with the home’s original design.
S. O. Bonner, as he was referred to in local newspapers, was descended from two old Edwardsville families. His father and grandfather, John and Henry Bonner came to Edwardsville in 1814 from Virginia. His mother was Polly Davenport Randle whose father was an early circuit riding preacher and leader in the Edwardsville Methodist church.
Bonner’s parents lived in Staunton for a short time in the late 1830s when he was born, but then returned to Edwardsville where they had a home near the corner of Main and Hillsboro. The house was razed in the 1860s when the area became the new business district for Edwardsville. He graduated from McKendree College in 1858 and began a career that would include farming, fruit growing, law enforcement and, in his later years, auctioneering.
Bonner was married in 1861 to Julia Ballard who also had a family with early roots in Madison county. They had one child, a daughter who died young. On February 6, 1865, Bonner enlisted in the infantry, but the Civil War was all but over. On January16, 1866, after less than a year’s service, he was promoted to Sergeant and mustered out at Atlanta, Georgia, on the same day.
Soon after his return from military duty, Bonner’s wife, Julia, died. Three years later, in 1870, he re-married, this time to a widow, Mrs. Mary E. Bascom McHenry, with whom he had two children, LeRoy and Fannie. LeRoy and Fannie were adults by the time the house on St. Louis Street was built, but Fannie especially would spend considerable time there.
Bonner had an eclectic career. He had his farm, but lived in town most of the time. In his younger years he worked as a constable and deputy sheriff. In 1869 the newspapers recorded his part in leading a man named William Bell to the gallows. He was a constable at the time. He served one term of four years as county coroner and his experiences while in that position were often gruesome. He ran for a second term in 1892, but was defeated. His primary occupation after that was as an auctioneer of personal property, although he conducted real estate auctions when asked. He was also known to serve as auctioneer for local charitable events.
His daughter Fannie, an Edwardsville debutante, was 19 when the family moved into the house. In 1895 she was one of eleven young women featured in a large article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled, “Society Belles of Edwardsville, Ill.” The article said she “is a young lady of pleasant manners, soft voice and pleasant disposition. (In) the comfort and sunshine of her parents’ home, she is beloved by all her companions and friends.” Both Fannie and Mrs. Bonner were often mentioned in the society columns of the Intelligencer.
Fannie surprised all her friends on March 11, 1897 when they arrived at the house for a supper party. They instead became witnesses to the parlor wedding of Fannie to John G. Price of Little Rock, Arkansas. By 1900, Fannie was a widow and moved back home with her parents for a number of years. She taught at McKendree College for a short time before moving to St. Louis where she obtained a degree in social science in 1916. She later became an attorney and was elected president of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce in St. Louis.
Bonner’s second wife, Mary died in late 1900, and he continued to live in the house with his daughter, Fanny Bonner Price, until she moved to St. Louis. In 1920 he sold the house to Matilda Vollrath Gerke and moved to his daughter’s home. On the advice of his doctor, Bonner moved to Florida a few years later. His daughter moved with him, and it appeared that the change of climate would provide a successful remedy. However, in January, 1925, Bonner went into a sudden decline and died. His body was shipped home to Edwardsville for burial.
Matilda Vollrath Gerke was married to Henry Christian Gerke, who was the owner and founder of Madison County Abstract and Title Company. The Gerkes filled the house with three generations. Their children, Wilbur C. who was born in 1891, Henry Clarence (known as Clarence), born in 1895, and Matilda Elizabeth “Betty” Gerke all came to live in the house as did Henry’s mother, also a Matilda. Both sons worked for their father, although Wilbur would later leave to become Edwardsville’s Postmaster.
Wilbur and Betty were each married in the 1920s and left the house. Clarence married Mary Flynn in January 1930 and she came to live in the Gerke house on St. Louis Street after their marriage. At that time Clarence’s parents and grandmother were still living there as well. Clarence and his wife had a daughter, Mary Jean, born in late 1930 who was the first young child to occupy the house. Henry Gerke and his mother died in the 1930s and his wife Matilda in 1945. The house was willed to her three children, but purchased by Clarence and his wife who continued to occupy the stately home until 1956, just a few years after their daughter married.
The Gerkes sold the house to the Bardelmeier family who owned it until 1998 giving the first century of this beautiful old home on St. Louis Street just three owners.
Information for this article was obtained from resources at the Madison County Historical Society Library, Edwardsville Public Library, and from the pages of the Edwardsville Intelligencer. Information was also provided by the Gerke family. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Cindy Reinhardt
First published in Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 23, 2012