In the summer of 2019, we launched a Capital Campaign to raise $100,000 to maintain and preserve the Historic Hawken House, built in 1857 for Christopher and Mary Ann Hawken.
We have given much thought to this serious and ambitious undertaking. It requires commitment and teamwork from the Webster Groves Historical Society Board, along with the involvement and support of the communities that we serve.
I understand that the first thing you might ask is – what do you need the money for?
As with any old house, especially ones that are 162 years old, we have considerable maintenance and repair work to do. This work is critical to the preservation, the safety, and the long term viability of the Hawken House Museum. Protecting both the historic structures and our rich heritage distinguishes our community from many others in the St. Louis region, and it is an important reason why Webster Groves is such a desirable place to live.
Here are some things that are on our list:
- restoring the upper and lower side porches
- fixing interior damage in the kitchen and the sewing room
- replacing shutters
- replacing the cellar door
- repairing soffits and corbels and windowsills
- and painting
In addition, we are seeking to re-build our reserves that were significantly drained due to prior expenses totaling over $40,000, the result of piering the northwest corner of the Hawken House – twice over the course of several years – along with the purchase of new heating and air conditioning units for both the Hawken House and the Hearth Room.
The second question you might be asking is WHY? What’s so special or so important about the Hawken House that it warrants this significant fund raising effort?
Over a year ago, those of us on the Board of Directors were asked to write a sentence or two that described exactly why we thought the preservation of the Hawken House was important. This was actually a challenging and thought provoking exercise.
The conclusion that I arrived at was as follows:
To me, the Hawken House embodies a family’s history. It’s not my personal history, it’s the Hawken’s history, BUT it is a shared history in that it reflects how people lived in a particular era, right here in Webster Groves.
By having a historic home in our community, we have the unique opportunity to make this past come alive through tangible artifacts and interesting stories. Guests learn about the history of this house, and in so doing, they may discover ways in which aspects of that history relate to their own.
(I wonder, did my great grandma sleep on a rope bed? Did she lose four of her children before they reached adulthood? Would I return to Missouri to live in this house after my father had sent me to live with cousins in Colorado when I was four years old? And if I had been a slave like Aunt Mollie, would I have stayed on with the Hawkens after the Civil War was over?)
To me, this is history with a little “h” – not history with a capital “H” – that’s like the Civil War, or the 1929 Stock Market crash, the moon landing, the civil rights marches, September 11th, the genocide in Rwanda, Columbine, etc. These are major events of tremendous import; most certainly we should study and learn from them with the intent of applying lessons learned and a resolve to do better going forward. But this little “h” history, as exemplified by the Hawken House, is more intimate; I view it as a bridge between our present and the past. Our historic home, the Hawken House, is a valuable section of that bridge. It’s a repository of interesting artifacts, fascinating knowledge, and relatable family stories, not just for our community but for guests that come visit us from all over the country. (And come they do! History lovers find us.)
Our Capital Campaign has a phased approach and will be directed to multiple audiences over the next year or so. But however you come to learn more about this – whether through a letter, or here on our website, or in an article in the Webster Kirkwood Times, all I ask is that you take the time to read about it, and think about how fortunate we are to have such a valuable reflection of history right here in Webster Groves.