My friend Carl Willoughby, Robertsville, loaned another snippet of history to the genealogy society that might otherwise have been lost to history. This is a high school essay by Carl’s son, Carl Lee Willoughby:
“Grand Vista was the name of a summer resort in Franklin County, located on a hill 1 1/4 miles west of Robertsville.
“As the name implies, it was truly a ‘grand view’ of a beautiful area along the Meramec River and its iron bridge.
“Through records at the General Lane Office, Washington, D.C., the land can be traced back to May 7, 1830, when it was deeded from the Unites States of America to John W. Twitty. Mr. Twitty and his wife, Eliza, sold their property to John Adams on May 25, 1841.
“During the year of 1845, Mr. John Adams died leaving the property to his son, Samuel T. Adams. A Mr. John T. Schmidt purchased the property on Nov. 5, 1864, from Samuel Adams and then sold part of it to Rudolph Langenberg. John T. Schmidt also mortgaged 131.84 acres to the County of Franklin for the use of the County School Fund of Franklin County, Mo. for $800. At 6 percent interest. Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt both died leaving their remaining land to Louis Schmidt, and on Sept. 18, 1903, he sold it to Erhardt Koeppel.
Erhardt Koeppel and Josephine Koeppel defaulted on their mortgage and on Sept. 18, 1897, the property was transferred back to Louis Schmidt. On Mar 1, 1899, it was sold to Behrend and Emma Steffens, and upon their death inherited by Jacob Steffens. Willmer W. Cannaday purchased the property from Jacob Steffens on May 26, 1906. The property was purchased by Gunnar Carlander on March 1, 1911.
“Up to this time, the land had been used for farming only. Cattle and horses grazed on the hillsides, with wheat and corn growing in the fertile soil of the Meramec River Valley. Mr. Carlander, a former resident of St. Louis, decided that in addition to the land he would build a resort area for the wealthier people of St. Louis. There was a well-built one-story house on the property, to which he added a 30- by 30-foot two-story addition with windows across three sides of the room. The first floor was to be used as the main dining room and the second floors as a dormitory. Nearby, he also built another large two-story house called the Annex, which was to be used for sleeping quarters for the guests.
“After four years, Mr. Carlander gave up the resort and returned to St. Louis. On April 1, 1915, he leased to G. E. and B. S. Ebersole a tract of land containing 60 acres, more or less, and all improvements on said land and all appurtenances, farm machinery and implements, wagons, buggies, harness, boats, tents, furnishings and any personal property on the premises. The rent was $900 yearly for two years. The lease had a renewal agreement for an additional two years beginning April 1, 1917, with rent increased to $1,000 yearly, and option to purchase at $16,000. The Ebersoles did not purchase the resort and on March 20, 1920, Ellen M. Jones purchased the property for $9,000. She is my great-grandmother.
“Ellen M. Jones, a daughter of the Maxwells of West Virginia and educated in private schools, was married to Tazewell Jones, and had four living children when they bought Grande Vista. She was also an artist, painting in oils. She brought new ideas and plans and with her hard work made a success of the resort. Her quiet manners and her hospitality made friends of neighbors and the resort guests, and established a successful business.
“Most of the guests of Grande Vista, wealthy St. Louisans, came to enjoy the country and its outdoor activities. Swimming on the sandy beach was a favorite sport. The farm extended along the Meramec River where there was shallow water for wading and deep water for swimming and diving.
“For the enjoyment of the guests, a tennis court was built near the annex. Croquet was always played on the lawn. Also an area was set aside for horseshoe pitching. Saddle horses were available for those wishing to ride.
“In the evenings, the guests congregated in the dining room for dancing or just to sit and visit. The two-step and waltz were very poplar then. Many of the young people of the neighborhood often dropped in to dance or meet and visit with the guests. The music came from records, played on a Victrola.
“The meals were prepared with pride by Martha Leewright, a descendant of slaves. She was in charge of the pantry and the summer kitchen where all the cooking took place. Mrs. Leewright took great pride in her Sunday chicken dinners, “Southern style,” she used to proudly say.
“There were always plenty of fresh vegetables, poultry and eggs from the farm. A big cooler and icebox with ice from the icehouse in Robertsville kept the food fresh.
“The resort was open during the summer months only and there was much work to be done then. The electric lines into the area were not built until 1938; running water was supplied by a deep well; pumped by a gasoline engine.
“All buildings had kerosene lamps, with a few Coleman lanterns. It was quite a task just keeping the lamps full of oil, wicks trimmed and the lamp chimney bright and clean. Young people from the neighborhood were glad to find summer work, and helped in the dining room setting and serving tables. They also worked in the kitchen, helping wherever needed.
“Since most of the guests were working people, Sunday afternoon was departure time. They usually took the 4 o’clock train, which stopped at Robertsville. My great-grandfather would hitch up the horse and buggy and off they would go to catch the train. Later, my grandfather would crank up his Model T Ford and give the guests a bumpy, but exciting ride to the train depot. At the railroad station the people of the countryside and the town of Robertsville all came together just to “go and see the train,” and the departing guests.
“Mr. Glaze was the telegraph operator and ticket agent and was always dressed in his white shirt with black sleeve holders. He was at his best on a Sunday afternoon and made it pleasant for all by frequently calling out just where the train was, and if it was late or on time.
“With the advent of the automobile, summer visitors went farther away for longer vacations. Guests became fewer at Grande Vista. The owners, my great-grandparents and my grandparents then devoted all their time to farming and dairying.
“These are bygone days. Only the memory remains of the happy days of Grande Vista as I heard them from my grandparents and my aunts and uncles.
“Grande Vista is now in the cattle business. Beef herds replaced the dairy herds and the fields are in pasture. The report house is now my grandmother’s home.”
By Carl Willoughby, Dec. 9, 1977.