309 JEFFERSON AVENUE
The house was built in 1905 for Louis D. and Julia Lawnin. At the time, Louis was Secretary of the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company as well as the son-in-law of company president, N. O. Nelson. The house was a grand one by Leclaire standards. The exterior architecture was not ostentatious since it would not have been appropriate among the village of workmen’s cottages. However, the interior design made elaborate use of marble and fine millwork available through the Leclaire shops. Much of this has been removed during subsequent renovations.
The home was designed for a family with servants who hosted a wide variety of entertainments for family, friends and company visitors. It could accommodate large groups as evidenced by the November, 1905 housewarming party. The local paper reported guests numbering over 150 and dancing for “the young people” in the third floor ballroom with the Thomas Orchestra.
Louis Lawnin married Julia Nelson, daughter of millionaire industrialist and philanthropist, N. O. Nelson and his wife Almeria Posegate Nelson, on November 16, 1893. In the first 11 years of their marriage they had five children, with four surviving to adulthood. A son, Joseph, died in 1899, a month before his second birthday. The family moved to Leclaire in 1897 when Lawnin was placed in charge of the company’s factories and model village. They first rented a house from the company, then bought a house on Park Place in Leclaire, across the street from the ball diamond. Their new house on Jefferson Road was directly behind the Park Place house.
A cursory review might leave the impression that Louis Lawnin “married up” when he proposed to the boss’s daughter. But this is far from the truth. The Lawnins were one of the old pioneer families of St. Louis with a mansion just down the block from the Nelson family on Morgan Street in St. Louis in the 1880s. They were socially prominent with memberships in all the “right clubs”, access to the most sought after invitations, and an income that allowed for annual travel during the hot St. Louis summers, often to Europe. They were also a family that believed in giving back to society. Lawnin’s mother, Ariadne Sappington Lawnin, was the founder of the St. Louis Women’s Exchange, an organization dedicated to assisting women who found themselves without funds to support their families.
Lawnin entered the employ of N. O. Nelson as a bookkeeper after his graduation from Washington University Manual Training School in 1885. He worked his way up through the ranks by virtue of the fact that he was capable, intelligent and talented. In 1918 when N. O. Nelson resigned the presidency of the company, Lawnin took his place. It was a time of financial and legal instability for the company, but Lawnin skillfully brought the firm out of the crisis.
The Lawnins occupied the Jefferson Road house until 1919 when they moved back to St. Louis. As president of the company, Lawnin now worked at the company’s headquarters in St. Louis. The Lawnin mansion became a rental property and has never returned to owner occupied status as a single family home. In September, 1922, renovations were started that would transform the house into two 6-room apartments with separate heating, electrical and water systems. The first floor unit was rented to the Frank Godfrey family on December 1, 1922 for $50 per month. The second floor was leased by the A. B. Cory family on January 1, 1923 for $46 per month. A garage was available for an extra $4.
The Lawnin family sold the house in 1939 to Clifton and Augusta Tetherington who became owner/residents. In studying city directories of the 1940s it’s clear that during this time the building was divided into additional apartments and the address for the building expanded to include 309, 311 and 313 Jefferson Road. The interior remains divided today into seven apartments.