Area residents and visitors to Leclaire often notice the house at the corner of Jefferson Road and Hale Avenue be-cause of the beautiful home and the elaborate gardens that sur-round it. But most are unaware of the history of the house.

The Shaw House at 409 Jefferson Road is so called be-cause it was occupied by the William Shaw family for sixty years. This house was one of those built by the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company and first purchased by Nelson em-ployee Will Thomas in 1893. Five years later it was sold back to the company who leased it to the William Shaw family. William and Elizabeth Shaw purchased the house in February 1904 for $1,650.

William Shaw was a machinist who in 1889 took a job with the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company in St. Louis.

After Nelson founded the Village of Leclaire in 1890, many jobs were moved to the factories in Illinois, but the company’s headquarters remained in St. Louis. In the early years, some employees commuted to work in Illinois, either daily or weekly, by train. William Shaw was transferred to Leclaire in 1893. Even though he was foreman of the machinery department as early as 1895, like other employees who had family connections in St. Louis, Shaw didn’t move his family to Leclaire until 1897.

The machinery department was eventually incorporated as the Bignall and Keeler Machine Works of the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company. According to a 1939 article in the Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Their principal business was the manufacture of pipe threading machines which have been sold all over the world. Various styles of machines are produced, the largest cutting threads for pipe with a diameter of 20 inches. The oil fields, packing plants and other industries using large quantities of pipe have been the principal patrons.”

William’s daughter, Mildred Shaw Briggs, in an interview with Bob Gill in 1990 said that when the company was young, they purchased a lot of used equipment and her father was responsible for keeping it in running order. At one time, before telephones, if machinery needed repairs when Shaw was at home, the village’s electric company would flash the lights three times as a signal to Shaw that he was needed at the facto-ry. (The lights would flicker throughout the village!)

Mildred also told Gill how her father was responsible for the company’s exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair. The exhibit included a Bignall and Keeler pipe threading machine that he would demonstrate and sell to national and international visitors. Mildred visited him at the fair numerous times with her mother.

In 1939 Shaw, who also served on the Nelson Board of Directors, marked his 50th anniversary with the company. By then he was working as Superintendent of Bignall and Keeler. Two years later, at the age of 81, he retired. Shaw commented at the time that in all his years with the company, he had never taken a vacation.

Family Life
William Shaw (1860-1957) was born in England, but came to America with his family as a young boy. In 1885 he married Elizabeth Reisel (1865-1948) of Freeburg, Illinois. The family lived first in St. Clair County, but by 1889 moved to St. Louis. In 1897, the family moved to Leclaire with their four young daughters, Edith, Irene, Laura and Mildred. In the coming years, three additional children were born, Kenneth, Evan and Ruth.

In the 1990 Gill interview, Mildred Shaw Briggs (1896-1993) recalled how N. O. Nelson, the founder of the village, was known for his love of children. When Kenneth Shaw was born in 1901, Nelson came to the house to hold the new baby and congratulate his parents on the birth of their first son.

Within a few years of purchasing the house on Jefferson, the family replaced the small front porch with a wide veranda porch as can be seen in the two photographs shown here. It was from this home that several of the Shaw daughters were married in elaborate ceremonies that included live music and “mountains” of flowers. The brides came down the stairway to meet their grooms.

In another recollection, Mildred remembered that Mrs. Nelson’s driver would take her for a long drive in the family carriage most evenings. Almira Nelson was fond of Elizabeth Shaw who lived across the street, and often picked her up for the drive along with one or more of the Shaw children.

Elizabeth “Dolly” Shaw Stolte, a granddaughter, writing about her memories of the house during the holidays, said, “We would all go to Grandma and Grandpa Shaw’s for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas. They always ate their meals at the dining room table with a lace tablecloth on it. They had a large kitchen with only a HIGE black stove (coal fired and somehow oil fired too). They made great things on that stove! There was a marble or something topped table with some cabinets and shelves where they made their food and a pantry. There was also a real electric refrigerator for as long as I remember. It was a large empty kitchen.”

She also remembered, “They had a huge tree at Grandpa Shaw’s in the front hall each year. Mom always had the job of bringing escalloped oysters for Christmas.”

As a long-time member of Nelson’s Board of Directors, William Shaw would have influenced many of the decisions made regarding the Village of Leclaire. Also important to the village was his daughter, Mildred, who was an instructor at the Leclaire Kindergarten for over 20 years (See Dec 2015 FOL Newsletter). In greater Edwardsville, the Shaws through marriage became connected to many early settlers including the Lange, Stolte, Crossman, McKee and other families. A name that most will recognize is Kenneth “Buzz” Shaw, grandson of William and Elizabeth Shaw, who served as President of SIUE from 1977-1979.

There are a handful of men who were, along with Nelson and his family, significant leaders in the story of Leclaire. William Shaw was among them.