St. Louis County
Situated on a hill overlooking the Meramec River lowlands, the site known as the Fine-Eiler farmstead is a rare survivor in a rapidly suburbanizing St. Louis County landscape.
The two-story, vernacular, I-house plan stone core of the house is believed to be the oldest extant house in what was originally the rural settlement of Oakville. The exact date of construction is unknown. St. Louis County lists the structure as having been built around 1857, but other local historians believe the house may have been erected as early as the 1820s by Benjamin Fine, the son of Philip Fine, who was an original settler of the area. The property on which this farmstead stands is shown in Benjamin Fine’s name on an 1838 map which was a refiling of a previous plat map drawn by his father who had planned to create a town known as Finestown, which never materialized. It is known that he married Sara Sappington in the 1820s and that the family reared their children on this farm according to records maintained at a nearby church.
One of Benjamin’s sons, Charles Lawson Fine, who had married Jane Anderson in 1857, became the owner of the house and its accompanying 61 acres. In 1874 the property was sold to Philip Eiler who later enlarged the house with a log addition. His son, William Eiler, later acquired the farm and raised his family there. Remarkably, the house remains in the Eiler family today — 4 generations of ownership. Poor health and a lack of direct heirs, however, has left the future of the Fine-Eiler homestead uncertain. Residential subdivisions and other signs of rapid suburbanization of St. Louis County have encroached upon the once rural setting of the farm.
Many Oakville residents have seen a steady and alarming loss of some of the area’s oldest houses to suburban sprawl development. After updating its list of historic resources in 1998 from a survey conducted in 1988, the St. Louis County Parks Department has estimated that nearly 20% have been demolished. 18 of 84 properties have been demolished. Two more are vacant and are threatened by demolition by neglect. All were built between 1835 and 1910. These include the Warmbrodt house, formerly at 5118 Lemay Ferry Road, which was believed to have been built around 1835 and enlarged in 1856. It was considered one of the least altered pioneer complexes in St. Louis County with a log cabin that was once a smokehouse and brick and frame summer kitchen. The house was torn down after Lemay Ferry Road was widened to within five feed of the house and the county approved a rezoning of the property for a shopping center. Others lost include the 1888 Frank Diel Farm, the 1895 Car Wilhelm Luther house, and the 1929 Point School. Other old houses in the Oakville area are threatened including the Louis Dietz house built in 1895 which may succumb to a road expansion. The 1926 Sarah Wilson country house known as Sun-Up, so named for its sunrise views overlooking the Mississippi, which is part of the 40-acre Fordyce Conference Center property owned by St. Louis University has just recently been offered for sale.
The loss or threat to historic properties in Oakville such as the Fine-Eiler Farm and other community’s in South County and elsewhere in St. Louis County indicates a need for a stronger county historic preservation ordinance. Presently, the owner of a property must agree to have his property designated as a historic structure. A stronger ordinance would allow the county’s preservation commission to make designations and to have jurisdiction over demolitions and exterior alterations. Until this occurs, properties such as the Fine-Eiler home will continue to be under threat.