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Local societies offer residents the chance to step back in time

Docent Irene Wirsing leads tour of Bacon Log Cabin and its root cellar to the cub scouts of Henry Elementary, Pack 310 [Photo by David Berliner]

Cub Scout Den Leader for Pack 310 and Ballwin resident Steve Bowman was waiting to pick up his son from Henry Elementary when he spied an old, pioneer cabin amidst a neighborhood of modern houses off Henry Avenue in Ballwin. Bowman has lived locally for over 20 years but had never before noticed the structure.

“It kind of stands out,” Bowman said. “You have these typical suburban homes, a lot of ranches, and then all of a sudden you see this pioneer cabin tucked away against all these modern homes.”

The structure is the Bacon Log Cabin, an authentic homestead – turned museum – from the 1800s, which originally was constructed on a 700-acre farm by settler William Douglas Bacon. The cabin was built in 1835 and occupied by the Bacon family until 1889.

William was born to James and Martha Bacon. The family migrated to Missouri in 1823 to be near James’ father, also named William. The elder William already owned a large farm at the southeast corner of what are now Baxter and Clayton roads.

The original home was composed of three adjoining cabins, but only two structures remain. The property also has a root cellar, where food would be stored and which also could serve as a storm cellar. The cellar was restored in 2015 and received improvements like a concrete floor and a drain to help eliminate standing water in case of flood or excessive rainfall. The home is maintained by the Old Trail Historical Society, which has restored it as a pioneer cabin.  The stone fireplace is original as are the logs, beams, some fireplace bricks and some of the chinking. The cabin houses period furnishings and a museum display of West St. Louis County historical memorabilia.

Old Trails Historical Society welcomes guests and invites new members to join at any time. So, on Nov. 27, Bowman and the Scouts of Pack 310 from Henry Elementary took a tour of the cabin and cellar. During the tour, they learned about historic tools and planted a Northern Red Oak tree along with a small time capsule that the boys can return to in 20 years.

“You don’t think about how easy it is nowadays to go to the grocery store, and everything you want is right there,” Bowman said. “The woman [Irene Wirsing] who gave us the tour was actually born in a log cabin. She was raised in that way of life.”

On the tour, the group learned about carrying water, using an outhouse or a basin and even how to use smoking tools that helped pioneers extract honey from beehives.

Docent Irene Wirsing leads a tour of Bacon Log Cabin and its root cellar for the Cub Scouts of Henry Elementary, Pack 310 [Photo by David Berliner]

According to Frank Masotto, chairman of the Ballwin Historical Society and Old Trails Historical Society board member, the cabin’s uniqueness can be attributed to the fact that the cabin still sits on its original location, unlike other historic structures in the area.

“The Bacon Log Cabin really is the crown jewel of historic Ballwin destinations,” Masotto said. “You have other gems like the Old Ballwin Schoolhouse and others, but they don’t sit on their original sites like the Bacon Log Cabin does.”

The cabin was given to the Society in 1969 by Contemporary Homes Realty Co. owner Fred Kemp, who wanted to develop a subdivision on the cabin’s site. St. Louis County refused to issue a permit unless Kemp preserved the cabin, so it was given to the Old Trails Historical Society, which was co-founded in 1967 by Diane Broderick and Ettus Hiatt. The Society was tasked with restoring the cabin and opening it to the public. Currently, the Society is working to restore the cabin’s roof with the help of local volunteers and donations.

“We learned a lot, and it spurred my own interest even more,” Bowman said of the Scouts’ cabin tour. He said his experience has made him want to “volunteer there in the future.”

Irene Wirsing shows scouts historic tools in Bacon Log Cabin’s
root cellar [Photo by David Berliner]

While admission and private tours of the cabin are free and available by appointment, donations are accepted and go directly to cabin preservation. For more information about hours and parking, visit oldtrailshistoricalsociety.com or contact baconcabininfo@yahoo.com.

As Masotto alluded, the Bacon Log Cabin is just one of many local, historic destinations.

Thirteen miles away, on the western edge of St. Louis County, the Wildwood Historical Society is getting ready for its Christmas Open House from 1-4 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Hencken Place property, located at 18750 MO-100.

Hencken Place consists of a little over 5 acres that stretches from the current Hwy. 100 to the remnants of old Route 66 at the rear. Structures on the property include the Hencken House, the chicken coop, the Damhorst Toy Factory, the horse barn/garage and a paint shop. The chicken coop is used as the Historical Society’s library and primary meeting space.

The Wildwood Historical Society was founded in 1999 to continue the work of the Wildwood Historical Preservation Committee. It meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month and new members always are welcome.

“We’ve made a lot of progress this year,” Sandra Becker-Gurnow, President of the Wildwood Historical Society, said. “We’ve progressed quite a bit, and we want to show people what we’ve done.”


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