Saturday, February 28, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 28

Today is the final day of the Family History Writing Challenge, so it seems appropriate to do a recap about the life of John Murdoch. I titled this series John J. Murdoch: The Man Behind the Myth" because several misconceptions follow him to this day. Among the most prevalent are the following:

- "John Murdoch was a General in the Civil War."
 Murdoch never served in the military in any capacity.

"Farm property was acquired by General John Murdoch in 1778 when the large Spanish colonial grants were being broken up."
Murdoch wasn't born until 1814, and he didn't move to St. Louis until 1838.

- "John Murdoch named his farm Shrewsbury Park after a place of the same name in England."
Murdoch's property was called Murdoch Farm. Farrar & Tate, who developed the land in the 1890's long after Murdoch's death, named it Shrewsbury Park after a town in England.

- "By 1890 Gregorie Sarpy's land was divided into farms. One of these farms was owned by John Murdoch."
Murdoch bought his farm land in the 1850's, and there were other farmers in the area at that time. He died in 1880.

At first glance, it might not seem as though John Murdoch left much of a legacy behind after he died, especially since it appears that he had no surviving heirs. But I would beg to differ. It is pretty remarkable that a twenty-four year old man would leave his mom, dad, and siblings behind to travel nearly 1,000 miles to a place that was still pretty much a frontier town. Yet that is what John Murdoch did in 1838. He developed the successful firm of Murdoch & Dickson, expanded into other business endeavors with his partner, Charles K. Dickson, and built a life that included marrying Dickson's niece and starting a family. The two families were so close in life that in death they are all buried in the same plot. Many parts of St. Louis history were touched by the two men, including subdivisions, banks, insurance companies, railroads, Eads Bridge, and the Mercantile Library.

When he established Murdoch Farm in "the country" following his marriage in 1855, he must have felt like he was living the American dream. For the first time, he owned a home and the surrounding land (lots of it). The farm was a microcosm of America at the time, with servants and slaves to keep the farm functional. And yet Murdoch freed his slaves before the Civil War ended, and set them up with land and the means to sustain it.

But as sometimes happens, Murdoch's dream turned into a nightmare. Whether through poor management, bad real estate investments, a declining economy - or maybe a combination of all those things - John Murdoch forfeited the business when his friend and partner, Charles Dickson, died. And then he lost his home and farm, literally on the court house steps. For all intents and purposes, he was destitute when he died in 1880, leaving his wife Julia to continue raising their six children on her own.

Murdoch Farm, however, took on a life of its own. The property which once provided solace to a single family began to offer city dwellers an opportunity to live in a country environment filled with fresh, clean air, quiet streets, local dairy products and produce. It presented a sanctuary for German immigrants seeking a place to worship in their native tongue. A building once home to the sounds of the Murdoch family was occupied with voices raised in prayer. From its start as Shrewsbury Park in the late 1890s, home to a few dozen families, the community of Shrewsbury is now filled with many churches, schools, businesses and over 6,000 residents. John Murdoch, as a businessman engaged in many real estate transactions, would be impressed with the development that has occurred on the land he once cultivated. There may no longer be any crops, but a strong sense of community has grown in the area.

I'll leave you with the poem written about Shrewsbury Park in 1890. I think John Murdoch would have appreciated the sentiment.

Shrewsbury Poem

Friday, February 27, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 27

Shrewsbury Park 1909
By 1909, the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Subdivisions of Shrewsbury Park had been platted. They are outlined in blue on the 1909 map to the left.

On March 21, 1913 a petition signed by 116 residents of Shrewsbury Park was filed with St. Louis County, asking that Shrewsbury be incorporated as a city of the fourth class. It is possible that Shrewsbury Park had previously incorporated as the village of Shrewsbury. If that was the case, then an incorporated village in the State of Missouri was required to have at least 200 residents in order to file for incorporation. If the town had not incorporated as a village first, a minimum of 500 residents was required before filing to become a city. There needed to be at least 3,000 residents in order for it to file as a Third Class city. The population of Shrewsbury did not reach 3,000 until the 1950 census. Signatures of two-thirds of the adult population were required for incorporation. Those favoring incorporation believed that the town was not getting sufficient fire and police protection, and that they would not get better streets, if they were only served by St. Louis County.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a formal protest containing the signatures of 38 residents was filed on April 14th in opposition to the signed petition. Those opposing incorporation felt that St. Louis County could do more for the citizens than they could do on their own. It is interesting to note that 116 (the number of citizens who signed the petition to incorporate) is not two-thirds of 200, assuming that Shrewsbury was a village and had a minimum of 200 residents in 1913. Because it was not yet incorporated, the town does not appear in the 1910 census so there is no good indicator of the population in 1913. Protest notwithstanding, Shrewsbury was incorporated in 1913. By 1920, its population had reached 845.

Shrewsbury incorporation

For all of his glowing remarks about the beauty, convenience, and health benefits of living in Shrewsbury, Charles Farrar, one of the founders of Shrewsbury Park, never moved out of the City of St. Louis. He died in 1947 at the age of 90.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 26

Shrewsbury Lake
The Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company had gone to great lengths and expense to develop a community that would entice city dwellers to move to the country. Shrewsbury Park was laid out very much to resemble a park, complete with lakes, waterfalls, springs, spring houses, rustic bridges, pagodas and walkways.

As such, they put restrictions on what could and could not be built in the community in order to preserve the integrity of the design of the development. Within the deeds transferring ownership were the following provisions:

FIRST, Not to erect or permit to be erected, occupied or used on said property any livery stable, tannery, dram shop or saloon, slaughter house, public cattle shed, dairy, bone yard, glue factory nor any building or edifice designed or intended to be used for such purpose or purposes; and not to open or permit to be opened on said property any quarry or to establish any brickyard or any other similar businesses; also not to establish, maintain or permit any nuisance of any character on or adjacent to said property, and not to erect any building on said property to cost less than Fifteen Hundred (1500) Dollars when finished.

SECOND, When a building is erected on said property the front of said building is to be not less than Twenty (20) feet distant from the line of the street on which said lot of ground fronts; but this provision shall not apply to the foundations of pillars or open porches or verandas which may be built upon the front of said residence.

THIRD, It shall be lawful for any other person or persons owning any lot or or part or parts of lots in any of the subdivisions of Shrewsbury Park, in behalf of and for the benefit pf either themselves or the said owner or owners, or for any or either of them to prosecute any proceeding or proceedings at law or in equity against a person or persons infringing or attempting to infringe, or omitting to perform or to keep, observe, or abide by said provision or provisions, for the purpose of preventing them from so doing, or collecting damage for such infringement or omission, or both.

Shrewsbury Park lawsuit
The third provision was invoked by two Shrewsbury Park residents, Charles H. Lillington and George H. Toehber, when they felt that some of their neighbors were in violation of the first provision. As this July 1, 1904 article in The St. Louis Republic states, the two men filed a petition with the St. Louis County Circuit Court requesting the the houses of nine of their neighbors be torn down due to violating the requirement that all buildings cost at least $1,500 to construct. Lillington and Toehber contended that the nine homes in question cost less than half that amount to build. The two men wanted these home either torn down or forced to comply with the $1,500 stipulation. The outcome of the lawsuit is unknown, but it must have made for an uncomfortable relationship between the men and their neighbors regardless of how the suit turned out.

"If you want to annoy your neighbors, tell the truth about them." ~ Pietro Arentino

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 25

John Priest's Death
When John Murdoch appointed John G. Priest to take over as administrator of the estate of Murdoch & Dickson following the death of his partner, Charles K. Dickson, in 1871, he probably never imagined the problems the assignment would cause for the next twenty plus years. John Priest died on July 4, 1900, and The St. Louis Republic newspaper on July 10, 1900 wrote an article that proclaimed "More Litigation Now in Prospect. J.G. Priest's Death Probably Will Cause New Proceedings in Murdoch and Dickson Case." The headline went on to read "It Was in His Charge for More Than Twenty Years-Many Suits Filed, but Settlement Not Reached." The estate of Murdoch and Dickson had $5,000 remaining in its accounts, and numerous plaintiffs, including the heirs of Charles K. Dickson, had filed suit to get the money released.

March 17, 1901, The St. Louis Republic reported that three lawsuits had been filed in connection with the administration of the Murdoch & Dickson estate. The article reiterated that this estate had been in litigation since the death of Charles Dickson in 1871. The new administrator of the estate, William C. Richardson, brought the suits against the Terminal Railway Association, the Mississippi Valley Trust Company and T. S. Evans and the Vornbrook Furniture Company. The suits all stemmed back to property that had been sold by the then-administrator of the estate, John Priest. The Richardson claimed that Murdoch had no authority to appoint Priest back in 1871, and therefore the  property transactions handled by Priest should be declared null and void. Two more lawsuits followed in May of 1901.

March 17, 1901
May 19, 1901

The case regarding the legitimacy of John Murdoch appointing John Priest as administrator of the estate, which impacted the above referenced lawsuits as well as others, began in the St. Louis Circuit Court on October 5, 1905. The case was appealed and went to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1914, where it was ruled that Murdoch had inappropriately assigned Priest to handle the estate.

October 6, 1905

The estate of John Priest, in the meantime, was having legal issues of its own. Following Priest's death, the Mississippi Valley Trust Company, as trustee for Sophia M. Capitain, Manette Capitain, Ringrose J. Capitain, Isabella Capitain and Chouteau Capitain filed suit against Ella B. Priest, Administratrix of the estate of John G. Priest, deceased, Auguste L. Priest, Warren G. Priest, John G. Priest, Jr., Virginia C. Priest, Annie Priest, Mark Priest, Chouteau Priest, Maude Priest and Ella B. Priest. John G. Priest was appointed trustee for the Capitains for the trust of Ringrose J. Watson, which was dated October 6, 1869. When Priest was removed as trustee in October of 1899, he was ordered to pay over to the new trustee the trust funds remaining in the estate. It was alleged that Priest received large sums of money belonging to the estate, but that he had not provided an accounting to the trust. He also did not turn over the funds as required upon his removal as trustee. The Court on January 27, 1902, ordered Ella Priest to pay the Capitains $5,100 plus six percent interest.

The allegations in the Capitain lawsuit sound suspiciously like John Priest's dealings with the Murdoch & Dickson estate.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 24

In addition to selling off some of the old Murdoch Farm to the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1895, the Shrewsbury Park and Land and Improvement Company was having incredible success with individual lot sales as well. The following appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 11, 1895:

"The demand for suburban property continues. Farrar & Tate reported Saturday that during the past four weeks they had sold 300 lots in Shrewsbury Park. At present thirty new residences are being erected in this beautiful sub-division."

The 300 lots had an average price of $100 each, reflecting sales of $30,000 in a one month time period for the firm. Another article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 24, 1895 indicated that Farrar & Tate sold multiple lots the previous week totaling $5,425. This was despite what the newspaper described as, "Inclement weather during the week preventing agents from showing property to prospective buyers to good advantage..."

The Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company had tried to make it easy for people to get to the community by spending $5,000 to build their own station with a beautiful park nearby, filled with shade trees, shrubs, flowers, arbors and benches. As an additional enticement, they handed out free train tickets to those who would come and take a tour of the area.

Shrewsbury Station
Shrewsbury Station Park

booklet cover
A booklet about the community was put together to give to prospective   buyers. It included many sketches of the area and some of the houses that were being built. It also contained a map of Shrewsbury Park, shown below with the property delineated in black. That is roughly the same land once owned by John Murdoch. The booklet outlined all the positives of living in the country - fresh air, no smoke, soot or dust, less disease, fewer crimes, less noise and crowds, local farmers to deliver fresh milk, eggs and cheese, a property tax rate of $1 on every hundred dollars worth of personal  property versus a rate of $2.50 in the City of St. Louis, and no additional  special taxes.

Shrewsbury Park map

The Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company made it convenient to build once a lot was purchased by putting in a switch on the St. Louis and San Francisco railway line to get construction materials to Shrewsbury Park. They also had a stone quarry. Property owners were furnished with building stone at just what it cost to quarry the stone and deliver it to the building site. The Souvenir Shrewsbury booklet did its job by getting interested parties out to Shrewsbury Park. But the development done by the company and the quality of the houses that were constructed helped to make the sales.

Birds Eye View of Shrewsbury Park

Monday, February 23, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 23

St. Michael's Church 1897
The Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company sold off a portion of what was once Murdoch Farm on May 31, 1895 to Henry Muehlsiepen, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The sale included seventeen and a half 50' x 150' lots, including the land where Murdoch mansion was located. The price of the sale was $10,000. On this land St. Michael the Archangel parish was established for the German immigrants who wanted a church where Mass would be said in German. The mansion was used for services and a residence for the priest, and the first Mass was said on July 28, 1895. Construction on a church began immediately, and a new frame church was dedicated by Monsignor Muehlsiepen on October 17, 1897. The church, which sat 160 people, cost $1,800 to build.

Ursuline nuns started a parochial school and on September 2, 1895, the first classes were conducted for 46 students in the old slave quarters and wash house. Kindergarten and first grades took place at one end of the wash house while the nuns did laundry at the other end.  A rectory was built for the priest in 1909, and the nuns (by this time Notre Dame Sisters) moved into the mansion. Attendance at the parochial school was now 75 students, and classes were conducted in two rooms, one located in the mansion and the other in one of the slave quarters. A brick building containing four classrooms was built in 1915. Unfortunately, on June 21, 1920, lightning struck and destroyed the old stone Sisters' house. Murdoch mansion - circa 1855 - was no more.

Murdoch mansion 1895

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 22

Isaiah Williamson, owner of Murdoch Farm from 1878 until he sold it to James Farrar in 1888, died in Philadelphia on March 7, 1889 at the age of 86. He left an estate valued at over $10 million, which was primarily distributed to charities, though he did bequeath some cash to his siblings, nieces and nephews as he had no wife or children of his own. Part of the estate taken into consideration was the loan he had issued to Charles T. Farrar for the purchase of Murdoch Farm from James Farrar.

Charles T. Farrar
Charles Farrar was still involved in real estate, now owning the firm of Farrar & Tate with Frank R. Tate. Charles Farrar established the Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company for the purpose of developing the land once belonging to John Murdoch. Farrar served as President, Frank R. Tate as Secretary, and Seddon & Blair as attorneys. Later Tate was named Vice President, and Joseph E. Gorman joined the firm as Secretary.

Murdoch Farm was renamed Shrewsbury Park by the company, which quickly expended $25,000 in grading the streets, putting in sidewalks, and planting trees and shrubs. The May 29, 1888 St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the "location is well elevated on the 'Frisco, between Harlem Heights and Old Orchard, at an altitude that affords an extended view of the surrounding country."

On May 22, 1889 Charles Farrar and his wife, Nancy Gorman Farrar, sold the land they had purchased from James Farrar in 1888 to the Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company for $79,800. The first subdivision of Shrewsbury Park was platted on June 17, 1889 and subdivided into lots measuring 50' x 150', with the second, third and fourth subdivisions quickly following. Farrar and Tate were busy urging St. Louis residents who could pay $10 down and $10 a month to avoid "all the discomforts of the city, viz.: excessive taxation, noise, smoke, soot, heat in the summer, crowds, bad odors and infectious diseases" by moving to "the country", and specifically to the Shrewsbury Park subdivision laid out on the Murdoch Farm. The cost of each lot was $100. When the fourth subdivision was ready to be sold, the pricing was set at $5 down and $5 per month for the lots were that were located within the St. Louis City limits because they were subject to "excessive city taxes." Additionally,  Shrewsbury Park Land and Improvement Company paid the taxes for two years on the city lots.

Shrewsbury Train Depot
The real estate developers, Farrar and Tate, placed ads in the newspaper to entice city dwellers to come and visit Shrewsbury Park. The two men even commissioned Carroll F. Mulkey to compose music to charm the visitors. The result was the Shrewsbury Waltz. People from the city read the news releases supplied by Farrar & Tate, and they road the commuter trains for a first hand look at the property. There were fifty-six commuter trains each day, with a fare of six cents. The development company made the trip convenient by having a station built right in Shrewsbury Park. The Shrewsbury Train Depot was on the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company line.

St. Louis Exposition & Music Hall
Farrar and Tate were looking for ways to promote Shrewsbury Park, and they found an opportunity in the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association which held an annual exposition showcasing the achievements of the St. Louis area. Taking place in a building constructed in 1884 at a cost of $750,000, the autumn fair was very popular with locals and tourists alike. For their display in 1889, they created an exact reproduction miniature of Shrewsbury Park.

Shrewsbury Park miniature

Perhaps the exhibition paid off for them. On September 22, 1889 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported the sale of lots in Shrewsbury Park. Many transactions had taken place during the month, with sales totaling nearly $12,000.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 21

The estate of Charles K. Dickson was settled in 1890, and James Eads and Barton Bates were discharged as executors of the estate. The final settlement indicated that they were owed over $46,000, and there is nothing showing that they were ever paid for their services. The estate of Murdoch & Dickson was still open as of 1914, forty-three years following the death of Dickson, which necessitated the dissolution of the firm.

Isaiah Williamson
But what happened to Murdoch Farm, the 226-acre property that John Murdoch lost on the courthouse steps in 1878 due to his inability to pay the loan he took out against the property? Isaiah Williamson bought the farm at auction on Wednesday, May 22, 1878 for $23,000. Williamson, the man to whom Murdoch owed the money on the loan, was a Philadelphia businessman who began investing his money in real estate and promising enterprises. By 1880 he was one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia. Perhaps that is why he could hold onto property in the St. Louis area for the amount of time that he did. It is possible that he hired people to farm the lands in the meantime. Because it wasn't until April 2, 1888 - nearly ten years after he bought the farm - that he sold 222 and 577/1000 acres of the property to James S. Farrar through a Deed of Record at a price of $66,000. The remaining acres were exempt, with three acres going to the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Co., and 1/2 acre going to a Mrs. Bluitt because Murdoch had given the land to her. (It would be interesting to know if she was once one of the slaves that he owned.)

On that same day, a Deed of Trust indicates that James S. Farrar sold the property to Charles T. Farrar and James T. Blair as parties of the second part, with Isaiah Williamson as party of the third part. James S. Farrar was for a number of years a judge in the St. Louis County court system. In 1875 he then went into business with Charles T. Farrar, forming Farrar & Co. The business specialized in buying and selling real estate, collecting rents, and negotiating loans secured by real property.

Charles T. Farrar had big plans for the old Murdoch Farm.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 20

St. Louis City Hall 1885
John Murdoch and Charles Dickson were both deceased but the estate of their firm, Murdoch & Dickson, was far from settled. Murdoch had executed a deed on October 14, 1873, by which he conveyed to John Priest as assignee all of his own property as well as the property of Murdoch & Dickson for the benefit of the creditors following the death of Dickson earlier that year. Priest took possession of certain assets of Murdoch & Dickson on November 29, 1873. But he made no report, as assignee, until November 23, 1880. He had heard proof of claims, and claims to an amount in excess of $117,000 were proven against the estate. Assets of the alleged value of $40,000 came into the hands of Priest as assignee under the deed.

On December 15, 1888, Priest filed a petition in the circuit court of St. Louis for his final discharge, in which he admitted being in possession of $2,911.48. Exceptions to the report were filed by a creditor, and a lawsuit was filed. It was referred, and the referee reported that there was $9,782.58 in the hands of the assignee which should be distributed among creditors. The assignee excepted to this report, the St. Louis circuit court overruled these exceptions, and an appeal went to the appellate court. The appellate court resulted in a finding that there was $9, 632.58 in the hands of Priest, and mandated that the circuit court enter judgement against him for that sum.

Unfortunately, that was not the only lawsuit that had been filed against the estate. John Priest had filed suit around 1874 in the circuit court of St. Louis County against James B. Eads and Barton Bates as devisees of Charles K. Dickson (and executors of his will as well), to divest of them the title to all property held in trust by them under the last will of Charles K. Dickson which Murdoch and Dickson had owned jointly as partners. Dickson had a large quantity of real estate held in trust for his wife and children in accordance with the provisions of his will. The jointly held property would then be vested to Priest as the assignee of the partnership estate. Eads and Bates, as trustees under the last will and testament of Charles K. Dickson, responded by filing suit against John G. Priest, assignee of Murdoch & Dickson, and John J. Murdoch on the grounds that the suit by Priest did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and that the deed of assignment made by Murdoch to Priest was on its face absolutely void and of no force against the interest of Dickson in said firm of Murdoch & Dickson.

The lawsuits against the estate of Murdoch & Dickson were further complicated by the fact that no one was appointed to succeed Priest as administrator after he stepped down in 1888. No one was protecting the interests of the creditors or other plaintiffs in the suits. In 1895, the widow and children of Charles Dickson filed a petition in the probate court "In the manner of Murdoch & Dickson", praying that William C. Richardson, as Public Administrator of the City of St. Louis, take charge of the estate. On August 11, 1895, Richardson was ordered to take charge and custody of all the remaining estate of the late firm. When he left office, his successor Harry Troll was appointed administrator of the firm's estate. Troll continued to appear before the court in cases brought against the estate of Murdoch & Dickson until at least 1914.

In one particular case that was bought over a property dispute, the appellate court ruled that John Murdoch had no authority to make the assignment dated September 14, 1873 to Priest as assignee for the benefits of the firm’s creditors. This would no doubt have impacted any other lawsuits that were brought concerning issues at the time Priest was assignee from 1873 to 1888. Further, the court concluded the following:

“No fair-minded, disinterested court can read this record without coming to the conclusion that the affairs of this estate have been very poorly managed and administered, if not fraudulently, and especially by Priest. His dereliction of duty and dilatory methods, taken in connection with his poor and extremely unsatisfactory system of bookkeeping, if we may so dignify it by calling it bookkeeping, and his failure to collect and charge himself with all of the partnership assets, which the record discloses he had knowledge of, or was possessed by the means by which he could have known of their existence, and could have collected and charged himself with them had he discharged his duty in following up that information and knowledge.”

It appears that many of the litigants, creditors and heirs of the estate were long dead before things came to a resolution. One can only imagine what happened to the relationship between the Murdoch and Dickson families as these lawsuits were filed. Could the families who were once so close - Julia Murdoch was Charles Dickson's niece, and the Dicksons named one of their sons John Murdoch Dickson - survive the courtroom battles? It seemed they could, as the families who spent so much time together on earth are spending eternity together in the same burial plot.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 19

The 1880 United States Federal Census in St. Louis was taken after John Murdoch died. It lists 45-year-old Julia as the head of household, 21-year-old John Junior as a clerk in a dry goods store, 19-year-old Mary and 17-year-old Emma with no occupations, 15-year-old George as a clerk in a factory, 12-year-old William and 10-year-old Joseph as cash boys, a 28-year-old boarder named Edward Mosby as a clerk in a candy factory, and a 19-year-old servant named Jennie Breckenridge.

Julia Murdoch was getting by on the income of her children as well as taking in a boarder. Even the youngest boys were working in a store. The position of cash boy entailed carrying the money received by salesmen from customers to a cashier and bringing back the proper change. He might also wrap and deliver parcels, and perform other chores to keep the merchandise and the store clean.

In the 1882 Gould's St. Louis Directory, Julia, George and John Junior are living together at 1542 Chouteau. George is employed as a clerk at Taylor Manufacturing, and John as a clerk at Taggerty & Sons Auction Goods. William and Joseph, at the ages of 14 and 12, respectively, would have been living at the same address. It is possible that Mary lived there as well, but she is not listed in the Directory so she either was not employed, had moved away, or had died. Emma married Harry S. Collins in 1882. Harry was a 21-year-old printer who lived at 1540 Chouteau - right next door to the Murdochs. It appears that Emma was the only one of the Murdoch children to marry.

The family had reason to celebrate and grieve in 1884. On March 9th, Harry and Emma Collins gave birth to their first and only child, Roy Murdoch Collins. Then, on a sad note, John Junior died on November 3rd of capillary bronchitis. He was 26 years old. Burial took place in the same plot as his father at Calvary Cemetery. At the time of his death the family was living at 1318 LaSalle.

In 1885-1887, the Murdoch family was still residing in the same house. George, William and Joseph lived with Julia. But on January 10, 1887 Julia Murdoch died. Her obituary appeared on January 12th in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It read as follows:

                                                                                  Julia Murdoch
On Monday, Jan 10, 1887 at 10:50 p.m. Mrs. Julia A. Murdoch wid of the late John J. Murdoch and sister of Wm. L. Hull in the 52nd year of her age. The funeral will take place on Thurs the 13th at 10:30 a.m. from the residence, 1318 LaSalle St. to the Church of the Holy Angels, thence to Calvary Cemetery.

Holy Guardian Angels Church was located at 14th and LaSalle. The cornerstone was laid in 1866, and a school was established in 1897. The brick Gothic structure seated 450 people. The church was less than a block from where Julia and her boys were living. She was buried next to her husband.

Holy Guardian Angels Catholic Church

In the end, the Murdoch family was not destined to live long, healthy lives. As mentioned above, John Junior was 26 when he died. As for his siblings, George died at the age of 25 in 1891, William was 26 when he passed in 1893, and Joseph died in 1925 at the age of 55. All of the boys were buried by their parents in Lot 24 at Calvary Cemetery. Little is known about Mary. The last record of her was when she appeared in the 1880 census. Emma was the exception as she lived to be 71, with her death occurring in 1934. But her son Roy, the only grandchild of John and Julia Murdoch, died in 1909. He was 25 years old.

After 1934, the only thing that remained to show the Murdochs had lived in St. Louis was a street called Murdoch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 18

John Murdoch died on Wednesday, June 17, 1880, leaving behind his wife Julia and six children ranging in age from ten to twenty-one. Because his illness lasted for thirteen weeks, perhaps his death was not too surprising for his family and friends. Murdoch's funeral took place on June 20th. An extensive write-up about the proceedings appeared in the Globe-Democrat on June 21st.

                                                               DUST TO DUST.
                                   The Remains of John J. Murdoch Returned to Mother Earth.
    The remains of John J. Murdoch, who died on last Wednesday in the 66th year of his age, an old and much esteemed citizen of St. Louis, were consigned to the grave yesterday in Calvary Cemetery. The funeral took place from St. John's Church, corner of Sixteenth and Chestnut streets at 2 p.m., and was attended by a large number of the friends of the deceased. In the absence of Bishop Ryan, whom duty had called elsewhere, Rev. Father Michael McFaul recited the funeral services. At the conclusion he made a short address, saying that the deceased was well known to most persons present. They had read in the gospel of a certain merchant who had gone out to purchase pearls, and when he had found that which he desired, he bought it in exchange for all he possessed. This pearl was the Kingdom of God for which they had all been created, made better than mere animals, and with the higher object in view of possessing an inheritance in that kingdom. All things in this world had been created in order to assist man in working out his salvation. Their dear friend, whose body reposed in their presence, had purchased this pearl, the Kingdom of God. He served God faithfully, that God who was pleased to call him to His true worship many years ago, when as a convert he embraced the Catholic faith, and he showed his appreciation of God's goodness to him, for he made it his daily practice for years to go long distances in order to be present and participate in the offering of the holy sacrifice at the altar, in the old Cathedral on Walnut street. Although business cares of the world absorbed his attention to a great extent, yet he did not forget his duty to God and he won the pearl, and was then, it is to be hoped, enjoying his reward in heaven. They should profit by his example by imitating it; and they should pray for him, in accordance with the principle of the Catholic faith that it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead; they should pray for him lest he might be temporarily debarred from entering heaven until he shall have satisfied the divine justice; pray for him in pity, as the psalmist says, "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends, for the hand of the Lord has touched me." Mr. Murdoch was besides a charitable man. They should take example of him - the example of the good man breathed an aroma of blessedness - and they might hope to be like him among the elect of God in the house of eternity.
    The choir, which chanted the Gregorian requiem Libra as the coffin was taken into the church, again resumed the chant as it was borne out and placed in the hearse.
    The pall-bearers were J.S. Walsh, Thomas Richeson, Geo. W. Lewis, Geo. R. Robinson, H. W. Leffingwell, Judge Charles Speck, Falk Levy and W. H. Haggerty.
    Among the numerous persons who called at the late residence of the deceased, and afterward attended the services at the church, were W. A. Hargadine, John S. Cavender, John J. McCann, W. F. Crow, Peter A. O'Neil, A. B. Ewing, Willis J. Powell, Benj. E. Walker, W. O. Buchanan, H. Van Studdiford, T. S. Rutherford, W. H. Cozens, J. Baumgardner, T. T. Gantt, Francis Chenot and Charles Chenot.
    Rev. Father Tobyn, pastor of the old Cathedral on Walnut street, a personal friend of the departed, was present in the sanctuary of the church, wearing his surplice as a mark of respect.
    The funeral arrangements were under the management of Mr. Louis Bohle, undertaker, and were efficiently carried out.

The men listed above were attorneys, dry goods merchants and manufacturers, real estate brokers, railroad executives, auctioneers, men involved in mining in St. Louis and Colorado, and several who were instrumental in the founding of the Mercantile Library in St. Louis. Both Murdoch and Dickson played a part in the 1846 founding of the first library west of the Mississippi River. The mourners represented a cross-section of the multitude of interests Murdoch was involved in during his lifetime.

John Murdoch was buried at Calvary Cemetery, the second oldest cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Established in 1854, it is the final resting place of many of the founding settlers of St. Louis.
Dred Scott, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Tennessee Williams are all buried in Calvary. The grave for Murdoch is in Lot 24 at the cemetery - a lot which contains 20 graves. The lot was owned by Charles K. Dickson, who is also buried there along with members of his family. While there is a large marker and individual headstones for the Dickson graves, there is nothing marking the grave of Murdoch or his six family members who are buried beside him. There would have been no extra money for Julia to erect a monument to honor her husband. It was probably through the benevolence of the Dickson family that she even had a place to bury him. Julia was going to have to find a way to survive the loss of her husband and his income. How would she keep a roof over the heads of her six children?

Dickson monument

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 17

Having lost his house and farm on a loan default, John Murdoch was faced with the task of moving his family out of the only home they had ever known. John was 65 and Julia was 44 when they relocated to 201 S. 16th Street in the City of St. Louis. Their children were all still living with them at the time, and were the following ages: John-20, Mary-18, Emma-16, George-14, William-11, and Joseph-9. This new residence would have been a few blocks from the Union Depot building and approximately one and a half miles from his employment at O.J. Lewis & Co.

1880 map

Murdoch became ill in the spring of 1880. Following a bronchial infection lasting thirteen weeks, at 3:10 a.m. on June 17th, John Murdoch died at home. He was 65 years, 10 months and 7 days old at the time of his death. The June 18th issue of the Globe Democrat reported that "the funeral would take place Sunday, June 20, at 2 p.m., from his late residence, 201 S. Sixteenth St., to St. John's Church, Sixteenth and Chestnut, from thence to Calvary Cemetery. Friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend."

An obituary in the June 19th Globe Democrat told quite a story about John Murdoch, and the "Death of an Old and Honored Business Man."

    Another old and highly esteemed citizen has been called from his sphere of usefulness. John J. Murdoch died on Wednesday last, in the sixty sixth year of his age. He was one of the few remaining links that united the present generation with the past, and his loss will leave a blank that can not be filled.
    Mr. Murdoch was a native of New Jersey, and was born near the city of Philadelphia. In 1838, when an active and thorough going young man, he came to St. Louis, then little more than a village, and opened an auction house in connection with the late Charles K. Dickson, which for thirty years was one of the leading houses of the Mississippi Valley. The firm was dissolved by the death of Mr. Dickson, and was succeeded by that of O. J. Lewis & Co., which still exists, and with which the deceased was connected as chief auctioneer up to the time of his last illness. The firm of Murdoch & Dickson was one of the pioneers in the auction business in the West, but did not confine its operations to that single branch, engaging in numerous other enterprises for the development of the resources for the city and State. They were foremost in all movements of a public nature, taking a prominent part in the establishment of three or four insurance companies; in the management of the old State Bank and its successor Third National; the Wrecking Company, with Eads and Nelson as active coadjutors; the laying out of new additions to the city; the construction of the first railroad in which St. Louis was directly interested (the O. and M.), the North Missouri and the Pacific, and, finally, the great bridge across the Mississippi, of which their associate, James B. Eads, was the chief engineer. In these and many other important enterprises the firm of Murdoch & Dickson took a leading part, and made successful by their intelligence, forethought and energy.
    Mr. Murdoch was a quiet and unobtrusive man, but full of generous impulses, and charitable to a fault. His generosity extended to all classes of people, and his house was the seat of unbounded hospitality. One incident may be related as showing the unselfish character of the man. When the war broke out he was living on a large farm at Laclede Station, five or six miles west of the city, and was the owner of a considerable number of slaves. Foreseeing that slavery was doomed, although the President's emancipation proclamation had not as yet been issued, he brought all his negroes to the city, and, conducting them to the crossroads at Sixteenth and Market streets, he told them they were free to take whichever of the four roads they might choose, as he had no further claim upon them. All the negroes but one burst into tears, and begged to be taken back home, and the one who accepted the offer of freedom returned to the farm in less than a week. He then gave them lands and the means of cultivating them, and instructed them on how to take care of themselves.
    Mr. Murdoch was one of the most benevolent of men, and took a silent pleasure in doing good to his fellow men. Unostentatious, but firm of character, he was a friend and counselor of which any one might be glad to receive assistance and instruction.
                    His life was gentle, and the elements
                    so mixed in him that nature might stand up
                    and say to all the world, This was a man.
    As the father of a family he was ever kind and indulgent, and all who knew him intimately will never cease to regret his loss. He died as he had often expressed a wish to die - in the bosom of his family, surrounded by a few intimate friends. He died calmly and peacefully, and surely, if the spirits of the just meet the reward of good deeds done in the flesh, the soul of John J. Murdoch is now among the blessed.
    The funeral will take place this (Sunday) afternoon at 2 o'clock from St. John's Church, corner of Sixteenth and Chestnut streets.

St. John's Church, circa 1876

That was quite a send-off for John Murdoch.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 16

Pitzman's Atlas of St. Louis 1878
Pitzman's New Atlas of the City and County of Saint Louis, Missouri 1878 clearly shows the areas of land owned by John Murdoch at the time the survey was taken. Julius Pitzman was the St. Louis County surveyor until the split of the city from the county. At that time he became the surveyor for the City of St. Louis.

Outlined in red is the property of Murdoch. On the bottom part of the map you can see the areas that he had subdivided. Some of these lots may have been sold off by the time this survey was taken in 1878.

According to Gould's St. Louis Directory, in 1878 John Murdoch was still residing on his farm in St. Louis County. He remained employed by O.J. Lewis & Co. as an auctioneer.

On May 2, 1878 in St. Louis County Deed Book 6, page 485 a Trustee Sale was filed by Benjamin Farrar. It listed a property description of Murdoch Farm, including the 226 acres, mansion and outbuildings, and further stated that Murdoch was still residing on the premises. John Murdoch had not paid the loan, interest or taxes on the property, thus putting him in default. The document detailed the auction of Murdoch Farm to be held on May 22nd at the eastern front door of the St. Louis City Courthouse between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., where the auctioneer will "proceed to sell the above described property at public auction to the highest bidder for cash to satisfy said note and interest and taxes and the costs and expenses of executing said deed."  The Trustee Sale was published in the St. Louis Daily Journal twenty-one times, beginning on May 2, 1878 with the last insertion appearing on May 22, 1878.

Isaiah Williamson was the highest and last bidder, paying $23,000 for the land, and a Deed transferring the property to him was signed on May 22, 1878. The 226 acre farm, mansion and outbuildings of John Murdoch now belonged to Isaiah Williamson. Murdoch literally lost the farm on the courthouse steps.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 15

The fire that destroyed John Murdoch's barn on October 4, 1877 gave rise to a lawsuit that was filed on April 30, 1878. Franklin A. Dick filed suit against the Franklin Fire Insurance Company, which on April 24, 1874 issued a policy on the barn (and probably the other structures on Murdoch Farm as well). The policy, by its terms, insured F.A. Dick and Ben Farrar, trustees of Isaiah V. Williamson, against loss or damage by fire, to the amount of $3,500 on their interest under a deed of trust in a certain building in St. Louis County. The insurance company was contesting that Dick and Farrar had an insurable interest in the covered property.

The interest of Dick and Farrar in the insured premises was that of trustee under a deed of trust executed on May 1, 1871 by John J. Murdoch and wife to them, to secure a loan of $30,000 made by Isaiah V. Williamson to Murdoch for a period of five years. The interest rate was eight per cent per annum, payable semi-annually; the principal of debt being evidenced by a note of $30,000 due in five years, and the interest by ten notes for $1,200 each, maturing successively at every six months after the date of the loan.

May 1 1871 Deed of Trust

Among the other covenants of the grantors of the deed of trust was the following: “And also to keep the buildings on said premises insured for a sum of not less than $16,000, until said noted be paid, in a company or companies satisfactory to the party of the third part [Williamson], the policy or policies of insurance to be assigned or made payable to the party of the second part [Dick & Farrar], and the money collected thereon in case of fire, to be held until said building be rebuilt by said first parties [Murdochs], as collateral security for said note, and when rebuilt shall be applied in payment of such rebuilding. If such insurance be not kept up, the party of the third part may pay the necessary premium therefore, and all sums so paid shall be held secured by the deed of trust, for the repayment of which and ten per cent per annum interest thereon said premises may be sold as below provided. Any failure by said first party to comply with any of the provisions of this deed of trust shall, at the option of the third party, make said principal notes immediately due.”

The court ruled in favor of Franklin Dick, and Franklin Insurance Company appealed. The Missouri Court of Appeals on May 31, 1881 ruled that a trustee in a deed of trust in the nature of a mortgage has an insurable interest in the property covered thereby distinct from that of the mortgagor. The Missouri Appellate Court has held that the mere fact that, under the terms of a fire insurance policy, the loss is made payable to a third person, gives such person a prima facie interest in the insurance contract, although he may have no insurable interest in the property insured. "And where a debtor’s interest in property insured, the loss being made payable to the creditor, the latter has a valid interest in the insurance contract, the debtor being a mere trustee for him. The fact that an insurer had opportunity to inquire, if it wished, as to the interest of the assured, and that it issues him a policy, is prima facie evidence of his insurable interest, placing the burden on the insurer to disprove it."

Within the ruling of the appellate court was a new piece of information about Murdoch's financial situation.

Before the policy was written, namely the fifth day of May 1873, Murdock [sic] and his wife executed a second deed of trust, by which they conveyed the premises in question to Robert M. Renick, as trustee for David H. Armstrong, to secure the latter against a liability which he had incurred to the extent of over $30,000, as indorser for Murdock [sic]. Moreover, the answer alleges, and the reply does not deny - and it must, therefore, be taken as true - that on December 20, 1873, Murdock [sic] sold and conveyed all his right, title, and interest in and to the premises, to John G. Priest, and that Murdock [sic] has had no interest in the premises, or in any part of them, since that time. There is evidence that all the premiums necessary to keep the policy in force were paid by Dick and Farrar, but were repaid to them by Armstrong, the second mortgagee. 

When the deed of trust matured, namely, on May 1, 1876, Armstrong, to protect his own interest, entered into a written contract with Williamson, in which he assumed and agreed to pay the debt secured by the deed of trust, and by which Williamson extended the time of payment for two years longer, namely until May 1, 1878, at the same rate of interest, for which Armstrong gave to Williamson four notes for $1,200 each, maturing successively every six months thereafter.

It now appears that in addition to owing Isaiah Williamson $30,000 plus interest, Murdoch also was in debt to David H. Armstrong in an amount exceeding $30,000.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 14

According to notices in the St. Louis Republican, John Murdoch's farm and property were being auctioned off on the City of St. Louis courthouse steps on November 3, 1874. What happened on that day remains a mystery. Did no one come out to bid? Was there a minimum bid that did not get met? Or perhaps Murdoch came up with some money to keep the creditors at bay? What is known is that John Murdoch continued to work as an auctioneer for O.J. Lewis & Co., the firm that took over the business of Murdoch & Dickson, and his residence was still listed as Laclede Station in the 1875-1879 Gould's St. Louis Directories.

1876 map of St. Louis

St. Louis was undergoing some trying times of its own. Prior to 1877, St. Louis County included the City of St. Louis plus all the other areas within the county boundaries. The county seat was located in the City of St. Louis. But St. Louis City taxpayers decided in 1876 that they did not want to continue to support the cost of ongoing expansion in the county, and they voted to separate from St. Louis County. Often dubbed "The Great Divorce", the separation froze the boundaries of the City and at the time made it the only city in the United States not associated with a county. The population of St. Louis City in 1876 was 310,000 while the county had only 27,000 residents. John Murdoch now was working for a business in the city, while his residence came under the jurisdiction of the new county government center.

In 1877, John Murdoch once again appeared in the local newspaper. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on October 4, 1877 that there had been a fire at Murdoch's farm - the third such fire in as many years. The article states that the fires had each been of "mysterious origin." It further indicated that the barn was "partially insured."

Murdoch Farm fire

The fire in 1877 gave rise to a lawsuit in which more of the precarious financial situation of the Murdochs became revealed.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 13

As assignee of the estate of Murdoch and Dickson, John Priest was required by Missouri law to appoint a day, within six months after the date of his assignment (October 14, 1873), and a place where he would proceed to adjust and allow the demands against the estate. He was then required to give notice of the time and place through an announcement published in a newspaper in the county where the business and its inventory was located. The notice had to be published for three months prior to the date that Priest would be meeting with creditors. Below is the April 25, 1874 listing that was placed in the St. Louis Republican by John Priest. (He didn't quite make the six month deadline, but apparently no one challenged him on it.)

Assignee's Notice for Murdoch & Dickson
In essence, the notice was advising the creditors of the firm that they had three days to present evidence of money owed to them - April 28, April 29, and April 30, 1874 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Any claims made after that date would be "precluded from the benefit of said estate." It is important to note that the notice is accepting demands against the "estate of John J. Murdoch" as well as the "partnership estate of Murdoch & Dickson." 

Dickson's personal estate was not at risk here, which raises an interesting question. Partners are personally liable for the business obligations of the partnership. If the partnership cannot pay its debts, then the creditors can go after the partners' personal assets to satisfy them. So why was Murdoch's personal property at stake and not Dickson's? In fact, James Eads and Barton Bates filed a claim against the estate of Murdoch & Dickson on behalf of Charles Dickson's estate because the firm owed Dickson money at the time of his death. That claim was later disallowed by Priest "on the ground that a member of an insolvent firm cannot himself be a creditor of the Estate of the partnership in conflict with the interests of the general creditors." Normally a debt does not go away simply because the person who incurred the debt has died. Did Dickson structure his personal estate in such a way as to avoid any liability of the partnership?

As 1874 progressed there were more signs that John Murdoch was not recovering from the financial situation the insolvency of Murdoch & Dickson had placed him in. Here is part of an ad from the October 12, 1874 St. Louis Republican. The same ad was repeated in November 3, 1874.

Notice of sale of Murdoch Farm
The Murdoch Farm was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the courthouse stairs on November 3, 1874 between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The ad goes on to describe the 226 acres of land, stating the the sale includes the house where the Murdochs currently reside and the outbuildings on the property. 

St. Louis Courthouse circa 1870

How must that have felt? To know that you were about to lose the one thing people hold most dear - their home? And to have it done in the most public way possible?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 12

For two years John Murdoch handled the responsibilities of administering the Murdoch & Dickson partnership estate. But on October 14, 1873 he executed a deed of assignment of the partnership assets to John G. Priest for the benefit of creditors of Murdoch & Dickson. Through this assignment he undertook to convey to Priest as assignee all of his own property for the benefit pro rata of his individual creditors, and all of the property of the firm of Murdoch & Dickson for the benefit pro rata of the creditors of the firm. Subsequently in that same year, failing to obey an order of the court to give an additional bond as surviving partner, Murdoch was removed as administrator of the estate of Murdoch & Dickson. The Southwestern Reporter, in giving an overview of a lawsuit that was filed many years later, stated, "From the record facts before us, we have no doubt that the firm owed in excess of its assets and was insolvent."

James Eads and Barton Bates, as Trustees of the estate of Charles K. Dickson, were provided with the following accounting of the assets of the firm of Murdoch & Dickson. The amount of $93, 237.47 is shown, and a note below it states "subject to credits and debits." This was presumably provided to them by Priest.

Balance sheet of Murdoch & Dickson

John Priest, in the meantime, proceeded with his assignment, collecting assets, allowing claims, and disbursing moneys. Priest remained in the assignment capacity until 1888. At that time he applied for discharge from those responsibilities.

John Murdoch continued to work in the auctioneering business. A Tour of St. Louis or the Inside of a Great City by Joseph A. Dacus and James William Buel, published in 1878, had an accounting of the auctioneering firm of O.J. Lewis & Co.

In St. Louis there are several large auction houses, but the chief one among the many, representative of the West, is the immense house of O. J. Lewis & Co., No. 417 North Fifth Street. The present firm is the successor of Murdock & Dickson, who established business in 1836 at No. 204 and 206 North Main Street, at that time the center of the jobbing trade of the city, where they did a very large business. In the year 1873 Mr. O. J. Lewis purchased the entire interest in the concern, when the name of the firm was changed to its present title.

Because Murdoch & Dickson was in the process of liquidation, it would be interesting to know what, exactly, O.J. Lewis was able to purchase in 1873. Perhaps it was just the expertise of John Murdoch, as future city directories have him listed as working as an auctioneer with O.J. Lewis & Co. Lewis experienced great success with the business, moving it to a six story building consisting of twenty-seven thousand square feet.

While it must have been exciting to work for a company experiencing such growth, one can only imagine what it was like for Murdoch, who had always been his own boss, to no longer be the one calling the shots.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 11

St. Louis had a population of 310,864 residents in 1870, an increase of 93% over the 1860 census! It was now the fourth largest city in the United States, behind Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. The next decade would show a continuation of impressive development in St. Louis. The City's limits reached 17.98 square miles, with a record high 58 subdivisions platted in 1870. Improvements in machinery caused industries to boom in North America, and St. Louis was no exception. This brought another influx of immigrants to the area, predominantly Germans and Irish. By 1870, Lemp Brewery was the largest brewery in St. Louis and controlled the lion's share of the market, and St. Louis became the first American city to legalize prostitution.

With the death of his business partner early in 1871, these things were probably of little concern to John Murdoch as he fought to save his business. Because Murdoch & Dickson was established as a partnership, the company dissolved on the day that Dickson died. On March 31, 1871, Murdoch qualified as surviving partner to administer the partnership estate in the probate court of the City of St. Louis. He posted a bond in the amount of $125,000, with James B. Eads and Barton Bates as sureties. (These same two men were handling the estate of Charles Dickson.) Shortly thereafter he filed an inventory of the assets of the business with the probate court.

Unfortunately, at this point in time the liabilities outweighed the assets of the company. Dickson himself was owed over $84,000 at the time of his death, and the firm was also indebted to James Eads in the amount of $34,000 and $5,000 to Barton Bates. The total indebtedness of the company was around $280,000. It is uncertain how the firm came to be in such dismal financial straights, but Murdoch was committed to trying to pay off the debt. This came at a cost to his personal financial situation.

On May 1, 1871 John and Julia Murdoch signed a Deed of Trust with Franklin A. Dick and Benjamin Farrar as parties of the second part, and Isaiah V. Williamson of the City of Philadelphia as party of the third part. Benjamin Farrar was an attorney and also Assistant Treasurer of the United States in St. Louis, and Franklin Dick practiced law in St. Louis as well. Isaiah Williamson owned a dry goods store in Philadelphia, and died a multi-millionaire in 1889. The purpose of the deed was to guarantee a $30,000 loan that was taken out on Murdoch Farm.  The loan was for a period of three years at an interest rate of 8%. Three parcels of land are outlined in the deed, consisting of 226.077 acres. One of the three parcels included the house where the Murdochs made their home and the farm's outbuilding. In the event that Murdoch failed to make a payment of the principal or interest, or to properly insure the property, the land was to be sold at public auction to the highest bidder.

John Murdoch was losing his business. Would he be able to hold onto his land?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 10

Dickson headstone
While selling off parts of his farm would have been difficult, John Murdoch must have been devastated by the news he received on January 26, 1871. His business partner of several decades, Charles K. Dickson, died at the age of 54. He left behind his wife Mary, age 49, and six children ranging in age from 10 to 21. At the time of his death, his mother-in-law Margaret Thomas, and four servants were also living with the family. The 1870 census indicated that the value of Dickson's real estate was $280,000 and his personal estate was $250,000. Mary Dickson is shown with a real estate value of $65,000.

Dickson was very well-known in St. Louis not only for his association with the firm of Murdoch & Dickson, but also because his enterprises extended in many directions, sometimes with John Murdoch and sometimes without. He was a leading stockholder, director and officer of the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company, contributed to the success of nearly all the railroad companies, was part of the syndicate that purchased the State Bank of Missouri and converted it into the National Bank of the State of Missouri and was Vice President of the bank until his death.

Construction of Eads Bridge
He was President of the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Company, formed by James Eads to construct a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River. Dickson invested heavily in this company in addition to being one of the largest stockholders of the bridge. The cornerstone of the bridge was laid on February 25, 1868. At the time it was the longest arch bridge ever built. It was also unique in that it was the first structure of any kind to make extensive use of steel. Dickson did not live to attend the opening ceremony on July 4, 1874 but James Eads invited his daughter Josephine Dickson Walsh to lead the 15-mile long parade, observe the speeches, and attend the fireworks display.

At the time of his death, Dickson was also a director in the Third National Bank; the North Missouri Railroad; the Brunswick, Chillicothe and Council Bluffs Railroad; the Tower Grove Railway Company; and the People's Railway Company. He was also President of the Granby Lead Mining Company.

His death notice took up three columns in the newspaper, and concluded by stating:

Mr. Dickson was not only a man of rare abilities, but he was also a thoroughly honest man, and with all so modest and retiring, that we doubt not that many who knew him well will learn with surprise that his magic hand supported and vitalized many of the public works we have above enumerated. The death of such a man is a great public calamity.

Many St. Louisans would feel the loss of Charles Dickson.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 9

The portion of the Pitzman's 1868 map of St. Louis pictured below shows some of the property in St. Louis County that was owned by John Murdoch, as well as a piece of land held by Murdoch & Dickson.

Murdoch Farm 1868

Murdoch's Farm was described in John Thomas Scharf's book, History of St. Louis City and County as containing orchards in addition to farmland, and Murdoch himself was mentioned in the section of the book discussing Richard J. Lockwood, who lived near Murdoch.

John Murdoch

Despite his apparent skills in business and farming, in 1869 Murdoch had his land surveyed and platted his farm. On April 28, 1869 an ad appeared in the real estate section of the Missouri Democrat offering the 350 acres of Murdoch Farm, divided into about five acres each, for sale at auction on May 10th. The ad read, in part, "This property is that high and beautiful ground south of Laclede Station by the property of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart....Is all under fence and mostly in cultivation and is the well known farm of John J Murdock. The mansion and the fifty acres of ground will be reserved and the balance sold to the highest bidder."

While some of the acreage sold, the vast majority of it did not, at least in 1869. The 1870 census indicated that John Murdoch, at age 55, was still living in St. Louis County with his 34-year-old wife, Julia. They had the following children: John age 11, Mary age 8, Emma age 6, George age 4, William age 2, and Joseph age 3 months. There are also four female servants listed, but no laborers. Murdoch's profession was listed as merchant, with real estate valued at $125,000 and $4,060 in his personal estate.

The firm of Murdoch and Dickson was still listed in the 1870 Edwards St. Louis Directory as being located at 204 & 206 N Main, and Murdoch was shown residing at Laclede Station Road P.R.R., reinforcing that he was still living on the farm.

On May 20, 26 & 30, 1870 postings appeared in the Missouri Republican advertising the sale of lots at Murdoch Farm. The number of available acres listed is 260, down from the originally advertised 350.

May 20th ad

May 20th ad continued

May 26th ad
May 30th ad

It is interesting to note that in the May 30th ad, the real estate auctioneers were serving lunch to anyone who came to look at the property. By September, lots were still be sold as indicated in this listing of Real Estate Transfers in September 26, 1870 Missouri Republican.

September 26, 1870
These two lots contain over 7 acres, and sold for $928. This transfer did not fall within the confines of the advertisements, which indicated that lots would be sold in 5 acre increments. These lots were located just south of what appears to be the actual farm land on the 1869 plat, so perhaps that is the explanation for the variance of acres sold.

Little by little, the life's work of John Murdoch was being whittled away. In 1871 he would lose something much more important to him and his family than the land they were living on.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 8

St. Louis circa 1870, Murdoch & Dickson offices at #9 on map

The financial status of St. Louis was certainly impacted by the Civil War. The war years brought a cessation of river traffic, resulting in St. Louis being cut off from its traditional and most lucrative markets in the south. This in turn harmed the local businesses. The decrease in steamboat traffic particularly caused the downtown levy to decline in importance at St. Louis. After forty years of nearly uninterrupted growth, this was traumatic for the city.

Additionally, there were allegations of impropriety within the U.S. Army Quartermaster's office under the command of Justus McKinstry. His administration was accused of fraud and abuse, with local businessmen bearing the brunt of the corruption. As the firm of Murdoch & Dickson was engaged in supplying everything from clothes to shoes and boots to dry goods, it is highly possible that the firm was a victim of this deception. Their real estate investments would also be a problem due to the fact that the war brought a virtual halt to construction in St. Louis.

1867 Deed
The first inkling of trouble for the firm came in the form of a deed that was entered on May 29, 1867. Charles and Mary Dickson along with John and Julia Murdoch were the parties of the first part, and James Eads and Charles Stevens were parties of the second part. Party of the third part was Barton Bates. Murdoch and Dickson owed Bates $25,000, and they did not have the resources to pay him back. A lot in Block 89 of the City of St. Louis was conveyed to Eads and Stevens to be held in Trust on behalf of Murdoch and Dickson. If the $25,000 was paid to Bates in five, $5,000 notes plus 8% interest, then the land would convert back to Murdoch and Dickson. If the payments were not made, then the land would be sold by Eads and Stevens at auction to satisfy the debt.

James Eads was an important businessman in St. Louis, having arrived in the city was he was just thirteen years old. A self-taught engineer, he began his business life by rescuing wrecked boats and cargo from the Mississippi River. This proved to be lucrative as insurance companies would pay him a percentage of any recovered goods. He then put these skills to work constructing ironclad gunboats for the War Department during the Civil War. In 1867, he formed an organization dedicated to building a bridge across the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Charles Dickson was very instrumental in the organization, which is probably the reason that Eads got involved in this Deed.

But it is this quote from the 1991 book Yankee Merchants and the Making of the Urban West by Jeffrey Adler that offers the best explanation of why a firm with the successful record of Murdoch & Dickson discovered its foundation crumbling around it.

Would the firm be able to recover from the disaster encountered by the east coast investor?