Bissell House 2002 - page 2
Candlelight Bissel House offers mix of holiday, history Continued from page 1 player in the Revolutionary War, fought in the French and Indian Wars and in the War of 1812 and commanded Fort Bell Fontaine, which is just up the road from the Bissell House. The New England native count ed Meriwether Lewis and Wil liam Clark and former Sen. Thomas Hart Benton as friends. He knew the explorer, Zebulon Pike and Lafayette, the great French general. Some of the treasures inside the house include: a portrait of Bissell; his original military com mission that includes the signa-tures of Colonial-era heavyweights George Washing ton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; Bissell's old sword, flintlock rifle and military insigni-as; lots of period furniture; and plenty of other antiques. Tell us what's happening; If your group is planning an activity, the North Post is interested in hearing ibout it for the What's Happening column. Items for this column should be sent at least two weeks before publication date to Kim Taylor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 900 North Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, Mo., 63101. Fax: 340-3058. Items must include time, date, place and address, phone, sponsor and admission charge or fee. "What I like about the house is that it isn't roped off everywhere," Cordell Webb said. "You can really get close to what you want to see." The St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation runs Bissell House. A direct descendant of Bissell donated the house to the county in the mid-1960s. Carolyn McDonnell, wife of aircraft baron William McDonnell, did much of the early refurbishing and acquiring of antiques. Most of the original furniture went up in smoke a long time ago. Bissell's daughters decided that the old chairs and sofas were so dilapidated that they set fire to them in the back yard after their father's death. J.D. Magurany, director of the Bissell House and one of the general's great admirers, refuses to criticize the girls for their scorching stunt. "To them, it was just old furniture, and that's how you got rid of old furniture," he said. McDonnell set about finding antique furniture to fill the house. well put it in the paper "The house is really a tribute to Bissell's time and to his family. Some of the items are pretty amazing. Where else can you see a document with the signatures of Washington, Jefferson and Madison outside of a museum on the East Coast?" J.D. Magurany, director of the Bissell House The Bissell family donated several pieces, including the general's old military desk, which will be going on loan to the Missouri History Museum as part of its Lewis and Clark exhibition. Visitors also can look at the collection of old fans and ornate clocks that depict other great houses, such as Washington's Mount Vernon and Jefferson's Monticello. "When the restoration work began, Mrs. McDonnell wanted to find items that would bring people to the house and get them interested," Magurany said. "The house is really a tribute to Bissell's time and to his family. "Some of the items are pretty amazing. Where else can you see a document with the signatures of Washington, Jefferson and Madison outside of a museum on the East Coast?" Electricity, upgraded heating and modem bathrooms were added in 1934. Magurany still is not sure about stories that a golf course once made up part of Bissell's original 2,300-acre estate. The Bissell property is about nine acres today. The family, land-rich and cash-poor, sold the estate piece by piece through the years to make way for farms and, later, subdivisions. The house gets swept and dusted daily. A new roof was installed this spring. Workers also took care of some tuckpointing. "This place is so cool and so beautiful," said Julie Hanheide of north St Louis County. Her husband, Dave, said, "It's always been in good shape." Of course, keeping the house in such immaculate condition takes money, and the county is going through a budget cut. Several parks-department workers were recently let go. That means that tours of the Bissell House will be by appointment only. Special events, such as the Craft Fair, will continue. Weddings, a big moneymaker for the Bissell House, will go on. Magurany encourages history buffs to take a tour. "Thaf s the best way for people to show support for the house," Magurany said. "We want to serve people in the best way that we can."