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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri • Page 61

Location:
St. Louis, Missouri
Issue Date:
Page:
61
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 1979 ST. LOUIS POST" DISPATCH Jake McCarthy Murder City Leaving A Home Martha Carr Peer Panel Page 2 Page 2 Page 3 Page 3 Page 5 page fivohot line may 4 in it 1 -1 i i I 1 -r tut i i I 4 w-wm I 1 Nelson on the northwest corner of Jefferson Road and Hale Avenue in Edwardsville. Story by Jerri Stroud Photos by Lynn Spence Of tha Prat-Dispatch Staff LECLAIRE, once a daring experiment in industrial socialism, seems quite unremarkable today. The quiet, residential neighborhood blends almost imperceptibly into southern Edwardsville. Homes in Leclaire are relatively small, mostly frame and unpretentious.

There are similarities, but the buildings are hardly uniform. Even founder Nelson 0. Nelson's home is only two stories; its imposing two-story columns were added after he left Leclaire. The factory buildings have been taken over by Southern Illinois University and the Academy by the Edwardsville School District. The area hardly seems typical of those on the National Register of Historic Places.

But at the turn of the century, Leclaire attracted international attention along with Nelson, a pioneer of the labor co-partnership, a form of profit-sharing in which laborers receive stock in their workplace. Leclaire was built as an experiment in that copartnership, and it is this link that recently put the area on the National Register. "Leclaire was a laboratory for Mr. Nelson to test out his social and economic ideas," said Carl Lossau, professor of earth science, geography and planning at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Lossau helped document Leclaire's historical significance for the National Register and is now working on a book about the area.

Nelson was a firm believer in laborers sharing in profits and ownership of their workplace, Lossau explained. He also believed in applying the Golden Rule in business. Workers, treated fairly and provided with their basic needs, Nelson believed, would treat him fairly and live peaceably. Nelson, a Norwegian immigrant, made his fortune by taking over management of a St. Louis plumbing concern, expanding the business from near-bankruptcy to a multimillion-dollar operation in a few short years, Lossau said.

But labor turbulence in the 1880s disturbed Nelson. His plumbing business, which by then was a national concern, was crippled by strikes on the western railroads. Rather than express bitterness toward labor for the strikes, Nelson became concerned with social conditions of workers. He also became active in wage-earners' self-culture clubs in St. Louis.

Working men in these clubs were encouraged to improve their lot through participation in eduational and social activities. Many clubs had their own halls for lectures and dances. In 1887, after a long railroad strike, Nelson first announced a profit-sharing program for his employees. Nelson was an innovator in working conditions at his firm as well as in profit sharing. His was one of the first firms to adopt the 8-hour work day.

There were regular holidays and he provided ice water for workers in summer. In the same period, Nelson read a book about the cooperative movement in England, and he became interested in labor co-partnership. He began thinking about implementing such a partnership in America. In 1888, he visited the House of Leclaire in France, a labor copartnership of house painters that is the namesake of Nelson's Leclaire. In 1889, he told his workers at their St.

Louis plant that he was looking for a location nearby to set up a community based on co-partnership. The workers were enthusiastic about the idea, so Nelson forged ahead. After looking at several sites in Illinois and Missouri, Nelson chose an area south of Edwardsville. The citizens of Edwardsville were so anxious to attract the community that they raised $20,000 to buy land. They agreed to deed the land to Nelson as he developed factories and homes there.

Ground was broken in June 1890. Nelson brought over workers from his St. Louis plants for a celebration. Many moved to Leclaire as the factory buildings were completed and lots became available. Nelson, by then active in the ethical culture and social welfare movements, named his streets for leaders in social reform of the late 19th century, including Edward Everett Hale and George Holyoake, a leader of the British cooperative movement.

Other street names reflect Nelson's other intellectual idols, such as Ruskin, Emerson, Jefferson and Franklin. Leclaire was laid out in two districts, a residential area designed by Julius Pitzman and a factory district, designed by E.A. Cameron, architect of the Old Post Office in St. Louis. Pitzman was the chief engineer of Forest Park.

He also laid out many of St. Louis' private places. Pitzman's influence can be seen in Hale and Holyoake, two curving streets, and at Leclaire Lake and its surrounding park. He was responsible for deeds restricting building in the residential area to homes and schools and requiring a uniform setback. In the northern section of Leclaire were the factory buildings, now owned by SIU and used as art studios, 1 tV (rn T'rn i mm-i-n ir-rrif -I i 11 mm 11 nlr' if 'J, IT i Nelson Manufacturing Co.

electric power during outages. That agreement allowed Nelson to keep peace with Edwardsville, which resented Leclaire's independence. The area did not join the city until the 1930s, well after Nelson's death in 1922. Nelson sponsored annual picnics for Leclaire residents and workers in his St. Louis plants, and he regularly took Leclaire residents' children to the World's Fair and other St.

Louis sights. He also brought inner city children to Leclaire for a week or two each summer. Nelson remained in Leclaire until the teens, when he left for New Orleans, where he started a group of cooperative groceries. He eventually left New Or Professor Carl Lossau at Leclaire Lake. tm0 i A view of the house built by Nelson O.

maintenance shops and other offices. The buildings included shops for brass, woodworking and marble. Nelson's firm specialized in plumbing supplies for commercial users, including marble sink tops common in many old St. Louis buildings. His factories made the plumbing fixtures for the Missouri building at the St.

Louis World's Fair. The factories were phased out after World War II, when N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Co. was bought out by an aircraft firm. Between the factory area and the homes are the Academy building now used for maintenance by the Edwardsville school district and Leclaire playing field, east of Illinois Route 159 at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad crossing.

The Academy is a rectangular building, with geometric window panes and a mansard roof. It is visible from Route 159 southeast of the playing It was the focal point of Leclaire. It housed a self-culture club for the laborers and a school from kindergarten through high school grades. Dances were held there regularly. "There seemed to be something going on all the time," said Lossau.

Nelson even experimented with a work-study plan to allow laborers to complete their high school diplomas while working in his factories. Lecturers who spoke at the Academy included St. Louis dignitaries as well as such famous persons as social reformer Jane Addams and socialist clergyman George Herron. Newspaper correspondent Nellie Bly visited Leclaire and compared it favorably with Pullman, the company town built by the Pullman company. "People were happy with Leclaire and she made that point," said Lossau.

"This was not a company town as such," said Lossau. Nelson encouraged anyone who wanted to live in Leclaire to buy a lot. And he offered outsiders the same low prices as he offered his workers, although he charged his workers no interest on the lots and allowed them to build homes for each other at cost. Most homes in Leclaire were built by workers under Nelson's at-cost offer. They are frame with few exceptions, and mostly 1 stories.

Most are simple, with porches, some stained glass and an occasional turret as ornament. Somewhat grander is the house that leans for the same reason he left Leclaire. Both were too successful for his socialistic thinking. The cooperative groceries became profitable, not just a money-saver for consumers, and Leclaire became a solid neighborhood of workers and the middle class. Nelson then went to California, where he lived for a time with Upton Sinclair.

He died there in 1922. Many descendants of workers at Nelson's factories still live in Leclaire or surrounding areas of Edwardsville, including the city treasurer and one of its aldermen, said Lossau. Many of the homes are just as they were in Nelson's day, and that helped put the area on the National Register, he said. Today's Leclaire residents are working hard to preserve the area's heritage and its quiet residential character, said homeowner Daniel J. Anderson.

Anderson and his wife, both potters, have been restoring their home for the last eight years. He teaches ceramics at SIU, using studios in the old Leclaire factory buildings. Anderson said the residents formed the Leclaire Neighborhood Association partly in response to efforts last year to rezone the area for commercial development. Illinois 159, a major north-south route, cuts through the area. They eventually won a court decision blocking the rezoning.

"My father taught me right from wrong," said Anderson, "and when you drive along Troy Road from the railroad tracks to Montclaire (a shopping center) and it's all residential, that seems like the way it's supposed to be." Many Leclaire residents were reluctant to join the association during the court battle, but now the association has 400 members. The group is involved in numerous neighborhood projects, including volunteer repairs on homes belonging to elderly Leclaire residents. Anderson said the association hopes Leclaire's recognition as a historic district will help in obtaining grants to buy the old Academy building from the Edwardsville School District to use as a museum. He said several residents of the area worked in Leclaire's factories and have artifacts they would donate. The association plans a picnic at 2 p.m.

Oct. 21 along Leclaire Lake, with demonstrations of pottery and other crafts along with a presentation by old-time Leclaire residents about the area's past. Vv Art One of the factory buildings of the N.O. Nelson built for himself on Jefferson Road. Its two-story columns, however, were added after Nelson sold it.

In 1910, Nelson advertised lots for $3 down and $2 a week in a circular entitled, "A City of Happy Homes." In it, he bragged that the city had no taxes, no government and no policemen nor need of any. "It consists of nothing but good will and common sense mankind may copy it and will. Its homes are the castles of upright people and beautiful children." Nelson provided water lines, sewers, electricity and fire protection. He helped the city of Edwardsville obtain an adequate water supply and worked out an agreement for supplying the city with i 7 The Academy is now a maintenance building..

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