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200 Years of Property Owners Haunt Writer

It's pronounced Lau, which rhymes with cow, and meier, which rhymes with higher.

A lot has changed while I was away from St. Louis over the past 35 years. Occasionally, I'm haunted by what I've missed.

Crestwood and Sunset Hills, springing from a former agrarian lifestyle and really quite rural, have become municipalities.

I won't cover the obvious changes, but we do have words in the local lexicon now that weren't familiar when I left. One is Powder Valley and the other, . 

Laumeier Park is highly accessible and in my hometown of Sunset Hills. And it rocks, literally.

There is a 1917 rock home-turned-art gallery on the Laumeier park property that was built by Roland Kahle, head of Ringen Stove Company, a once-thriving St. Louis business. The stone and rock house was designed by architect Ersnt Jannsen.

The same rock walls and slate roof can be seen at neighboring Peace Haven, which originally was a house for Kahle’s brother. (Christian Scientists bought that portion of the Kahle property in 1951.)

It was Roland Kahle’s widow, Ada, who sold the property to Henry H. Laumeier, a bachelor and realtor, in 1940. The following year, Laumeier married Mathilda.

The widow Mathilda Laumeier donated in memory of her husband the first 72 acres in 1968 to the St. Louis County Parks system, with the encouragement of then-Parks Director Wayne Kennedy. The vision for the spot was described as a place for the people of St. Louis to experience serenity.

James C. Sutton first purchased the park's property, 143 acres, from the U.S. Government in 1835. The land and surrounding area had come to the U.S. through Spanish and French land grants of the 1830s. 

Sutton also invented the Sutton Plow and an image of his plow can be seen at the center of the official seal of St. Louis County. Also, the new county's first court proceeding was held at Sutton's home on Sutton Place, in Maplewood.

Prior to the property's ownership by the widow Ada Kahle (pronounced in German as collie) and the widow Mathilda Laumeier, there was another property owner, Alice Smith, in 1907. 

As I sat in the now-library of the Laumeier house (then-laundry room) pouring over maps with Mike Venso, Laumeier's Communications Director (and history buff) we marveled at the series of women owners.

For a while in the early 1900s, “Papa Joe” Griesedieck, of Falstaff beer brewing fame, owned the easternmost part of Laumeier Sculpture Park.

The history of Laumeier is not complete without a salute to Ernest Trova, an artist living in Ladue. 

Trova and colleague Adam Aronson had a dream of creating a place for art in public places. They formed a nonprofit organization and Trova donated the first 40 pieces of sculpture in 1975.

It is with Trova’s vision that today’s cultural, educational and artistic programs are carried out by Executive Director Marilu Knode.

The largest fundraiser of the year, Art Fair at Laumeier, is Mother's Day weekend, May 6-8. Becoming a member of the sculpture park includes admission to this annual art fair.

A family cultural series entitled Music+Movies is every Friday in June and includes outdoor movies. Bring a lawn chair. 

Inside, the living rooms of the then-Laumeier home are a gallery, exhibiting through May 29 the art of internationally-recognized Jessica Stockholder.

Another show opens June 25, “Dog Days of Summer” and will include indoor and outdoor pieces, including a commissioned outdoor piece that explores the sensory perspectives of dogs.

So what was once part of the Native American landscape in the Meramec Valley (as recently as the 1820s) is now 105 acres of county park dedicated to contemporary and leading-edge art. What would those earliest settlers think of the modern sculpture sitting among the green spaces and trees?

Laumeier Sculpture Park today has more than 300,000 visitors annually.

The Park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 1/2 hour past sunset (except Christmas Day and the Thursday before Mother's Day).

The indoor museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The house's former screened porch is a gift shop. Visit www.laumeier.org for more information.

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