The DeMenil Family
Dr. Nicolas N. DeMenil
FRENCH BORN PHYSICIAN, LEGACY OF NOBILITY, AND CO OWNER OF ST. LOUIS' FIRST DRUGSTORE CHAIN
Nicolas N. DeMenil was Born October 7, 1812 in Foug, France. As a young man he apprenticed under Dubois, a celebrated French chemist in Paris and later attended the government school of medicine, L’Ecole Imperiale de Medecine. After graduating with distinction he entered the army medical staff as a lieutenant.
He came to St. Louis in June 1834 and began practicing medicine in one of the brick buildings that formed Chouteau’s Row. There is some evidence that he later operated a large drug store with Con. and James Maguire.
Starting in 1837 he began the business of land speculation. By the time he moved his family into the house on 13th Street (the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion) he had retired from medicine. When he died in 1882 DeMenil’s real estate holdings were valued at $113, 250. That would be about $2,486,150 today.
He was described as a quiet, unassuming man and spent much of his time at home with his family. Judge Jno. M. Krum said of him at his funeral that “He was one of the most honest, upright and conscientious men I ever knew; there are few like him”
Nicolas died in St. Louis, MO on July 9, 1882. He is buried alongside his wife Emilie in Calvary Cemetery.
Emilie Chouteau DeMenil
GREAT-GRAND-DAUGHTER OF MADAME CHOUTEAU AND PIERRE LACLEDE
Emilie Sophie Chouteau DeMenil was born in St. Louis, MO September 12, 1813 to parents August Pierre Chouteau and Marie Ann Sophie Labbadie. Her father A.P. Chouteau deserted the family in 1822 to establish a household with his Osage wives and children in northeastern Oklahoma. Washington Irving describes a visit to her father’s home, La Saline, in Tour on the Praries.
She married Nicolas DeMenil in 1836, bringing no substantial wealth to the union. Her father’s debts had left both of his families in financial straits.
The Greek revival addition to the farmhouse fulfilled what seemed to be a lifelong ambition of Emilie’s. The design was copied from a mansion owned by her affluent cousin Henry Chouteau. For many years Sophie had admired the house on 12th and Clark Avenues.
Emilie died in St. Louis, MO on March 20, 1874. She is buried alongside her husband Nicolas in Calvary Cemetery.
CIVIC LIFE AND A PROPONENT OF THE LITERARY ARTS
“He was of another day and kind than ours…his spirit and mind were of another period when many men were given to pure thought and when a scholar and a thinker was greater than a mere builder and doer.” -Missouri Historical Society Obituary, December 1928
Alexander Nicholas DeMenil, although overlooked by historical scholarship, remains a pertinent component in the history of St. Louis that reverberates national sentiment. The sheer immensity of his endeavors shows that his well-heeled status did little to impede on his lifelong scholarship and intense involvement in literary, political, historical, and fraternal organizations. A.N. DeMenil’s place in local history is cemented so ubiquitously that he becomes as integral to the story of late 19th and 20th century St. Louis as his ancestors were to its founding.
His abhorrence of ragtime culture and authors such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman assert the conviction that, indeed, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. A.N. DeMenil created a literary journal entitled: “The Hesperian: A Western Quarterly Illustrated Magazine” (1894-1917), which touted itself as the most serious scholarly criticism in the West, that “seeks for Truth, and accepts literary dogmas only in so far as they may be correct”. His involvement and contribution to local politics spanned a quarter of a century and his political convictions will be explored in depth. He was the president and vice-president of a plethora of organizations ranging from the Missouri Historical Society, Belgium Relief Fund, and the Select Knights of America. He was also awarded the Legion of Honor by France.
We will trek the murky waters of historical research to answer such probing questions as: How did his political views contribute to his, at times, scathing remarks on literature? Were his views of Jazz Age America inherently shaped by his politics and upbringing, fueled by a longing for the past, or simple chauvinism? He was considered a foremost historian of Missouri and St. Louis, but how does the validity of his assertions stand up to historical acuity and scholarship today? Was Alexander affiliated with freemasonry? What were his views on unionization, suffrage, and morality?
The last DeMenil's to live in the mansion were Alexander's son George and his wife Ida. They moved out of the mansion in 1929.