Throwback Thursday

St. Louis Throwback Thursday: Horton and Ruth Watkins | 1601 South Warson Road

Here’s a little bit about the past owners of my listing located at 1601 South Warson Road (visit website here.) Who knew they did so much for their community of Ladue!

Horton Watkins, an original trustee of the Village of Deer Creek, and his wife, Ruth, wanted to make a difference in their children’s education in Ladue. Their legacy is Ladue Horton Watkins High School, established in 1952. Watkins was born near Nashville and moved to St. Louis in 1905 to run the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Co.’s St. Charles Factory. Watkins’ expertise for buying leather came from working in the Tennessee State Prison shoemaking Shop. When International Shoe Co. was formed in 1911, Watkins became vice president and held the position until retiring in 1939.

Ruth was born in Washington Georgia and arrived in St. Louis at the age of 6. She later attended Mary Institute and graduated in 1913 from Vassar College as class president and Phi Beta Kappa. 

The Watkins bought 45 acres south of Clayton Road and west of Warson Road from Charles Holman, president of Laclede Gas Co., who in 1928 built a modest home on the property at 1601 South Warson Road in the little Village of Deer Creek. “The house was on the corner of Clayton and Warson roads but the architect is unknown,” wrote Mrs. Watkins. “We had to double the size of the house over the years because Mr. Holman built it as a country place. It was not designed for full-time occupancy-there weren’t even closets.”

A large nursery covered the south yard. “Mr. Holman was very interested in trees and planted a variety of them on the property, which had previously been used for farming,” noted Mrs. Watkins, who lived in the residence from 1928 to 1955. Some of the grounds were set aside for growing hay and for animal pasture, including two mules and several riding horses, and a vegetable garden. “It was a stunning estate with a big barn and a wonderful place to have our annual family get together,” said Horton Watkins Miller, a descendant and a 1959 Ladue Horton Watkins High School Graduate.

In the 1950s, after her husband’s death on July 6, 1949, Ruth Watkins subdivided the original property and donated 28 acres on the west side of Warson Road for a high school, believing, with her spouse, that because many students in Ladue went to private academies, it was only fair for other children to have a public secondary school education. Ladue Horton Watkins High School was erected at 1201 South Warson Road.

Ruth Watkins continued to travel the world and spent time with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt. She also served as a U.S. Embassy hostess in South Africa in the late 1950s when her nephew Philip K. Crowe was the ambassador. Before her death, she spent her 70th birthday traveling the San Juan River in traditional wooden dories. Mrs. Watkins sold her home to Charles Lazer in the 1950s and moved to 7 Brentmoor Park.

Ruth Watkins’ many charitable commitments included Community School, Lakeside Center, Family and Children’s services, League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood Association, YMCA, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis Science Center, and Lindenwood University. In addition, she founded the International Institute in 1919. Her impact and work in the region are noted by donations she gave to McMillan Hospital, the Oscar Johnson Institute, and many other nonprofit organizations.

Information from Ladue Found by Charlene Bry