Grant's Farm Manor
10501 Gravois Road, Grantwood, St. Louis County, Missouri
This house is best associated with...
August Anheuser Busch
August A. Busch Sr., President of Anheuser-Busch Brewery, St. Louis, Missouri
August Anheuser Busch Jr.
"Gussie" Busch, President of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery & the St. Louis Cardinals
"Uncle Sam's" Farm
The 273-acres on which Grant's Farm stands was once part of 'White Haven,' another farm of 850-acres. Grant's Farm was named for the man who owned and farmed White Haven, the same man who would become a Civil War hero and President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. His father-in-law was a prosperous merchant in St. Louis who acquired the property in 1821 and it was here that he was first introduced to - and would propose to - his future wife, Julia, having become friends with her brother at West Point. In 1856, he built Hardscrabble here, much of it with his own hands, but after that rarely returned and by the 1880s had settled in New York determined to make a fortune. But such was his impatience that he got taken in by a swindler and lost everything.
In 1884, Grant mortgaged White Haven along with much of his Civil War memorabilia to Billy Vanderbilt, and to add to his misfortune, he was diagnosed with cancer in the same year. Vanderbilt offered to cancel the debt, but the family felt obliged to honor it. Grant died the following year and Vanderbilt sold White Haven to Luther Conn, a former Captain in the Confederate army. In 1903, he sold off its southernmost 273-acres to August A. Busch whose brewery was by then producing over a million barrels a year. He initially built a rustic, Adirondack-style lodge here to which the family came to escape the city, but by 1909 he determined to make this his permanent home. Plans were drawn up for a chateau the following year with construction costs estimated at $300,000.
Sometimes it would seem France only has a handful of chateaux and every chateau built in America is modelled on one or all of them. The Busch mansion is built in the Neo-Louis XIII and French Renaissance-Revival style (which mixes several styles) both of which became fashionable in Europe as well as the States at the turn of the last century.
In reference to the chateaux with which this one is often compared, the Busch mansion is about as similar to Versailles, Chambord, Vaux-le-Vicomte etc. as any American house with a white pillar is to the Capitol Building. Its wings and the red brick and limestone detail across the exterior are typical of the Louis XIII style in Northern France. Its roofline (nb. the Chateau de Vallière as a loose comparison), arched entrance, and forecourt are typical of the French Renaissance; the turrets and chimneys are typical of the Neo-Louis XIII style in Normandy; and, the piazzas are Italian, which coupled with its very German red roof tiles and Ionic columns either side of the entrance remind us it's American.
The design is attributed to the St. Louis duo Frederick Widmann and Robert Walsh (son of the more famous Thomas Walsh), with Robert Walsh named as the principal architect. Busch had already used them to build several breweries, but considering neither architect had studied nor lived in France, the chateau they built here is an impressive reproduction.
Among the features within the mansion are a set of six Tiffany stained-glass windows depicting a stag in a forest; a perforated ceiling above the landing that allows sound from the third floor ballroom to permeate through the house; the ornate gun room with hunting trophies; oak, walnut, and marble floors throughout; ornamental plasterwork in all the reception rooms; and, a collection of American western art by Remington, Berninghaus etc. that was last valued by Sotheby's in 2006 at just under $10 million.
Julius Pitzman was brought in to create a system of “roads, lakes, and sewers” on the estate while landscaping of the grounds to complement Busch's love of animals and nature was the responsibility of George E. Kessler. With the works in full swing on all fronts, Busch decided that he also wanted to add a model scientific farm.
Busch employed another pair of local architects, Klipstein and Rathmann, to build the "Bauernhof" (farm yard). Costing $250,000, it was constructed with an emphasis on creating an old world German feel and was influenced by photographs of the picturesque medieval town of Rothenburg in northern Bavaria. Aside from stables for 20-horses, dairies for 18-cows, storage for carriages, and all the latest farm technologies, it included apartments for the families of the farm workers. The roofline is decorated with sculptures of storks in nests which in German folklore brings good luck and protection from fires.
The Zoo and the Budweiser Clydesdales
August's love of animals extended beyond the typically aristocratic love of horses, cattle, sheep, wild deer and other game. He began to stock his deer park with increasingly exotic newcomers: two elephants, rare fowl, blue pigs, goats, and even a frog named "Budweiser". He took a childish delighted in the joy the animals gave the younger members of the family, but as Prohibition tightened its grip on the family's resources many had to be sold, with the elephants going to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
For brewers across the country, the upside to the Crash of 1929 was the return of beer. As a publicity stunt, August purchased a herd of sixteen Clydesdale horses and had a team of them pull one case of Budweiser to the Empire State Building to be given to New York Governor Al Smith, and another pulled up to the White House for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As profits gradually returned to Anheuser-Busch, so too did the exotic animals to Grant's Farm. The zoo has been open to the public since 1954 and is a well-loved St. Louis institution. Today, it is home to over 400-animals that include buffalo, elephants, camels, kangaroos, donkeys, goats, peacocks, and of course the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales.
Taking a Break
August A. Busch Sr. was the steady pair of hands that brought the brewery through the Temperance Movement, World War I (and its accompanying anti-German sentiment), Prohibition, and the worst of the Great Depression. But, ill health caught up with him, and to escape the excruciating pain from which he was suffering, he took his own life here in 1934, shooting himself in the abdomen. He was an adored member of the community and mourners at his funeral numbered over 70,000. His widow, Alice, moved into a smaller 18-room house on the estate known as "The Cottage" while the "The Big House" sat empty for the next twenty years except for the traditional annual family gatherings.
In 1946, Gussie Busch succeeded his elder brother as head of the family. As President of the Busch Brewing Company he oversaw the company's purchase of the St Louis Cardinals baseball team and as the team's President they won three World Series titles. While visiting Switzerland in 1949 and still ostensibly married to his second wife, he asked a waitress (28-years his junior) for a date and at the end of the date proposed to her. After his divorce, they were married in 1952 and he brought Trudy back to St. Louis. It was at her instigation in 1954 that the "Big House" was re-opened and while retaining its role as the spiritual home to the vast, extended Busch clan, it once again became a family home for their own rapidly expanding family - Gussie would have 4-wives and 11-children.
The Barons Budweiser
Gussie's tenure as Master of the Big House was nothing short of "Baronial" - which considering that the doors had long closed on the Gilded Age was in itself nothing short of remarkable. He and Trudy were rarely seen (or certainly photographed) out of finely tailored riding attire during the day and full (often hunt) evening wear by night.
They carried off a glamor here akin to Ardrossan but with all the traditions that might be found on any German landed estate: an annual gathering for all the staff when they were given their bonuses and toasted with champagne; the Schlach Fest, a time-honored tradition for family and close friends to celebrate the harvest with a feast of sausage and dark beer while bawling out hearty, old German folk songs; and, the smartest event of the year, the annual Bridlespur Hunt Club Ball. Grant's Farm remained the spiritual home of the extended Busch clan who would congregate here en masse for Thanksgiving, Christmas etc. Gussie's sister, Alice, summed up these frequent gatherings: "the family, the family... it gladdens you, it saddens you, sometimes you feel it maddens you. But strongest of all is the pride and love you have for it, for each one that belongs to it...".
All That Glitters is Not Michelob...
The Buschs have long been a larger than life family, and Gussie's immediate family are no exception. For all their good fortune, the family have been embroiled in much adversity.
Tragedy first struck the family in 1974 when their youngest daughter was accidentally killed in a car accident. Gussie's grief made him increasingly difficult to be around and the following year (1975) his eldest son, August A. Busch III, led a boardroom coup forcing him to relinquish his role as President of the A-B Brewing Company. In 1976, Gussie and Trudy's son, Peter, was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to probation after he claimed to have tossed a handgun onto his bed which accidentally discharged and killed his friend. Police later determined that the muzzle of the gun was within a few feet of the victim's face when it fired. All this took its toll and Gussie and Trudy divorced in 1978.
Their children remained at Grant's Farm but their woes - and the woes of their victims - were far from over: In 1980, Gussie and Trudy's eldest son, Billy Busch Sr. (now of MTV reality TV fame, star of "The Busch Family Brewed") bit off half of another's man ear in a bar brawl and eight months later (1981) launched himself at an employee in a Mexican fast food restaurant for saying "something vulgar". Pulled up to court, he was charged with damaging the other person's spinal-column, but was acquitted by the jury.
Just two years later (1983), it was the turn of Gussie's most notorious grandson, August A. Busch IV, to first light up the headlines: At nineteen, having downed several vodkas at a bar, he sped off in his Corvette with the 22-year old barmaid. The following day, the car was found abandoned out of town, far off the beaten track, along with the body of the barmaid who'd been thrown from it. The police found Busch at his home, half-naked, bloody, and in possession of two firearms. He claimed to have amnesia and when hospital staff "mishandled" both his urine and blood samples there was no way to prove Busch had been drunk behind the wheel. The case was closed without charges being filed due to lack of evidence. In 2012, he settled a wrongful death suit for $1.75 million with the family of his girlfriend who was found dead in his bed having overdosed on cocaine and oxycodone.
Sibling Rivalries & Grant's Farm Today
In 1989, Gussie died in the same room in which his father also left this world, with all ten of his surviving children by his side. He placed Grant's Farm in trust for his five surviving children by Trudy, hoping they would continue to maintain it as it always had been.
In 2009, Anheuser-Busch was taken over by InBev and became Anheuser-Busch InBev Inc. which leased Grant's Farm from the Busch Trust and continued to run it as a popular public attraction. But, six years later, the agreement was jeopardized when the already mentioned Billy Busch Sr. went against his siblings to buy it as the headquarters for his new beer company, Kraftig. The St. Louis Zoo then counter-offered, wishing to use it as a research zoo for breeding endangered animals. In 2015, Billy's siblings (Trudy, Beatrice, Peter and Andrew) sued and for the next two years a legal wrangle ensued.
The dispute was finally settled in 2017 when the four siblings and one of their nephews, Robert Hermann Jr., agreed to buy Grant's Farm together with the Big House for $51 million. They extended an offer to their brother, Billy, to buy into the ownership who was reported to be considering the offer. The purchase not only kept Grant's Farm in the family, but kept it free and open to the public as it has been since 1954.
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