The Eugene Field House reopens Thursday with a 4,000-square-foot addition for museum exhibits that supporters hope will spark renewed interest in the historic site that’s just a baseball’s throw from Busch Stadium.
The house, at 634 South Broadway, was built in 1845 and saved from demolition in the 1930s because it had been the childhood home of poet and newspaper columnist Eugene Field, famous for classics such as “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,’’ and “The Duel,'' better known these days as "The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat.’’ Field’s father — attorney Roswell Field — represented Dred and Harriet Scott at the Old Courthouse in their legal battles to be freed from slavery.
The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007.
Museum trustee Ron Elz says the new brick addition complements the three-story home, which had limited space to tell the complete story of the Fields family. There is now room to display artifacts that had been in storage, plus a library of Eugene Field’s works. And there’s a parking lot. The museum addition will also serve as the visitors center to the house.
Elz says the goal is to boost attendance by enticing first-time visitors to the museum, as well as people who haven’t toured the house in years.
“People pass it by all the time and didn’t stop in,’’ Elz said. “If I talk to people — this might be a 60-year-old person — they say, ‘I was there when I was in grade school.’ Have you been back? ‘No, I’ve never been back.’ ‘’
The Field home was one of 12 row houses built by Edward Walsh on land that had been deeded to the city in 1829 after the death of city founder Auguste Chouteau. The city then leased the land, with proceeds helping to fund public schools. Walsh rented his houses to middle-class professionals, like bankers, doctors and lawyers.
“This would have been typical of a city home for these gentlemen,’’ said Stephanie Bliss, assistant director of the site, which used to be known as the Eugene Field House and St. Louis Toy Museum.
The row houses were all slated for demolition in the 1930s because they lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. But in 1934, a citizen’s group formed to save the house where the Field family had lived. The house was restored and opened as a museum by the Board of Education in 1936.
“We are the oldest historic house museum in St. Louis,’’ Bliss said.
Among the furnishings is Eugene Field’s desk. During the holidays, the house is decorated in 19th-century Christmas trees and displays of vintage toys.
“Eugene was an avid toy collector,’’ Bliss said. “He had over 2,000 toys by the time he died. Unfortunately, there was a warehouse fire and only nine of his toys survived. So we collect toys in his honor.”
The museum addition cost $2.4 million and was funded by private and corporate donations.
Elz believes the addition has made the museum more accessible to visitors.
“The Eugene Field House and Museum is in a better location than it’s ever been — even though it hasn’t moved — because of the things that are happening right here on Broadway,’’ Elz said. “With the continued development around Busch Stadium, more and more people are seeing it.’’
The site offers a glimpse of Old St. Louis amid the bustle of the modern world.
“I’m looking out at Busch Stadium a block away and the Tums building,’’ said Elz, as he gazed out the window of the museum. “You forget where you are. You really are transported back into another world.’’
The museum will offer free tours from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. during its grand opening celebration Thursday, with a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m.
Starting Friday, the museum will open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, through the month of December. Admission is $10 for adults and children over 16; $5 for children, ages 7 to 15; and free for children under 7. The museum will offer limited hours in January and February, before resuming its regular schedule in March. Check the museum website for details.
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard