Urban Exploring » St. Louis Transit Company Electrical Substation

4,000 horse­pow­er. Yep, that was a 4 with three zeros after it.

Get your atten­tion? The build­ing just west of us at 1711 Locust was the St. Louis Tran­sit Com­pa­ny’s Elec­tri­cal Sub­sta­tion, and for the unini­ti­at­ed, “elec­tri­cal sub­sta­tion” trans­lates to “big giant bat­tery” for the trol­ley sys­tem. It was sup­pos­ed­ly the largest in the world at the time, and 4,000 hors­es was how much two floors worth of bat­ter­ies held. The St. Louis Tran­sit com­pa­ny bought the prop­er­ty in 1903 and built this struc­ture to house an intri­cate sys­tem of bat­ter­ies and sev­en trans­form­ers to cre­ate and store the elec­tric­i­ty need­ed to sup­port the trol­ley sys­tem in time for the increased traf­fic dur­ing the World’s Fair in 1904.

On two sep­a­rate vis­its, Pat McK­ay of Hil­lik­er Cor­po­ra­tion was nice enough to meet us over there to babysit super­vise us while we glee­ful­ly inspect­ed the years-vacant build­ing whose sole pur­pose was that of the sub­sta­tion. It’s old and dilap­i­dat­ed, but it was beau­ti­ful. Take a look for yourself:

The space is beau­ti­ful with mag­nif­i­cent nat­ur­al light, but clear­ly it’s in need of a lot of TLC. The two base­ments that housed the bat­tery units were down­right chilly on the 80º morn­ing we vis­it­ed, and the group’s con­sen­sus was that it would make a per­fect brew­ery or wine cel­lar. If you want to give Camp­bell House a dan­ger­ous­ly-close water­ing hole, the his­toric build­ing — com­plete with 35′ ceil­ings and almost 35,000 square feet of space — can be yours for a pid­dly $245,000.

To learn more about the his­to­ry of the build­ing (includ­ing the peo­ple who lived in the Lucas Place home that occu­pied this spot before the sub­sta­tion was built), you can read Tom’s research notes here:
(Note: In the body of the notes, it men­tions the build­ing was used as a night­club in the 1990s. We could see no evi­dence of this.)

1711 LUCAS PLACE

Charles Fred­er­ick Bates (b. 24 Nov 1853 – d. 05 Jul 1936) (1889 – 1895)

– St. Louis city direc­to­ries list Charles F. Bates at 1711 Lucas Place begin­ning 1889 until 1895. Pri­or to this, in 1888, he was list­ed at 1012 Dol­man. In 1896, he is list­ed at 4325 West­min­ster Place. Clas­si­fied ads start­ed in 1896 ref­er­enc­ing 1711 Locust St., indi­cat­ing it was now being rent­ed to boarders.

– Charles F. Bates was born 24 Nov 1853 at Erie PA. He came to St. Louis in the lat­ter part of the 1860s and was engaged in the tobac­co man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness. The St. Louis city direc­to­ries list him as book­keep­er with the Catlin Tobac­co Co. He mar­ried Ann “Nan­cy” Beale Maf­fitt (b. 03 Sep 1857 – d. 03 Jul 1928) on 15 Jan 1889. They were the par­ents of William Maf­fitt Bates, who mar­ried Frances Gar­neau; Julia, wife of Arthur C. Hiemenz; and Nan­cy Maf­fitt Bates (b. 15 Dec 1895 – d. 22 Jan 1969), the wife of William Geof­frey Kim­ball (b. 08 Sep 1888 – d. 05 Nov 1958).[1]

– Jan­u­ary 1889: Charles Bates was mar­ried yes­ter­day to Miss Nan­cy Maf­fitt, youngest daugh­ter of Mrs. Julia Chouteau Maf­fitt, the cer­e­mo­ny tak­ing place last evening at the ele­gant Maf­fitt man­sion, on Lucas Place. The Maf­fitts are promi­nent Roman Catholics, but Mr. Bates being a Protes­tant this could not be a church cer­e­mo­ny, though the parish priest, Father Brady of St. John’s Church, Six­teenth Street, offi­ci­at­ed, the mar­riage tak­ing place at 6 o’clock, with only the fam­i­ly and rel­a­tives in atten­dance, fol­lowed by a recep­tion from 6:30 to 10 o’clock, to which about 300 guests were invit­ed. The house was ele­gant­ly dec­o­rat­ed with plants, the splen­did spa­cious­ness of the halls and depart­ments per­mit­ting the free use of lux­u­ri­ant trop­i­cal plants with grace­ful results. In the music hall, which is of the noblest pro­por­tions, palms and dwarf orange trees with the gold­en fruit hang­ing on the glossy boughs, were effec­tive­ly dis­posed in the spaces between the buf­fets and cab­i­nets, the hall rack and set­tees that are part of the fur­nish­ing of this baro­nial-like hall whose glo­ries are par­tial­ly reflect­ed in a great mir­ror under the stair­way. Rare bric-a-brac and beau­ti­ful pic­tures bright­en the walls, and the four rich­ly draped door­ways open into the spa­cious apart­ments on either side. The mar­riage cer­e­mo­ny took place in the long draw­ing room on the west side, the bridal par­ty stand­ing with­in the leafy recess formed by palms and rub­ber plants at the north end, with the lace cur­tained win­dows and the mir­ror between as a back­ground. The bride had but one atten­dant, her niece, Miss Jane Maf­fitt, and Mr. Bates was attend­ed by Mr. Dun­can Mel­li­er. The bride’s gown brought from Paris, was of white satin, as rich as the loom ever pro­duced, with a lus­ter as of sil­ver in the gleam­ing folds of its plain falling skirt and sweep­ing train, flecked with the light shad­ows of price­less point lace, its designs as del­i­cate as frost work on cob­webs. The bodice made in the high French fash­ion for wed­ding gowns, was also trimmed with the beau­ti­ful lace, and the bridal veil of tulle was deeply bor­dered with point lace, won­drous­ly fine and pro­por­tion­ate­ly cost­ly. The bridal bou­quet was of white orchids and ros­es. Miss Jane Maf­fitt, the brides­maid, a daugh­ter of Mr. Chouteau Maf­fitt and not yet a debu­tante, wore a very sim­ple dress of white tulle over a slip of white silk and car­ried white ros­es in her hand. Mrs. Maf­fitt, in plain ele­gant black toi­let. Miss Emi­ly, gray bro­cad­ed satin with long train, round cut bodice with white silk pleat­ed full cor­sage, with beau­ti­ful point d’Augleterre lace… Mrs. Hen­ry Hitch­cock chap­er­oned her daugh­ter, Miss Hitch­cock, the debu­tante, in white and laven­der gauze… The sup­per, served by Spilk­er, was ele­gant, and the pro­fu­sion of finest ros­es in every nook and cor­ner and in all apart­ments was remark­ably notice­able. The man­tels were banked with ros­es and fringed with grass­es and ferns. Mr. and Mrs. Bates will not go away but take pos­ses­sion at once of a charm­ing res­i­dence con­tigu­ous to the Maf­fitt place, which has been late­ly remod­eled and ele­gant­ly fur­nished for them.[2]

– 10 Feb 1889: Mrs. Charles F. Bates gave an infor­mal recep­tion yes­ter­day after­noon, the first enter­tain­ment in her new home on Lucas place.[3]

– July 1936: Charles F. Bates, retired busi­ness­man, died of the infir­mi­ties of age yes­ter­day at the sum­mer cot­tage of a daugh­ter, Mrs. Arthur C. Hiemenz, at Atlantic City NJ. He was 82 years old and had gone there Tues­day, intend­ing to spend the sum­mer. Born at Erie PA, where he was edu­cat­ed at a pri­vate acad­e­my, he came here as a young man to work for a cousin, John J. Roe, pres­i­dent of the old Nation­al Bank of Mis­souri. Lat­er he was con­nect­ed with the mer­chan­dise firms of Hen­ry Bell & Son and Sam C. Davis & Co. In 1879, at the age of 25, he came trea­sur­er of the Catlin Tobac­co Co., a posi­tion he held until the com­pa­ny was merged with the Amer­i­can Tobac­co Co. in 1900. For the next two years he was an offi­cer of the Amer­i­can Tobac­co Co. and there­after retired from active busi­ness. How­ev­er, for some time he held direc­torates and oth­er inter­ests in var­i­ous con­cerns. He was mar­ried to Miss Nan­cy Chouteau Maf­fitt in 1889. She died [03 July 1928]. Late­ly he had resided at 4399 McPher­son Avenue. Sur­viv­ing are a son, William Maf­fitt Bates, 5915 Lin­dell Dri­ve, a for­mer State Sen­a­tor, and two daugh­ters, Mrs. W. Geof­frey Kim­ball, 11 Lenox Place, and Mrs. Hiemenz, who resides on Ladue Lane, Ladue. The funer­al will be at 9 a. m. tomor­row at the son’s res­i­dence, with the Rev. John W. MacIvor of Sec­ond Pres­by­ter­ian Church offi­ci­at­ing. Bur­ial, which will be pri­vate, will be in Cal­vary Ceme­tery.[4]

Board­ing

– May 1901: The pupils of Miss Louisa L. Dieter gave a recital at No. 1711 Locust Street, Tues­day, May 7.[5]

– 08 Feb­ru­ary 1903: For Quick Sale – We can sell the prop­er­ty 1711 Locust St., 100 feet west of Sev­en­teenth St., lot 50X155, at a bar­gain if sold at once – Call and see us – Mis­sis­sip­pi Val­ley Trust Co., Fourth and Pine Sts[6]

– 15 Feb­ru­ary 1903: The Mis­sis­sip­pi Val­ley Trust Co. also reports the sale of the prop­er­ty known as 1711 Locust Street, fronting 55 feet on the north side of Locust Street, by a depth of 155 feet, the prop­er­ty being sold to William M. Hor­ton, con­sid­er­a­tion being $20,000.[7]

St. Louis Tran­sit Co. Elec­tri­cal Sub-Sta­tion 
(1903 – ?) (build­ing still extant)

– This build­ing was con­struct­ed in 1903 as a pow­er sub­sta­tion for the St. Louis Tran­sit Com­pa­ny, one of the major oper­a­tors of the street­car sys­tem. The archi­tect is unknown, but Mar­tin Arhel­ger was the con­trac­tor. The build­ing was recent­ly auc­tioned and bought by 1711 Locust LLC. The build­ing has sub­stan­tial dam­age to its roof; it is not known what, if any plans the cur­rent own­ers have for the prop­er­ty. Con­tain­ing a sin­gle soar­ing sto­ry, this build­ing pos­sess­es an immense and dra­mat­ic inte­ri­or space that could be suit­able for many dif­fer­ent uses. Parad­ows­ki Design’s superla­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion of a sim­i­lar build­ing serves as an exam­ple of how a for­mer gen­er­a­tor build­ing can be repur­posed in such a way that takes advan­tage of the open space.[8]

– A for­mer elec­tri­cal sub­sta­tion, gen­er­at­ing pow­er for street­cars, with fan­tas­tic brick­work and what must be an impres­sive sin­gle space with­in. Last used as a night­club in the 1990s, today it’s falling apart, with severe dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the roof. It was sold in 2007 with the inten­tion of ren­o­va­tion, but noth­ing mate­ri­al­ized; a sale at auc­tion in 2010 has left its future up in the air.[9]

– June 1903: Great Stor­age Bat­tery for St. Louis – Tran­sit Com­pa­ny to Install Immense Elec­tri­cal Reser­voir to Hold Sur­plus Cur­rent for the World’s Fair Traf­fic – As part of the prepa­ra­tion for the extra­or­di­nary traf­fic expect­ed dur­ing the World’s Fair, the St. Louis Tran­sit Co. is arrang­ing to install a mon­ster stor­age bat­tery. This bat­tery bears the same rela­tion to the gen­er­a­tors sup­ply­ing pow­er for dri­ving the trol­ley cars that a reser­voir does to the large pumps at the water­works. By this it is meant that the bat­tery can receive the sur­plus elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­at­ed by the machines when it is not need­ed by the cars, and then when the cur­rent required by the cars is more than the capac­i­ty of the machines, the bat­tery can make up the dif­fer­ence until it is emp­tied. This method of using stor­age bat­ter­ies in con­nec­tion with trol­ley roads is not new, but it has remained for the St. Louis Tran­sit Co. to install the largest one of these bat­ter­ies now in ser­vice any­where in the world. This bat­tery is known as the “Chlo­ride Accu­mu­la­tor” and will be installed by the Elec­tric Stor­age Bat­tery Co. of Philadel­phia in a sub-sta­tion to be erect­ed by the tran­sit com­pa­ny on Locust Street, near Sev­en­teenth Street. In this posi­tion it will be close to the great­est num­ber of cars, which of course are con­gre­gat­ed on the down­town streets, and thus being near the load which it has to car­ry it can relieve the gen­er­at­ing sta­tion to the best advan­tage. It will be in ser­vice this fall, so that the effect of it will be noticed on the cars next win­ter. Mr. DuPont of the com­pa­ny believes that with the help of this bat­tery there will be no short­age of pow­er on the sys­tem dur­ing the com­ing heavy win­ter loads, nor for the heavy loads of the World’s Fair. The capac­i­ty of this bat­tery in elec­tri­cal terms is 5000 amperes at 600 volts. This means, as the elec­tri­cal engi­neers say, 3000 kilo­watts. A horse­pow­er is equal to just about three-quar­ters of a kilo­watt, so that 3000 kilo­watts is equal to 4000 horse­pow­er. This is about the pow­er tak­en by 100 cars. Of course if the bat­tery is called upon to deliv­er this pow­er con­tin­u­ous­ly it will become exhaust­ed, but in rail­way work it for­tu­nate­ly hap­pens that the load fluc­tu­ates so that the bat­tery can give, and take, and thus add this capac­i­ty to the sys­tem, prac­ti­cal­ly con­tin­u­ous­ly. In every city a great many more peo­ple ride at cer­tain hours that at oth­ers, and this pro­duces an extra­or­di­nary demand for pow­er at those times. Thus in St. Louis the trav­el to the cen­ter of the city in the morn­ing pro­duces an increase in the load between the hours of 7 and 9. In com­ing down­town the trav­el is much more dis­trib­uted than in the evening, when the peo­ple are going home. They do not all come down­town at the same time, but pret­ty near­ly every­body goes home between 5:30 and 6:30 o’clock. In order to meet this demand the tran­sit com­pa­ny is oblig­ed to run dur­ing these hours very many extra cars, a num­ber of which make only one trip. It is this short demand for extra pow­er which the bat­tery is so well adapt­ed to sup­ply. If the bat­tery is not installed, enough gen­er­at­ing machin­ery, includ­ing engines and boil­ers, would have to be put in the pow­er sta­tion to car­ry this max­i­mum load with­out the help of the bat­tery. These machines, of course, would be able to give this pow­er through­out the entire day, and, there being a demand for it only dur­ing one hour, the machines nec­es­sar­i­ly would be idle the rest of the day. Again, this may be com­pared to the water­works. If there was no reser­voir it would be nec­es­sary for the pumps to pump just as fast as the peo­ple used the water. It has been found by exper­i­ment that this varies great­ly through the dif­fer­ent hours of the day, and on the dif­fer­ent days of the week. It will be clear at once that on Mon­day more water is used than on almost any oth­er day, and also it is found that on every day much more water is used dur­ing those hours imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the meals than at oth­er times. By the use of the reser­voir the pumps are enabled to work along at a steady rate, pump­ing the water into the reser­voir from which it is drawn at a vary­ing rate, accord­ing to the demands of the peo­ple for water.[10]

– Decem­ber 1903: Unique Orga­ni­za­tion is the St. Louis Tran­sit Com­pa­ny – Remark­able Growth of a St. Louis Street Rail­way Com­pa­ny from a Bob-Tail Con­cern to One of the Great­est Sur­face Sys­tems in the Unit­ed States – In a num­ber of respects the St. Louis Tran­sit Co. is the most unique orga­ni­za­tion in the Unit­ed States. It new repair shops are, in many ways, the most com­plete and prac­ti­cal ever put in oper­a­tion by a street rail­way com­pa­ny. Its trans­fer sys­tem is more elab­o­rate and exten­sive than any sur­face road west of New York City. It stor­age bat­tery in the new pow­er house on Locust near Eigh­teenth Street is the largest in the world, hav­ing 588 cells of 77 plates each, with 13,000 horse­pow­er. The capac­i­ty of the old pow­er­house at Broad­way and Sal­is­bury Street is 10,000 horse­pow­er… Fifty-four years ago the first street rail­way tracks were com­plet­ed on Olive Street from Fourth to Twelfth streets. From that time, 1859 to 1886, the bob­tailed car, with its old Mis­souri mules and hors­es, held sway. Then came the first cable road, which was built by the St. Louis & West­ern Co., now the St. Louis & Sub­ur­ban Co. In 1887 the Cit­i­zens’ Rail­way Co. began the cable ser­vice. The Mis­souri Rail­way Co. next made the change, in April 1888, and the People’s and St. Louis com­pa­nies changed short­ly after­ward. In 1888 there were eigh­teen dis­tinct rail­roads in St. Louis… It was not until 1890 that the first cars were oper­at­ed by elec­tric­i­ty, when the Union Depot Rail­road Com­pa­ny installed that sys­tem… While in 1903 there were [ ] inde­pen­dent com­pa­nies oper­at­ing lines in St. Louis, today there are but two, the St. Louis Tran­sit Co. and the St. Louis & Sub­ur­ban Street Rail­road Co… The Tran­sit Com­pa­ny is just com­plet­ing the erec­tion of a build­ing for a sub-sta­tion and stor­age bat­tery on Locust Street near Eigh­teenth. The build­ing is two sto­ries below the street lev­el and tow sto­ries above the same. The two sto­ries below the street lev­el will con­tain the largest stor­age bat­tery in the world, hav­ing 588 cells of 77 plates each. The object of the stor­age bat­tery is to store elec­tric­i­ty at the time of day and night that there is no great load on the pow­er hous­es and using the same dur­ing the morn­ing and evening rush hours of the day. The stor­age bat­tery will be in use before Christ­mas. The sto­ry of the build­ing on the street lev­el is to be used for wires, air ducts and repair shop. In the sec­ond sto­ry above ground will be locat­ed sev­en trans­form­ers and rotary machines to con­vert the alter­nat­ing cur­rent elec­tric­i­ty pur­chased from the Union Elec­tric Light and Pow­er Co. to cur­rent suit­able to street rail­way use. There will also be locat­ed two boost­ers, the object of which is to charge the stor­age bat­tery at street rail­way volt­age. The capac­i­ty of the machines and stor­age bat­tery in this build­ing will be 13,000 horse­pow­er, being 3000 horse­pow­er larg­er than the pow­er sta­tion at Broad­way and Sal­is­bury Street.[11]

– Decem­ber 1903: The sub­sta­tion at No. 1711 Locust, known as the “boost­er” sta­tion, is not yet in work­ing con­di­tion. It is in emer­gen­cies of this kind that the “boost­er” sta­tion is expect­ed to be of most val­ue. Its ordi­nary pur­pose will be to help out what­ev­er line is in need of cur­rent.[12]

– March 1904: Dur­ing the year the expen­di­tures for these pur­pos­es have aggre­gat­ed $1,868,931, of which the most impor­tant items are the Locust Street sub-sta­tion, cost­ing $273,522…All of the new pow­er plants have been com­plet­ed with the excep­tion of the aux­il­iary sta­tion at Sev­en­teenth and Locust Streets, which will be fin­ished and in oper­a­tion about April 15.[13]


[1] Infor­ma­tion from the Cal­vary Ceme­tery website

[2] St. Louis Repub­lic, 16 Jan 1889

[3] St. Louis Repub­lic, 10 Feb 1889, part III, pg 18

[4] St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, “Charles F. Bates Dies at Atlantic City NJ,” 06 July 1936, p6A

[5] St. Louis Repub­lic, “Musi­cals,” 12 May 1901, part II, pg 2

[6] St. Louis Repub­lic, real estate ad, 08 Feb 1903, part IV, pg 6

[7] St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, “Mis­sis­sip­pi Val­ley Trust Co.,” 15 Feb 1903, pA9

[8] Land­marks Asso­ci­a­tion of St. Louis, Inc., list of Most Endan­gered Build­ings, 2010

[9] BuiltStLouis.net website

[10] St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, “Great Stor­age Bat­tery for St. Louis,” 14 June 1903, pg 4B

[11] St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, “Unique Orga­ni­za­tion is the St. Louis Tran­sit Com­pa­ny,” 13 Dec 1903, pg 6

[12] St. Louis Repub­lic, “Neglect May Have Caused Explo­sion,” 23 Dec 1903, pg 2

[13] St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, “M’Culloch to be Man­ag­er of Tran­sit Lines,” 08 Mar 1904, pg 1

3 thoughts on “Urban Exploring » St. Louis Transit Company Electrical Substation

  1. Amy Brennan

    this is so great- thanks for shar­ing. I used to work at 21st and Locust and took many pic­tures of the exte­ri­or of this build­ing, always won­der­ing what was inside. Jeal­ous you got to explore! 🙂

    1. campbellhousemuseum

      Thanks for read­ing, Amy! Yes, it is a cool build­ing, and we were sur­prised at how beau­ti­ful it was on the inside. Stay tuned because we’re going to try to do this more often. 😀

  2. Megan

    That is won­der­ful. I love the idea of explor­ing down­town. Great pic­tures, and fab­u­lous research also!

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