Eugene Field was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, on September 1850. His childhood home is now a museum called “The Eugene Field House & Saint Louis Toy Museum”. Field became known as “The Children’s Poet” due to the large number of children’s poems he penned. His writing career began as a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
Eugene first visited Saint Joseph at the age of 20. Later, he worked as an editor for the Saint Joseph Gazette. He became known for his wit and engaging humor.
In 1873, Field, 23, married Julia Sutherland Comstock, then sixteen, of St. Joseph, Missouri, and during their 22 year marriage, they had eight children, five of whom reached maturity.
Julia Comstock Field definitely inspired this beautiful love poem. Many mistakenly think it was written by Eugene Field in their early courtship. It was not written until in 1889. The Fields were staying in London, as Eugene was in poor health at the time and trying to recover. The poem was written as a reminiscence of the good old days when the couple courted in her father’s buggy on “Lover’s Lane, St Jo”.
He died in 1895 in Chicago, Illinois at the young age of 45. Field and Julia Comstock Field lay buried side-by-side in a church graveyard in Kenilworth, Illinois.
Besides Lover’s Lane, there are two other streets in St. Joseph, Missouri that are named for Eugene Field: Eugene Field Avenue & Gene Field Road. The streets are occasionally confused by visitors. Also on Gene Field Road are the Gene Field Apts and Gene Field School.
Eugene Field was 23 when he married 16-year-old Julia Comstock of St. Joseph. They courted while buggy-riding on Lovers Lane in St. Joseph, which Eugene later wrote about in a poem.
425 North Eleventh Street
This was the first residence of Eugene Field and his young bride in Saint Joseph. The building still serves as an apartment complex. This brick home with Italianate influences was restored in 1986 with a Community Block Grant.
Red Top Stable was right across the street where I grew up.
My memory goes back some 75 years to the open prairie horse pasture just out my childhood front door. This was then surely in the “country”!
Horses were my neighbors. From time to time the sound of a wagon being pulled by clopping horses came up Eugene Field’s Lovers Lane. We kids would run out to see what the wagon was hauling, usually produce of some sort for the City Market.
But the most prominent feature of that landscape was the huge barn on top of the hill. As you can guess, the top of the barn was painted “barn red”. Hence the name “Red Top” was usually painted on the white stripe at the level of the upper window.
Now, notice the difference in the two photos. The first, taken about 1939, is a shot of a 27-year-old Weck Lehr standing by his father’s recently purchased pre-war Cadillac, and the northwest corner of Weck’s new home. Behind him is a barn, but without the one-story horse stable level. The stables were added on for folks who wanted to board their riding horses and ponies. Horses and ponies were sort of the expensive hobbies of the day, but folks that could afford them certainly could not be expected to house them in close proximity to where they lived.
However, it is good to note that along the edge of the new (built in the 1920s) St. Joseph parkway system, there was a “bridle path” where horse owners could exercise their mounts. The horses’ grooms and caretakers lived in a small residence right next to the “barnyard”- those folks were my neighbors.
Usually the horses were “put out to pasture”, and when we noticed them about, we would gently walk over bearing anything from a few shots of grass, or an apple, carrot, or best of all a cube of sugar. We liked feeding the horses. Now and then one of us kids would threaten to jump on one and ride off bareback, but we feared repercussions from the groomsmen or our parents.
Katie Ellinger owned the 15 acres (more or less) and in the 1960s it came up for sale. Weck and Rod Hastings, who, with his wife Hazel, lived at 26th Street and Lovers Lane, decided to purchase the area and develop it. It was platted by a civil engineer and when my mom, Kitty, saw the plans she said, “Why, it looks just like a wishbone!” Hence the name. It stuck!
In preparing the area for streets and homes, grading was done. There used to be a high bank along Lovers Lane across from 2514 (or so) Lovers Lane. Heavy snow storms would drift across Lovers Lane and I could shovel out any stuck cars and direct them to a safer route. Occasionally I’d get a few coins to jingle in my pocket for helping. That bank was shaved off and used to help fill in some of the lower spots, but mostly the topography remains similar to what it was.
During that time, I left that home to seek my fortune, but always returned to family celebrations and visits from aunts and uncles. I always remembered, and still do today, my playmates, the horses, and Red Top Barn.