Rohrkaste House, 222 Monroe Street.

Editor’s Note: In honor of National History Preservation Month, local historian Cindy Reinhardt tells the stories behind some of Edwardsville’s historic buildings in a series of eight articles this May.

The house, located at 222 Monroe Street, Edwardsville, was built as an investment property in 1893. It was a three-room home built for William Walker by contractor Joel Waters & Sons at a cost of $450. Walker paid John Crocker $250 for the piece the previous year.

Walker died the same year the house was built, so it was sold to Anna Margaret Lautner who sold it in 1904 to her mother, Marie Cross. None of these women lived in the house. It was just an income property. Both lived on neighboring farms.

The house was not haunted until Lewis and Emma Miller bought it in 1918. Lewis worked for AA Ammann florist. When Aman sold his greenhouses, Lewis stayed with the new owner, Home Nursery. Millers moved to a larger house on Columbia Street in 1925.

The Millers sold the house to neighbors, Edward and Catherine (Abel) Rohrcaste who had lived in the Crocker Gardens neighborhood for many years. Catherine’s mother, Julia Abel, as well as relatives of Edward’s mother’s family, the Perelman family, were living on Monroe Street when the Rohrcasters were raising their family of six near 214 Garden Street.

One of the sons of Edward and Catherine, Harris married in 1925 and three years later bought the house at 222 Monroe Street from his parents. For the first time, the house will have an owner/resident who has not only decided to stay but has made many improvements to what was originally a simple three-room home.

Harrison Lester Rohrcast, better known as Harris, was born in Edwardsville in 1904 and grew up with his five siblings on Garden Street. His father, Edward, was a young man and owned a sheet metal shop. In 1934, Harris, who was an expert in the tin industry, went to work for the Shell Oil Company as an asbestos agent. In less than a year he was promoted to a small degree and by 1940 he was a junior foreman. He made his way to the supervisor’s craft, tools and equipment in the engineering department. In 1963 he retired from Shell after 28 years.

From comparing property evaluations over the years, it appears that Harris and Florence have gradually expanded the home beyond the original three-room building. It is not known whether or not Harris did the work himself, but he was able to do the work. His hobby was carpentry and he was by all accounts very talented. He installed beautifully textured hardwood floors in the house and did other custom work.

When Harris married Florence (Irvin) Blurton in 1925, she was divorced with two children, but there is no record of children living with the Rohrcaste family. Florence was born in Kentucky in 1895, so she was about ten years older than her husband. She was a housewife enjoying bridge games with friends.

Pictures of the Rohrcaste house have survived, inside and out. Exterior photos show the elaborate gardens at the back of the house with trellises, stone walkways, raised beds, statues, and benches giving it the appearance of a vegetable garden. Also impressive are the interior photos taken in the early 1950s that show the home’s furnishings including some paintings collected by Harris. Some were too big for the house, including one that is 6 feet 8 inches tall.

Former neighbors Harris and Florence are well remembered, especially the humorous story that took place in the house. The Rohrkastes family had a pet squirrel that came into the house to be hand-fed. All was well until the big Persian cat in Florence decided to be territorial one day and took off after the squirrel. The squirrel ran down Harris’s leg across his body and up to his bald head, immediately following the cat. Needless to say, there were some scars and the squirrel was never welcomed home again. There are pictures of a squirrel being fed and pictures of a cat, but not together.

Florence died in 1973 and Harris died in 1985, both at home. The Rohrkaste family owned this house for 60 years and were good agents. Today it is still very well taken care of, with the story of some of the smaller Edwardsville homes preserved.

Sources for this article include material from the Madison County Archives Library, articles from previous issues of the Edwardsville Intelligencer, the Office of the Registrar of Bonds and current and former residents of the home. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at [email protected] or 618-656-1294.

%d bloggers like this: