August H. Heman, c. 1855–1920
The largest of the twenty parks in University City, Missouri, is Heman Park, located in the northeastern part of the city and named for its second mayor, August H. Heman. Born in St. Louis in October 1855 or 1856, he was the son of German immigrants, Frederick Heman and Elizabeth Schriefer (or Schreifer). Frederick, who had emigrated from Germany with his family in 1833 to Franklin County, moved to St. Louis in 1843 and started a brickyard that evolved into a major company, responsible for manufacturing a vast quantity of bricks for the growing city of St. Louis. The third child of six, August attended Carr Lane School and then a year of high school before dropping out at the age of fifteen. His father put him to work in the brickyard where he familiarized himself with the entire process of brickmaking, and, at age nineteen, August began working as a contractor. He was hired by the City of St. Louis to build sidewalks, and, eventually, he specialized in water and sewer improvements.
In 1894 and 1895, August’s construction company built the city’s waterworks and then the Vandeventer sewer, the first of more than “one-half of the sewers underlying St. Louis” for which his company was responsible. As his reputation for honesty and integrity grew, so did his building empire. In 1901, he obtained the contract for several buildings at the Chain of Rocks waterworks, and three years later, for the World’s Fair in 1904, it was Heman’s construction company that built the iconic Cascades at Art Hill. Outside of St. Louis, his company also built bridges and did railroad work.
August Heman was president of the Trinidad Asphalt Company and the Heman Construction Company, vice-president of the Meramec Portland Cement and Material Company, and an acting president of the State Trust Company. In 1909, he was an incorporator and director of the Traders National Bank.
August married Leni Leota Lightner, daughter of Captain A. S. Lightner and Amanda Krouse, on 30 April 1888. They settled first in St. Louis City, where they had one child, a son, Alonzo Gaynel, born 4 July 1892. Alonzo appeared to have a bright future, graduating from law school at Washington University. However, he was working as a city clerk in University City when he fell into a diabetic coma on 28 May 1916 and died at the age of twenty-three.
Photo from St. Louis, the Fourth City, 1764–1909, volume 3, by Walter Stevens, p. 178; in the public domain
The Hemans moved westward to a beautiful new home at 6361 Washington Avenue in University City, and, in 1913, Heman was elected as mayor, succeeding the city’s visionary founder, E. G. Lewis. Although Lewis had grand plans for his new city, he had run into serious financial difficulties before fleeing to California, and Heman’s tenure as mayor was crucial to restoring financial stability to the young city. He was serving his fourth term as mayor when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home on 3 July 1920.
Leni Heman went on to marry and quickly divorce Augustine L. Chamblin, who attempted to steal money from her. August Heman and their son Alonzo are buried in a family plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery. Leni, however, is not with them; her burial location has not yet been located.
(Sources include U.S. federal censuses, death certificates, and several published biographies.)
Written by Ilene Murray
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Last Modified: 24-Jul-2022 11:15