One of the most colorful figures in St. Louis County history, Edward Gardner “E. G.” Lewis, founder of University City, was born in 1869 in Connecticut, the son of William H. Lewis, an Episcopal minister, and Catherine Bartow. E. G. married Mabel Gertrude Wellington in Baltimore, Maryland, then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he sold mosquito repellent.In the mid-1890s, E. G. and Mabel came to St. Louis and he began a publishing company with a magazine called The Winner (later renamed The Woman’s Magazine). In 1902, having outgrown his downtown location, he founded the University Heights Realty and Development Company, paying $200,000 for eighty-five acres of farmland, which he would turn into University City.

The building we know as University City’s City Hall on Delmar Boulevard began in 1903 as the Magazine Building, headquarters of the Lewis Publishing Company. The surrounding area, all part of Lewis’s “empire,” became a center of finance, art, and publishing. The building to the west of the Magazine Building, home to the U. City police and fire departments for many years, was the Annex, where the printing presses were located. Lewis constructed an Egyptian building, now gone, to house his People’s United States Bank, and University Heights No. 1, a subdivision ranging from mansions to smaller single-family homes, rose on the western edge of Lewis’s property, just north of Delmar and west of the Lion Gates.

Early U. City
Lewis’s Early Plan of University City
Photo in the University City Public Library’s Lewis Photo Collection, File ID No. F025p1588
Used with permission

In 1905, Lewis was indicted for bank fraud but he survived and turned his energy towards increasing his publishing business. The Egyptian building became a publications center turning out two daily newspapers and several magazines. He began the People’s University, inviting world-renowned artists to come to University City to join the staff of the Art Academy, the only building that was actually ever finished.

On 4 September 1906, University City was incorporated, and E. G. Lewis became its first mayor, subsequently serving two additional terms. He built an elegant mansion at #2 Yale Avenue with a stable, a swimming pool, and a fishpond. (That house was demolished after a fire in 1942 and part of the estate is now Lewis Park.)

He founded the American Women’s League in 1907, where women who sold magazine subscriptions or purchased memberships had access to a national women’s club offering welfare and educational programs. He followed this with the American Woman’s Republic, funded by memberships and designed to help women prepare for the right to vote. Visionary, planner, lover of education and women’s rights, Lewis was not a money manager. His financial empire sat on a shaky foundation, and, by 1911, he was bankrupt.

He and Mabel went west to California, where he founded the city of Atascadero in San Louis Obispo County. Again, he began a publishing business, followed by other investment “opportunities,” ultimately leading to his conviction of mail fraud and five years in federal prison. He died in California on 10 August 1950, and he and Mabel, who died in 1935, are buried together in Atascadero Pine Mountain Cemetery.

(Sources include articles written in several books and newspapers, the U.S. federal census, and the University City Historical Society.)

Written by Ilene Kanfer Murray
May 2018
© 2018, St. Louis Genealogical Society

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Last Modified: 23-Feb-2019 10:58