Thomas Skinker, 1805–1887
Thomas Skinker gave his name to Skinker Boulevard, which forms the western boundary of Forest Park in St. Louis. He moved to St. Louis from Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1838 to practice law, forming the firm of Skinker and Skinker with his brother, Peter. They practiced law until 1843 when Peter died. That same year Thomas purchased a property six miles west of St. Louis on the River des Peres. Because the land was so remote from the city, he was able to acquire it for a modest price. Here he built his mansion house, called Ellenwood, named after his deceased infant daughter, Ellen.
Thomas “is credited with having written a description of the beauties of the prospective Forest Park site, which was read to the Legislature at Jefferson City, resulting in the passage of the bill for the park when it came to a vote.” On 25 March 1872, the Missouri General Assembly approved an act to establish Forest Park in St. Louis. The St. Louis senate passed a bill authorizing the acquisition of 1,300 acres and providing “for the issuance of $1,200,000 in bonds by the park commissioners; the bonds to be a lien on the property acquired.”
Shortly after, a newspaper reported that “About a week ago Mr. Thomas Skinker sold his lands [117 acres] embraced within the park for a fair price and took the whole in bonds.” That sale made him a millionaire.
“The street named after him, Skinker Road, was originally a rather muddy track from Delmar to Clayton Road. The World’s Fair made the clean-up mandatory.” Thomas Skinker also convinced Robert Forsyth to participate in the creation of Forest Park; his estate sold 244 acres to the Park Commission, which became Forsyth Avenue bordering Washington University. Another participant was Isabelle Gratiot DeMun, the great-granddaughter of Pierre Laclède. DeMun Avenue is named after her.
Thomas Skinker was born on 20 March 1805 in Fauquier County, Virginia, and died on 2 October 1887 at the age of eighty-two in St. Louis, Missouri. He was married twice, first to Susan Marshall on 13 November 1827 in Fauquier County. She died there on 23 April 1828, and he married Jane Neilson in Fauquier County on 30 September 1834.
Thomas and Jane had eight children, one of whom was Thomas Keith Skinker who married Adela Bertha Rives on 8 December 1869 in Albemarle County, Virginia. She was the daughter of Alexander Rives and Isabella Wydown. Wydown Avenue in St. Louis County is named after his mother-in-law. On 14 December 1900, Thomas’s residence, Ellenwood, which had been built by his father in 1843, was destroyed by fire.
The original Skinker Road was about forty feet wide. In 1891, it was widened to one hundred feet across, its present width, at the request of Thomas K. Skinker. With the advent of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the World’s Fair) in 1904, Skinker Boulevard became a destination for the world.
(Sources include Thomas, William L., History of St. Louis County, page 252; Missouri Republican, 7 March 1872, page 2; Missouri Republican, 13 November 1872, page 4; and The Paper, Skinker-deBaliviere Neighborhood, December 1980, vol. 11, no. 7.)
Written by Ted Steele
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Last Modified: 18-Jul-2023 13:10