Today I went to Grant’s Farm (by myself!) to go on a Busch Family Estate Walk. For those who are familiar with Grant’s Farm, you know that the Busch family, of Anheuser-Busch fame, called Grant’s Farm home for many years. And if you’ve ridden the tram, you may have noticed the family mansion peeking through the trees. If you’re lucky enough to have gone on a private expedition like our family did several years ago, you’ve even gotten to see the back of the house, but not take pictures of it…photography was strictly forbidden.
This year, everything changed. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Grant’s Farm as a public place in St. Louis, Grant’s Farm is offering the chance to go on an estate walk, an hour-long tour around the residential property, including visits to the playhouse, the chapel, and the swimming pool, and views of the house from all sides (but not the inside). To start the tour, you go through a rather forbidding looking gate down past the area of the Tiergarten where the camels and zebras can be found:
The first stop on the tour is the children’s playhouse. It’s a charming two-room house, complete with running water and functional wood-burning fireplace. Knickknacks and family photos decorate the rooms. The house is still used for tea parties and other fun children’s events. It’s completely adorable and charming!
Just behind the playhouse, you get a glimpse of the family’s tennis court, which is also equipped with basketball goals:
There is lovely man-made pond with a fountain known as “Dandelion Lake.” There are several benches by it, as well as statues of different types of wildlife. The many trees beginning to change color made it especially beautiful!
One of my favorite stops on the tour was at the family chapel, St. Hubert’s. The chapel is named for the Belgian patron saint of hunters, a nod to the Busch family’s love of hunting and wildlife. Tradition has it that Hubert saw a stag with a crucifix in its antlers while hunting one day, and immediately gave up his position and wealth to become a priest. He become the Bishop of Liège in 708, and died in 727. His feast day is remembered on November 3.
The chapel is beautiful, with stained-glass windows made by Louis Tiffany, son of the jeweler who founded Tiffany and Company. It was built by August Busch Jr. as a gift to his wife, a Swiss woman who had longed to have a chapel like the ones found in her home country on their property, on the occasion of the birth of their fifth child. Her parents gifted the chapel with its bells, which are from Switzerland, and are inscribed with the names of the children who had been born to the family up to that point. The chapel has served for family baptisms and other services, and was blessed by Cardinal Ritter, the only private chapel in the area to have such a distinction.
Of course, the highlight of the tour for me was seeing the house again, and getting to photograph it. It’s a 100-year-old, 34-room mansion, complete with 14 bathrooms, 12 bedrooms, and two kitchens. The entire third floor is a ballroom, and the Busch children used it as a roller skating rink when no parties were being given. I was delighted to see the front of the building for the first time:
And looking at with the Dandelion Lake in the foreground completes the picture of a stunningly beautiful family estate:
Our tour continued with a stop at the family swimming pool. It’s a heated pool, although even with the heat, it normally would have been closed for the year by now. They left it open for the tours, however, and you could almost see into the past, when the Buschs used to have Cardinals like Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst and their families over for pool parties. It may have been at one such party that “Gussie” first considered allowing visitors to tour the Deer Park and the Bauernhof (the original home and stables on the property)…one of the Cardinals wives suggested he open it to the public, and he eventually decided it was a good idea!
We also got a glimpse of the “cottage” on the property…a 17-room home built for Gussie’s widow after his death because the big house was too big for her with all of her children grown and moved out. Gussie’s former personal chauffeur still lives in the house, and Busch family members occasionally stay there, as well.
The back of the house was the one part I had seen before, but there’s a huge difference between driving past it, and being able to stop and look at all the details. That the rear entry of a home can look so grand is almost unbelievable to me, and yet here it is:
There were so many other little details I noticed as we walked around all sides of the house, including a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm on one of the side porches (I’d love to know the story behind that!), and beech trees like the ones that provide the beechwood that Budweiser beer is so famous for using in their aging process. There were also so many other stories I heard, including the fact that Gussie used to allow the two elephants that are still at Grant’s Farm today, Bud and Mickey, into the house when they were babies. He even fed them fruit off the family table, and they weren’t even the only wildlife allowed in the house. His wife must have been a very patient person!
I’ve heard some people complaining about the $25 price for the ticket, but I think it’s well worth it. I learned quite a lot, saw some beautiful things, and talked to some interesting people. If you have a chance before Grant’s Farm closes for the season, I highly recommend buying a ticket to this tour, because at this point, they haven’t decided if it will be offered again next year, and this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss!