Metro-East News

Fire destroys historic St. Louis home once owned by Mark Twain’s uncle

Fire destroys historic St. Louis home once owned by Mark Twain's uncle

An early morning fire destroyed the James Clemens house in St. Louis.
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An early morning fire destroyed the James Clemens house in St. Louis.

A four-story warehouse in north city caught fire early Wednesday morning and spread to two other buildings, including the historic James L. Clemens House, according to the St. Louis Fire Department.

Clemens, Mark Twain’s uncle, once owned the home, according to the city of St. Louis’ website. Twain is believed to have visited the house several times, according to the city.

By the time firefighters arrived at about 3 a.m., the warehouse near the intersection of Helen and Mullanphy streets was engulfed in flames, the department stated on its Twitter account. Firefighters tried prevent it from spreading to other buildings, but less than a half-hour later, a two-story commercial building caught fire a few blocks away at North 15th Street and Cass Street.

“Wind conditions creating challenges for companies; a number of spot fires from floating embers,” the department tweeted at 3:36 a.m.

Department spokesman Garon Patrick Mosby tweeted at 5:29 a.m. that crews began fighting another nearby fire at the James Clemens House, 1849 Cass Ave., which is about 400 feet from the original warehouse fire. Mosby told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that more than 100 firefighters were working to extinguish the three fires and prevent them from spreading.

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Firefighters were wetting down rooftops Wednesday morning throughout the neighborhood to prevent potential fire extension from floating embers. Provided by the St. Louis Fire Department

The James Clemens House was officially designated as a city landmark in 1971, according to the city. The house is known for its unusual use of cast iron ornament on the front of the building.

“It has been said it is the finest application of cast iron on a residential building outside of New York City,” the city website stated. “Cast iron was usually utilized on commercial structures.”

When James Clemens died in 1878, the Sisters of St. Joseph bought the house and converted it into a large chapel in 1896. In 1949, the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers bought the house.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the house has stood vacant in recent years.

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