It’s one thing to live in a historic house to which you’ve added such memorable quirks as a bathroom floor salvaged from the woodpile when the town’s last standing outhouse finally collapsed. But it’s quite another to wrest from your grandchildren one of their best-ever playrooms and revert it to one of its previous incarnations, as a general store.
Blair and Dory Smith have done all the above in the 13 years since they bought 22 LaSalle Street in Elsah. The address covers both the Smiths’ two-story, three-bedroom home, whose oldest rooms date to the 1890s, and also the original store up front, erected in 1877.
One year ago — on April 3, 2015 — the couple reopened the long unused storefront, its shelves, countertops and wallpaper already in place, as the Elsah General Store.
Yet as prospective home buyers, it was the house itself that stole their hearts. “Some people say, ‘Ohhh, you have an old house when you’re younger and then you get something easier,’” Dory says. However, she traces the Smiths’ fondness for history and antiques to the three years early in their marriage when they lived in New Jersey, one of the original 13 colonies.
The couple’s older pieces and replicas, the latter including photo-derived silhouettes of their children and grandchildren, look right at home in Elsah. Still, the Smiths routinely realize they’ve acquired far more than property.
Among dear friends, they now count 97-year-old Genie (short for Eugenia) Keller. She and her husband, Eddie, a former mayor of Elsah, lived in the house from shortly after their marriage in 1961 until they relocated to nearby Godfrey in the 1990s.
Eddie’s parents, the first owners of the house at 22 LaSalle Street, operated a general merchandise shop in their storefront. His grandparents lived next door and eventually ran a popular doughnut business there.
One of five sons, Eddie was born in 1921, likely right in his parents’ house. In the adjoining storefront, he would sell commercial air conditioners and then run a machine shop.
When the Smiths bought the property, tears of happiness were shed. “They put their arms around me,” Genie recalls.
To the Smiths, she and Eddie, who passed away in 2011, deeded not only village memories, but also a sizable chunk of family history. “We love it here,” Dory says.
Blair and Dory Smith
Home • Elsah
Ages • They’re both 60.
Occupations • Proprietors of the Elsah General Store that adjoins their home. Following a business career, Blair worked in the student life departments at Principia (Upper) School in St. Louis and Principia College in Elsah. Dory has been involved in high school athletics in St. Louis for 25 years, both at Principia and Villa Duchesne schools. She is currently mentor coordinator for the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and through her company, Athletic Principles, speaks on high school athletics.
Family • Married 39 years, Blair and Dory met as sophomores at Principia College. They have two married children — Nate, 35, in Portland, Ore., and Ashley, 33, in St. Charles — and two grandsons.