“Attorney C. N. Travous and family will move into their handsome new residence on St. Louis Street the latter part of the week” was the announcement in the Edwardsville Intelligencer on September 10, 1895. Nearly 114 years later, the Travous house is still a “handsome” structure that has been home to some of Edwardsville’s leading citizens, beginning with that first family.
The Greek Revival home designed by noted St. Louis architect F. C. Bonsack featured ornate cornices with wide friezes and impressive ionic columns that sheltered second floor balconies. Interior details included seven ornate fireplace mantles, hardwood floors, intricate woodwork, and the likeness of Ludwig Von Beethoven created in Tiffany glass for the window above the fireplace in Mrs. Travous’ Music Room. No stranger visiting this imposing St. Louis Street home in 1895 would guess that the owner was born into near poverty.
The life of Charles Norton Travous was a true rags to riches story. He was born to Irish immigrant parents who settled on a farm south of Collinsville. When he was still a boy, his father died and the children had to help support the family. Charles worked a variety of odd jobs to help his family, but continued to get an education and was eventually able to take the examination that qualified him to teach school. From 1878 to 1881 he taught school at Grantfork during the school year and studied at the law firm of Gillespie and Happy during the summer. Travous passed the bar in 1881 and worked with a number of law partners until hired by the Wabash Railroad in St. Louis as their General Counsel in 1905.
Travous was considered an exceptional attorney but according to a newspaper article in 1907, he “died of work”. In addition to his position with the railroad, Travous also had real estate property, including store fronts on Main Street, was involved in banking, and played a major role in Republican politics. He died suddenly in bed at the young age of 50 in 1907. It was said he came to Edwardsville without a cent to his name, and “died in one of the city’s most costly and beautiful homes.”
But C. N. Travous, though dedicated to his profession, was also a happily married family man. On October 6, 1886 he married Miss Gillian Lusk Torrence at the Methodist Church in Edwardsville. Their marriage was called “a love match” where they served as each others closest companions and advisors. They had two children, Sarah and Rachel Louise.
Mrs. Travous, born in 1859, was from two of Edwardsville’s oldest families. Her father, James R. Torrence was born west of Edwardsville the same year Illinois became a state. Her mother, Sarah Lusk Torrence was a daughter of the Lusk and Gillham families that arrived in Madison County in 1803 and 1805 respectively.
She was a teacher before her marriage and an early librarian at the Edwardsville Public Library. She was an active participant in Edwardsville society, serving as hostess to local friends and neighbors as well as to governors and other dignitaries. Her social skills were also put to use when she served as one of the hostesses of the Illinois Building at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
Mrs. Travous died in December of 1930 at the age of 71. Many years prior to her death, daughter Sarah had married William Howe and moved to St. Louis. Rachel Travous, who went by her middle name, Louise, is credited with organizing the League of Women Voters in Edwardsville in 1954. She never married and remained in the house until 1942 when she sold the house to another prominent Edwardsville family, that of Dr. Roy S. Barnsback. After leaving St. Louis Street, Louise built a second Edwardsville Travous House on Center Street that was considered very modern for it’s time, and is also an architecturally significant building.
The Barnsback family lived in the St. Louis Street house until after the death of Mrs. Barnsback in 1976. Thus the home had only 2 owners during its first eighty years in existence. It has since had numerous owners who have been good caretakers of the property. Kitchen and baths have been modernized but otherwise all the architectural features mentioned above, inside and out, remain to be enjoyed for generations to come.