We recently found an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dated November 3, 1903. It was titled ‘Founder of Suburb Dies.’ It was an article about Benjamin F. Webster, the man for whom, as the article states, Webster Groves was named. Very interesting article, except it is wrong.
In 1845, Dr. Artemus Bullard was sent by First Presbyterian Church in St. Louis to organize a church in the area that was to become Webster Groves. At the time it was a settlement of farms and of large country homes for St. Louis businessmen. Bullard was taken with the lovely forested environs, and he built a school for boys there, naming it after the great statesman, Daniel Webster. His Webster College opened in 1850.
When the Pacific Railroad opened a line that passed through the developing village, its station was named for the school–Webster Station. Once it was learned that there was already a Webster Station in Missouri, the name was changed to Webster Groves. Dr. Bullard’s school did not outlive the strife of the Civil War, though its main building still stands on the grounds of the Great Circle campus on Gore Avenue.
Benjamin Franklin Webster was born in Boston in 1835, but was brought to St. Louis when he was two. He was educated at Amherst College and returned to St. Louis to practice law. He was also involved in real estate, and bought an existing home at 470 East Lockwood in the 1870s. The Sisters of Loretto purchased the Webster house in 1897 for a girl’s academy, naming it Loretto College. The Webster house burned down in 1905, to be replaced by the current Webster Hall. In time, they changed the school’s name to Webster College, which eventually became Webster University.
Coincidences abound in this history, so there is plenty of reason to be confused. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Benjamin F. Webster was involved in an early attempt to incorporate the village of Webster Groves into a city: the committee working on the incorporation even selected him as its mayor-designate, should their efforts become successful. They were not. Webster Groves would not be incorporated until years later, and Benjamin F. Webster never served as mayor.
But the fact is the name of Webster University has little to do with the fact that it is situated in Webster Groves–and Benjamin F. Webster, though important in local history, had nothing to do with the naming of the town.