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James Clemens House
On the 1800 block of Cass Avenue stands this estate. With the massive additions it has acquired, it's not immediately obvious that this was once a private home. But it did indeed begin life as a mansion belonging to one James Clemens Jr. -- Mark Twain's uncle. Twain himself is reported to have spent considerable time here during his riverboat years, though this claim has never been verified by historians. Clemens Jr. hosted lawn parties here at which Missouri's first governor was a guest.

The original building was designed in 1858 and uses cast iron extensively for its massive front porch and window trim. In 1885 the building was sold to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who added a non-descript addition to the rear of the main house in 1887, followed by the chapel building in 1896. In 1949 it passed to the Vincentian Foreign Mission Society, entering a long period of use by various social service organizations. As recently as 2000 it was a homeless shelter run by the Berean Society, but today it's vacant, boarded up, and rapidly deteriorating.

Fortunately, the building's roof is still mostly intact. The only major problem area (so far) is behind this portion of wall. Water penetration has lead to weakening of the roof structure and deterioration of the wall itself. Most of the original cornice, however, has been lost.

The cast-iron porch and details of the original house are beginning to separate from it. The deterioration of the porch can clearly be seen below. As the floor sags, it pulls the columns -- still attached to the porch roof -- outward at their base, resulting in the awkward angles seen here. Careful disassembly, repair, and structural reconstruction will be required to save the porch.

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