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The development of the western district of St. Louis is largely attributable to the labors, the progressive spirit and the broad business vision of William L. Balson, now deceased, who for many years was a prominent factor in the real estate circles of St. Louis. He saw possibilities and recognized opportunities which he utilized, not only in the upbuilding of his own fortunes but in the development and improvement of the city as well. A native of England, he was born at Bridport, Dorsetshire, October 8, 1842. His ancestors had lived for several generations in Dorsetshire and although some followed the sea most of them were farming people. Both of his parents, Lewis and Susan (Wheadon) Balson, were also born in Dorsetshire, the former in 1817. For a quarter of a century the father sailed the sea before coming to America in 1853, in which year he established his home in St. Louis and entered the employ of James White, a lumber dealer, with whom he remained until the outbreak of the Civil war. During the hostilities between the north and south he assisted in the building of gun-boats for use on the Mississippi and southern rivers. Later he retired from business and passed away in November, 1877.
For two years after arriving in St. Louis, William L. Balson attended the public schools and then at the age of thirteen years started out to provide for his own support. He was employed for two years in the wholesale clothing house of Bigelow & Company and then secured a position with William Card, manufacturing sheet iron for steamboat use. He was attracted, however, by the carpenter’s trade and when seventeen years of age entered upon an apprenticeship to Jotham Bigelow, one of the oldest builders of St. Louis. At the time the Civil war began he was in Leavenworth, Kansas, and he remained in the government employ in connection with the quartermaster’s department until October, 1862, when he returned to St. Louis and assisted in building hospitals at Jefferson Barracks for the wounded who were brought up the river on steamboats.
In 1866 Mr. Balson began contracting and building on his own account and later broadened the scope of his activities to include real estate dealings. He was largely engaged in speculative building, erecting houses on his own land and selling them on the monthly payment plan. There has been, perhaps, no contractor nor real estate man who has done more to develop and improve St. Louis than did Mr. Balson, whose operations in the suburbs of the city converted unsightly vacancies into beautiful residential districts. He was active in the development of the Stoddard subdivision west of Jefferson avenue and north of Franklin street and was a pioneer in the extension of the city westward. He laid out the first subdivision in Benton, now a part of Maplewood and afterward purchased the Goodfellow homestead north of St. Charles Rock road now Easton avenue, which he subdivided. He also purchased and subdivided several adjoining tracts belonging to the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance ‘Company and in this undertaking was associated with Ben Hammett of the Hammett-Anderson-Wade Realty Company. He afterward purchased and subdivided the old Cate-Brilliant Race Track, bounded by Union boulevard, Kings Highway, Page and Easton avenues. He was likewise interested in the syndicate which subdivided Raymond place, developing this property as far south as Delmar boulevard. He subdivided what is known as the Mt. Gamble division lying between Goodfellow and Clara avenues and later sub-divided Schofield place, Balson’s Olive addition and also later laid out Shaftesbury Heights in University City. No one questioned his right to be classed a dominant factor in the upbuilding of the history of St. Louis, now its most important residential section.
On the 23d of December, 1896, Mr. Balson was married to Miss Ella Schofield, who was born in Lancashire, England, a daughter of William and Sally (Batty) Schofield, who came to the United States when Mrs. Balson was but six months old. After a brief period spent in Pittsburgh they removed to St. Louis, where Mr. Schofield was identified with the hat trade for many years. Mr. and Mrs. Balson began their domestic life in St. Louis and for many years lived at 5933 Clemens avenue. In 1910 they removed to Webster Groves, purchasing the old Kennard home and in 1914 he sold that residence and built the present handsome home at 6110 Westminister place, where his widow and daughter, Mrs. Hays, still reside. To Mr. and Mrs. Balson were born the following named: William Schofield, an able architect and business man who died in 1903; Ella E., wife of E. B. Finlay of Webster Groves; Susan C., wife of George W. Mitchell of St. Louis; Edith M., who died in infancy; Mary J., wife of Ashley E. Dreyer of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Ethel C., widow of Thomas P. Hays; Lewis E., contractor and builder, lives at University City and is mentioned elsewhere in this work; Eva, who died in 1917; and Olive A., wife of Harold Drumm of Chicago, Illinois.
Mr. Balson passed away December 3, 1914. He was a thirty-second degree Mason and was made an honorary member of the lodge in his native town when he returned to his birthplace on a visit in 1909. He was a democrat in politics and his religious belief was that of the Methodist Episcopal church. His life was ever honorable and upright and the nobility of his character made him universally esteemed.