J.W. McAlister/A.J. August House
Backstory and Context
James William McAlister was born in Lincoln, Kentucky in 1852. He married Josephine Embry Withers in 1883 in his hometown, though he had relocated to St. Joseph by that time to seek his fortune. Through the 1880s McAlister worked as a cashier for the Saxton National Bank, located at Fourth and Francis. He worked his way up to Vice President of the bank until its merger with the Schuster-Hax National Bank to form the First National Bank in 1894. McAlister remained as first cashier for the First National Bank until 1902 when he and his family relocated to California.
At the height of St. Joseph’s building movement, corresponding with Harvey Ellis’ tenure with Eckel & Mann, J.W. McAlister commissioned a home for himself and his growing family at the corner of 19th and Felix Streets. Ellis drafted two radically different plans for the structure, but the finalized home maintained the form of the second plan. It was a large brick structure in the Spanish-Romanesque style. It had several towers and oriels, a loggia and archway over the main entrance, as well as an arched carriage entrance attached to the rear of the building. As with many of the Ellis buildings, the McAlister home was completed in 1890.
The McAlister home had a long history of occupancy following the departure of its original owners to California. Albert Jacob August, founder of the A.J. August Clothing Store at Fourth and Felix Streets, purchased the home from McAlister and moved in in April 1903. August was born in New York in 1860 to Jacob and Bertha Eppstein August. His father, who was also a clothier, moved the family to Kansas in the 1880s. A.J. August came to St. Joseph to marry Sarah Weil in 1885, establishing his own business which would become one of the most well known brands in the region. The couple had a son, Stanley, and a daughter, Elaine, who were teenagers when they moved into the former McAlister home.
After A.J. August passed away in 1940, the home became the perfect location for the St. Joseph Museum. The museum, which had been established in 1927, had made its home in the annex of the St. Joseph Public Library at Tenth and Felix. Its ever growing collection required a larger space, so the board of directors purchased the A.J. August house to make room for the museum’s extensive exhibits. The museum was located in the A.J. August home from 1942-1947 when it expanded once again into the Wyeth-Tootle Mansion.
The short tenure of the St. Joseph Museum location within the home is often cited as an example of the paranormal activity which seems to occur within. The museum had a difficult time maintaining security guards to watch the building overnight due to reports of running water and closing doors. Residents since have cited hearing a child, a servant, and a young man as well as movement through the home and missing items. Stanley August passed away at the young age of 36 while still residing in his parents’ home. J.W. McAlister allegedly lost a child whose face was carved in terra cotta above the entrance arch by Ellis’ design. These legends have continued to make the McAlister/A.J. August House a favored piece of St. Joseph architecture through the generations.