Who was A.P. Greensfelder? It's not a trivial question, since he was involved, either directly or through cooperation with others, in the donation of the land--Rockwoods Range (1,400 acres), Rockwoods Reservation (1,800 acres), and Greensfelder County Park (1,600 acres)--that forms the big chunk of open space in west St. Louis County.

The most detailed description of A.P. Greensfelder's connection to Rockwoods Range is on a microsite maintained by the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists. The details are different than those for Rockwoods Reservation and Greensfelder County Park. For those parks, A.P. Greensfelder worked with other St. Louis businessmen to donate the land to the Conservation Commision and St. Louis County. But for Rockwoods Range, he seems to have donated his own land.

And it's not like it was land that he bought and forgot about until he gave it way; instead, it seems to have been land that he used and enjoyed. The parks has a memorial to him, located where he once had a cabin. I find it interesting that the memorial describes the cabin as a "country home" and includes a sketch which makes it seem very avant garde. It's easy to see the cabin as a rich man's escape, as the Ozarks equivalent of the English country house.

I suspect that the truth was much different. Part of the foundation survives, from which we can imagine what the whole cabin was like. The foundation is fieldstone, probably gathered locally, and would have encompassed an area of perhaps 500 square feet. In other words, it was a cabin-sized cabin. There's very little poured concrete in evidence--just one small area, perhaps the remains of a rainwater cistern.

I suspect that live in the cabin would have been spartan. Water would always have been a problem. A cistern would have helped, but they still would have had to bring drinking water in with them. They probably used an outhouse. Still, the site would have had its attractions. Sixty years ago, the views would have stretched much farther. And summer nights, with all the windows open, would have been heavenly.

The remains of the steps up the slope to the house, decorated with yuccas, are still visible. The yuccas suggest sensible disposition: some people might have tried daffodils or irises, but they wouldn't have lasted long on the rocky, usually bone-dry hilltop. Instead, the yuccas have done quite well, better than the house did

There's a picture of A.P. Greensfelder at the Missouri History Museum's website. He looks like a calm, self-contained, even reflective man. And the bits I can gather about his biography suggest that he was thoroughly competent. But the cabin says more about the man.

It says that when he had made enough money to buy a country place, he spent the money on land, and not on a house. He spent his money on something that would get better, that would recover from a history of logging, the longer he owned it. Roofs leak, foundations crack, tastes in recreation change. Money spend on those things is money gone. But money spent on the land was money improved, money transformed into something more durable.

Second, the cabin suggests that he understood his temporary relationship to the land. He could easily have built solidly, poured much more concrete, graded much more hillside, trucked in more materials. The local stone foundation suggests a kind of thoughtful miminalism, a making do with what was available, cleverly to be sure, but making do nonetheless. All in all, it seems to be a cabin that was always meant to be torn down.

There's a book waiting to be written about A.P. Greensfelder, and about St. Louis. A book sketching the career of a man and the maturation of a city. But no matter how well-written the book might be, it could never be as eloquent as the remains of his cabin.