Anthony Sauer Castle (935 Shawnee Road)
The Anthony Sauer residence, popularly known as Sauer Castle, is both architecturally and historically one of the most significant houses in Kansas City, Kansas. It is one of the finest examples in the State of Kansas of the “Italianate Villa,” and may represent the work of the first trained architect in the Kansas City area, Asa Beebe Cross. Its owner, Anthony Sauer, was an important figure in the business life of Kansas City following the Civil War, as well as a pillar of the German-American immigrant community. The house remains as Sauer’s principal legacy to succeeding generations.
Anthony (Anton) Philip Sauer was born on March 10, 1826, at Hessen-on-the-Rhine in Germany. After unsuccessfully seeking his fortune in Australia, he immigrated to New York City in 1858, where he opened a tannery and imported leather from Europe. After the death of his first wife in New York, he sold his business and headed west in search of a more healthful climate. (He was reportedly a victim of tuberculosis.)
In 1867, Sauer came to Kansas City, Missouri, where he established a tannery, was a partner in Crider and Sauer, Wholesale Groceries, and by 1870 was president of the German American Savings Association at 823 Main. Here, he met Mrs. Mary (Maria) Einhellig Messerschmidt, a young German-American widow with two daughters. They were married in 1869. Before his marriage, Sauer had been looking for a place to build a home; and now, with a wife and a growing family (including five children of his own by his first wife, and Maria’s two; they eventually would have five additional daughters), he began to look in earnest. He decided on a scenic site that was high on the ridge south of the Kansas River, reportedly because it reminded him of his native land in that the site overlooked the river as his father’s home had overlooked the Rhine. The land was on the south side of the old Shawnee Road, which since the 1830s had linked Kansas City, Missouri with Shawnee Town in the Shawnee Indian Lands. The property had become part of the 200-acre allotment of a Shawnee named Big Knife and his wife following the division of the Shawnee Reserve in 1854. By 1870, the land, some 74.62 acres in extent, was in the hands of J. L. Pritchard who had developed it as a fruit farm.
Strongly interested in horticulture, Sauer purchased the Pritchard farm in late 1870 or early 1871. Primarily, he wanted to raise grapes for the manufacture of wine. It is estimated that the Sauers spent about $60,000 improving the property, and $20,000 of that sum went into the erection of the spacious brick house. The three-story, twelve-room house with high ceilings was large for a Kansas home of the period, perhaps the largest in Wyandotte County at the time. With the exception of the stones used for the foundation, all of the material for the house was reportedly shipped by boat from St. Louis.
The house was quite sophisticated for its time and location, and has been called the finest example of an Italianate Villa in the state. Given the quality of the design it is probable that an architect was involved. The name most often suggested is that of Asa Beebe Cross, the first professional architect in Kansas City, Missouri. The design would have been consistent with Cross’ other work of the period, and a well-to-do businessman like Sauer would probably have known him.
The house was furnished and occupied by November of 1872, ending a building campaign of almost two years. But Anthony Sauer occupied his house for less than seven years. He died in the master bedroom on a hot summer night, August 16th, 1879, succumbing at last to the tuberculosis that had driven him west. Mrs. Sauer continued to live in the house until her death in 1919. Both the Sauers and several of their children are buried in historic Union Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
Various members of the family continued to live in the home for many years. In May of 1914, while Mrs. Sauer was still alive, the Sauer Heirs (Maria Sauer, Clara Sauer, Thomas B. and Josephine Sauer Kinney, John S. and Eva Sauer Perkins, and George and Antoinette Sauer McLean) had the south 59 acres of the Sauer estate platted as Sauer Highlands, a 12 block subdivision. A lot just west of the house had previously been sold to L. J. Gilles, a son-in-law, and the remainder of the northern portion of the property was platted in March of 1921, as Sauer Highlands Annex by Thomas B. and Josephine Sauer Kinney. The house itself occupies Lot 1 of this subdivision, some 3.13 acres in size. Mr. Paul Berry purchased the land and mansion from the Sauer heirs in 1954, and resided there until his death in December of 1986. With Mr. Berry’s consent, the property was entered on the National Register of Historic Places on August 2nd, 1977.[i]