This splendid house stands on the most prominent site in this quarter of St. Louis as a stunning climax of the Queen Anne style in the lumbering regions of Michigan. John A. Elwell (1832–1910) came to this town on the Pine River in 1875 from New York City to lease, extend, improve, and operate the Chicago, Saginaw and Canada Railroad (later part of the Pere Marquette system). He brought with him needed capital and business expertise. Local tradition has it that Elwell wanted to create for himself and his wife, Catherine, a house similar to one he remembered in his Swedish homeland; he may even have imported the services of a Swedish architect. Most likely Elwell himself, with perhaps a Saginaw architect, and a Mr. Leach, who was a carpenter-builder, collaborated in the design, drawing for inspiration on an architectural book. Together they handpicked the lumber—all of it native to Michigan—and built this magnificent dwelling.
The rambling house is a picturesque assemblage of gables, porches, bays, a balcony, and a conical-roofed polygonal corner turret. Stickwork outlines the bays and stories of the exterior clapboarded wall plane, and decorative king-post trusses span the paneled and shingled gables. The whole is ornamented in the Eastlake decorative manner, with carved, chiseled, gouged, and scrolled posts, brackets, friezes, and panels. Cresting and finials frost the ridge of the shingled roof once clad with green slate. A matching carriage house is on the ample grounds. Unequaled by any residence in the area, the Elwell house stands as testimony of this wealthy pioneer's importance to St. Louis.