McCune Gill; My Grandfather’s Mentor
By Michael A. Holden
As a title man growing up in Missouri, I have been familiar with the name McCune Gill all my working life. Mr. Gill had a tremendous influence on my family, the title insurance business and the real estate industry at large. Any title person from St. Louis surely recognizes the name McCune Gill as the author of the seminal book regarding real estate titles “Gill on Missouri Titles”. Born in Audrain County Missouri on March 20, 1883, McCune graduated from High School and began working for the Lincoln Trust Company around the turn of the 20th century.
The Lincoln Trust Company had been organized only a decade before in 1894. Lincoln Trust Co. was a growing real estate title firm that conducted real estate closings, financing and other real estate activities. In 1898, the company commissioned the construction of the Lincoln Trust Company building at the corner of Chestnut and 7th street in downtown St. Louis. The building became a fixture on what was known as “real estate row” in St. Louis, which covered Chestnut Street from 6th to 12th streets.
But Mr. Gill’s first foray into real estate titles was short as he obtained a leave of absence to study for a law degree from the Washington University. Returning to Lincoln Trust Co. after graduation from law school, McCune Gill began a prolific career as a title man, noted historian and author. He rose through the ranks of the Lincoln Trust Company, which changed its name to the Title Insurance Corporation of St. Louis in 1927. He eventually became the company’s President and Chairman of the Board before his death in 1965.
In 1920, my family entered Mr. Gill’s story, when McCune took a chance on a 19 year old apprentice named Morris Sidney Holden (my grandfather). My grandfather “Mo” as he was known considered Mr. Gill his greatest mentor in the title business. After spending 17 years working for Mr. Gill, my grandfather set out with two partners to start his own title agency.
In 1936, at age 53, McCune Gill added another accomplishment to his resume, serving as the President of the American Title Association (later becoming the American Land Title Association or ALTA). Mr. Gill contributed mightily to ALTA in its early years, writing many articles published in the Title News. In 1925 Mr. Gill was a keynote speaker to the annual convention and his session was listed in the Title News for August 1925 as “this will be one of the interesting and valuable talks of the convention.”
McCune Gill authored many books on real estate law. But his passions did not end with land title law and court cases, he also served as a trustee for the Missouri Historical Society, President of the St. Louis Mortgage Bankers Association and as a director of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.
McCune Gill died June 4th, 1965. The company he helped bring into the 20th century, Title Insurance Corporation of St. Louis was part of an anti-trust law suit in 1968 against Chicago Title and Trust Company. That suit ended with a consent decree wherein Chicago was required to divest its minority ownership in Title Insurance Co. of St. Louis. The company eventually partnered with First American Title Insurance Company and was merged into First American Title Insurance Company of the Mid-West in 1991.
My family would not be in the title business if it had not been for Mr. Gill, a man I never met but respected all my life. Had he not taken a chance on my grandfather in 1920, my family may have never entered the title business.
“There are no uninsurable properties in the United States, just unacceptable exceptions”– attributed to Morris Sidney Holden (1901-1976), former apprentice and employee of McCune Gill.
About the Author
Since 1989 Michael has held several roles in the title industry. The first 18 years of his career, Michael worked as a licensed title agent and managed a multimillion dollar title agency with 17 offices and 100 employees. Read More...
Michael A. Holden has published stories from his family's 100 years in the title industry in his book, The Ramblings of a Title Man, which can be purchased online through Lulu.com.