Four surprising ways to peek inside historic homes

Getting a look inside a historic home can be a challenge. Few of us are willing to knock on someone’s door and ask for a quick tour. But these four ways can give you a genteel way to see inside historic homes.

But these are only four ways to look inside a historic home. How have you found ways to see inside a historic home that has piqued your interest or is too far away to visit? I’d love to hear your tips on getting a glimpse.

1. Books provide an easy way to getting a look inside some amazing, even luxurious homes.  These four books recent books on historic homes offer lush pictures, interior and exterior views and information on the builders of the homes as well as the present residents. The books and the homes the authors included reveal a wide range of history.

All the books hail from the last six years, giving readers a current view of the wealth of historic homes available to see via the written page or in person on self-proclaimed historic home tour. The books cover the country, ranging from Naples, FL, Jefferson, Texas, Lake Minnetonka, MN to the grand dame of historic homes, New Orleans. By the way, there’s no need to go broke buying the books. Your local library should be able to get them for you on interlibrary loan. That’s what how I obtained them.

Dream houses: Historic Beach Houses and Cottages of Naples with text by Joie Wilson and photos by Penny Taylor describes how Naples began as a wealthy playground on the sea. With images including water colors, photos, old postcards and even a map, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped inside these beach homes.

Historic Homes of Jefferson, Texas by Cheryl MacLennan is clearly a labor of love. As she states, you can almost hear the clop clop clop of horses in this small town of 2,000, relegated to history when the Corps of Engineers changed the nearby waterway putting an end to the steam boat traffic. The result is a quiet place filled with the sumptuous homes built prior to the loss of steamboat traffic.

Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka by architectural journalist Bette Jones Hammel and photographer Karen Melvin gives you a rare, privileged view of these lush homes built by the scions of industry from the past and today. The homes highlighted range from historic homes to more recent modern installations. The book gives you a view of these homes you won’t be able to get in any other way.

Plantations and historic homes of New Orleans by Jan Arrigo. A New Orleans based freelance writer and fine art photographer gives you a view that even a tour of these historic homes won’t give you because she includes the history of the homes and provides the context of history, development, culture and even fire and flood to provide an appreciation of these historic homes.

2. Historic home stays — Books are dandy, but staying in a historic home gives you an even greater opportunity to enjoy historic homes. Jefferson, Texas bills itself as the Bed and Breakfast capital of Texas, and the Visit Jefferson Texas website offers a long list of spots to stay the night in a historic home.

All four books provide interior and exterior shots, but they also include close ups of the surprising features of historic homes. Several of the books include photographs of the gardens as well.

3. These homes talk — Via the books, you can hear the tales of trouble, success and happiness from the shores of Naples to the peace of small-town Jefferson, Texas. The lure of a historic home goes beyond the board and mortar to a desire to touch the past, and these books bring the past alive, and several include comments from the present residents disclosing their belief they’re saving the homes for future generations.

4. Museums preserve and reveal — The Old South is gone, as are the pioneers who founded New Orleans, but their tales and tragedies live on in the museums of the plantations and historic homes of New Orleans. The book Plantations and historic homes of New Orleans take on you a tour of more museums than you could probably take in during a visit to the Big Easy, explains how some places survived the floods of Hurricane Katrina, and more, all without you having to leave your reading spot at home.

If you’ve been bitten by the historic home bug, I’m betting you’ve found a few other ways to get a peek inside a historic home or two. Share your tips and ideas on how to see beyond the outside of a historic home, near or far.

This is why you get lost in Columbia, Missouri

Bet you didn’t know that Chapel Hill Road used to be West Boulevard South. Which now makes sense of the fact that the rest of West Boulevard often has addresses such as 121 West Boulevard North.

This street name tidbit came out at the April 1, 2014 event honoring the 2014 Most Notable Properties named by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission. Gaining one of these honors for a historic building 50 years or older was the Fairview Methodist Church. What? Can’t find the church? That’s because it’s now Countryside Nursery School. Which one of the presenters honored as Columbia’s longest operating day care. Except it isn’t a day care.

Have you come across other such “used to be” names in Columbia, Missouri? How did you find your way or uncover the reason behind the name? It’s this kind of thing that can make Columbia, Missouri so confusing.

At the event, Carol Notbohm, the former owner of Countryside Nursery School, talked about how when she moved here in the 1970s after retiring from teaching, the little church on the hill called to her. By then, it was vacant, after the congregation outgrew it and moved to a new church at 3200 Chapel Hill Road — with a website that calls it the Front Lawn Church. But the first church did give the new church’s location its name. Chapel Hill used to be the southern portion of West Boulevard until around the time the first Fairview Methodist Church was built. With the church in the location, it was renamed Chapel Hill for the church on the hill. And Fairview Methodist Church was named because an early church member commented that it looked so pretty on the top of the hill, according to a report by Deb Sheals, a historic preservation consultant cited in an article about the new Most Notable Properties.

It’s this kind of making sense of things that the Columbia Historic Homes website and history itself does. Have you might stumbled on a fact or information that helps make sense of Columbia? Let me hear from you about what you’ve discovered that keeps you from getting lost or confused.

What to read the entire article about the event on Tuesday, marking the five new Most Notable Properties? Here’s a summary and link to the article by Andrew Denney.

  • April 2, 2014 – Historic properties celebrated at 15th annual Most Notable event – Outlines a few facts for each of the five properties named to the Most Notable properties list by Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission. The properties are: Fairview United Methodist Church at 1320 S. Fairview Road., Fairview Cemetery at Chapel Hill and Fairview Road, Francis Pike House at 1502 Anthony St., Bess and Dr. J.E. Thornton House at 905 S. Providence Road. Columbia Tribune.

What’s an LP and why should we clean it?

When I was in high school in the 1970s, the newest music technology was an LP, short for long-playing record. It was a big improvement on the 45 rpm (revolutions per minute) record that only played for a few minutes and then had to be replaced with another record if you wanted to listen to more music. Or you could use a record scratching device that allowed you to pile a stack a pile of records on a pole, allowing them to drop one by one to be played when the arm swung over with a needle to play the grooves in the record.

Sound like greek? That’s because today, most of us use DVDs or MP3s or some other kind of electronic music storage and playing.

But back in the day, the newest kind of record was the LP. And since people handled those records, as my brother would tell me, “You’re going to get oil and grease from your fingers on the record. Handle it from the edge!” And that oil from my fingers, my older brother explained, fouled the grooves that recorded the music, degrading the sound over time. Well, sometimes I listened to my brother and sometimes I didn’t, and it seems that a lot of other people had the same problem.That’s why Bruce Maier invented Discwasher to clean the LPs. And if you do a search on the term, apparently some people think the product was the best ever. The company was sold over and over, and some LP gurus say the new product isn’t good for the LPs, but that’s not the point here.

The point is all this arcane information might be gone if it were not for the house at 2000 S. Country Club Drive, where Maier lived from 1975 to 1984.

That’s right. Historic homes can help us tell the story of our history by keeping those names and the stories of those people alive. Today, that house is owned by Russell and Mary Still, a former Missouri representative. While looking solid as the rock it is built from, the 1910 house actually once stood across the road until 1924, when its builder, Berry McAlester, moved it so he could build an even finer house on that spot. Does the name McAlester sound familiar to University of Missouri alumni? It should. Berry’s father, A.W. McAlester is sometimes called the father of the MU’s School of Medicine. He was the dean of the School from 1883-1909. There’s a building named after McAlester and that is keeping his name alive, the same way the house at 2000 S. Country Club Drive is keeping the name of Berry McAlester and Bruce Maier and the Discwasher alive.

This history was highlighted in this article, “Delightful Contrasts,” I wrote in 2010 for Columbia Home magazine. In the article, Mary Still notes the house is keeping up with the times, but retains the elegance of its past.

Are there any other houses in Columbia that you know of that hold that kind of history, the kind that could be so easily lost as we move from LP to MP3? I’d love to hear the stories you know about the houses of Columbia, Missouri.

This gives power to the people

If you own a historic home — or just an old house like I do — and you are all thumbs like I am, here’s your chance to get help for you and your house.

The City of Columbia just received a grant to put on workshops that will help homeowners learn the ins and outs on renovating homes with sessions planned to cover windows, paint and flooring.

Want to find out when the dates are set for this upcoming seminars? The Historic Preservation Commission has a Facebook page.

Why renovate older homes? This article, City gets state grant to conduct historic preservation seminars, in the March 31, 2014, a report is cited that each year, 2,400 tons of waste goes into the city’s landfill from the demolition of historic buildings.

That’s $108,048 a year, using a cost of $45.02, the average price of disposing of a ton of waste in U.S. landfills according to the Waste Business, an industrial research analysis site.

So renovating a home can save the city some money and since we all pay the environmental and tax costs of operating landfills, these classes will save all of us some money. So what is your biggest home renovation challenge? Windows? Paint? Flooring? For me, the biggest challenge has been knowing where to start, what I could tackle on my own and when to get help.

Here’s to hoping these seminars touch on that, too.


Do you think Columbia is an architectural wasteland?

William Bernoudy – student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Eero Saarinen – architect of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Boller Brothers and an Paris opera.

These are just a few of the names and reasons cited to dispel the idea that Columbia, Missouri is an architectural wasteland. In case you missed this article by Morgan McCarty in the November 2013 issue of Inside Columbia. The article, “Columbia, The Beautiful,” outlines the architectural finds in Columbia.

I know. I know. We live in the Fly-Over Zone — the area of the country folks from the East and West Coast fly over, only to ask us where we live again and again, sometimes mixing up Missouri with Montana. It is after all, one of “those” M states “out there.”

But sometimes we ourselves perpetuate that myth, perhaps to keep the gem of Columbia to ourselves? I’d love to hear your comments.

At any rate, this article describes the architectural importance of these nine Columbia sites:

  • 1844 Cliff Drive, built by William Bernoudy.
  • 709 West Broadway, designed by Ludwig Abt, also the architect for Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
  • Stephens College Firestone Baars Chapel, designed by Eero Saarinen. Your friends from the East have likely flown past his other claim to fame, the Arch in St. Louis.
  • Missouri Theatre on Ninth Street, one of the few remaining “movie palaces.” The article reports the theatre’s design was inspired by he Paris’ historic Opera Garnier. No need for a long flight to enjoy this beauty, instead, we get to enjoy its 1,000-plus space and newly renovated interior at events scheduled by the University of Missouri, the owner of this 1928 theatre.
  • Memorial Union at the University of Missouri. The article states the combination of two kinds of masonry give it the look of “a Gothic ruin instead of a modern monument imitating a medieval building.”
  • Belvedere and Beverly apartment buildings, designed by Nelle E. Peters. Peters was one of the first women architects, according to this information from the State Historic Society. If you feel like a drive, her work can be seen in the “Literary block,” on the west side of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. Each apartment is named after a famous author including Mark Twain. Or you can drive down Hitt Street and see her work and even get a peek inside at this website for the both the Belvedere and Beverly apartments.
  • 716 John N. and Elizabeth Taylor House, once a bed and breakfast, it is once again a home. It is in Columbia’s first subdivision, Westwood.
  • Jessie Hall and the Columns, said to be one of the most photographed spots in Missouri.
  • 509 Thilly Ave., an American Craftsman Foursquare.

If these architectural gems aren’t enough for you to cast away those ideas about Columbia as an architectural backwater, what kinds of attractions do you think would make Columbia a bigger draw for our East and West Coast friends — or do you want to keep Columbia our little secret?

I’d love to hear about the sights and sites you’d like spotlighted.

Seven reasons to skip this event marking historic places in Columbia, Missouri

You may want to skip this free event set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at Columbia’s historic Daniel Boone Lobby at 701 E. Broadway.

Below I list seven reasons not to attend this reception and presentation marking the honoring of five Columbia properties as Notable Properties by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission. Since 1998, the HPC has been honoring historic properties to highlight their historic importance, sometimes as an attempt to save the building or location from being lost. This year, the five properties being honored are: Fairview United Methodist Church, Fairview Cemetery, Lee School, Francis Pike House and the Bessie and Dr. J.E. Thornton House.

In case you ignore these seven reasons not to attend, organizers are requesting those planning to attend to RSVP by Monday.The reception begins at 6:30pm in the lobby of the Historic Daniel Boone Building, 701 E. Broadway. The recognition program will begin at 7 pm. RSVPS are appreciated.

And if you are planning on going, I’d love to hear from you. Have you attended past events? Why are such events a draw for you — or why have you skipped in the past or are planning on giving it a no-go this year?

1. The event is a free celebration of Columbia’s history. Founded in 1821, Columbia’s Notable Properties include houses from 1827 to 1959, highlighting the city’s history from its pre-Civil War agricultural days to recent history with its economy based on medical care, insurance and education, industries said to give the city a near-recession proof economy. Properties named to the Notable Properties List have included churches, commercial buildings, even a mule barn. The requirements are that the buildings must be older than 50 years old and highlight a historic event, person or place. The designation does not include any restriction on future development or use.

Knowing the city’s history, however, gives people a greater appreciation of our past and hence our present. It creates connections where once none existed. For example, Lee Elementary School, honored this year, demonstrates a connection to the Civil War and the country’s Great Depression and federal efforts to help us dig out of that financial abyss.

So who wants to know that kind of positive history? If you do, like I do, then attend the event.

2. The event offers a free celebration with food catered by Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar, a downtown location that consistently gets high rankings at TripAdvisor. The restaurant is ranked 37th in Columbia, Missouri attractions, so Tuesday night will give you an opportunity to try the food for free. Who wants that — well, anyone who enjoys good food I suppose. I’ll be there enjoying the Bleu offerings.

3. Lee Elementary School at 1208 Locust St., will be added to the list of Notable Properties. The school educates about 300 children in grades K through 5. It’s a school with an emphasis on arts today, and the history of the building began in 1904 when it was named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In the 1930s, Columbia was growing and Lee school was crowded. But the country was just coming out of the Great Depression, a time period with a 25-percent unemployment rate. The federal government put in place many programs to help stimulate the economy included building projects.  According to a Columbia Daily Tribune article published Feb. 3, 2014, “Lee Elementary amount sites honored as Notable Properties,” there were 15 such New Deal building projects in Columbia and “12 of those projects were for Columbia Public Schools or the University of Missouri.” Tuesday’s event will likely feature representatives of Lee accepting the award. But who wants to remember a time our country overcame economic adversity and get to meet some local educators teaching our children? Those who do, can attend the gala marking Lee’s entry to the Notable Properties List. I’ll be there in hopes of hearing from the educators about their school.

4. Fairview United Methodist Church at 1320 S. Fairview Road will be inducted into the Notable Properties List, but it isn’t a church anymore. One of the best ways to save history is to put the building to work. When Fairview United Methodist Church outgrew this small building, it went on to become the Countryside Nursery School, according to a Jan. 31, 2014 Columbia Missourian article, “Lost history: Fairview Cemetery reflects buried history.” The school has gone on to educate more than 3,000 students since 1979, the article notes. So why would you be interested in a building being reused and remaining a vibrant part of our community? If you are, see you at Tuesday’s event.

5. Fairview Cemetery, next to the former Fairview United Methodist Church, is remarkable for two reasons: it marks a cemetery cared for by family members links it to a cemetery that was lost to time, The Grant Cemetery. Robert Eugene Grant cares for the Fairview Cemetery with his nephew Gary Wayne Grant and his niece Patsy Watt, president of Fairview Cemetery Association. But his distant relatives were buried in Grant Cemetery. Somewhere along Bourn Avenue and Rollins and Stadium, the cemetery was the center of a controversy between the Grant family and a developer that bought the land. The headstones went missing and the development went ahead. As David Sapp, a local historian, is quoted in the newspaper article as noting at that time a lot of family cemeteries were destroyed because there were not laws in place. So why would you want to mark a place where Columbia’s ancestors reside and acknowledge improved respect for such landmarks? Those who do, could attend Tuesday evening’s event.

6. Francis Pike House at 1502 Anthony St. and the Bessie and Dr. J.E. Thornton House at 905 S. Providence. The Anthony Street home was built with Ozark rock and is a rare example of local native stone use, the Columbia Missourian article notes. The Thornton house marks the life of physician Dr. J.E. Thornton who didn’t live long enough to reside in the home he was having built. The house marks his life while highlighting our fragility. The Historic Preservation Commission events typically include presentations about the history of the homes, so who wants to learn more about an area, Providence Road, where street expansion and the destructions of homes has been in the news? If you do, mark Tuesday evening on your calendar.

7. The worst reason to go to the event is to learn to appreciate Columbia and the community. There will be a crowd of people who know about our history and how we grew from a tiny town of a few settlers to a city of more than 100,000, how we went from being a farming community, to a city with problems, yes, but one with three institutions of higher education, a lively downtown (come early to find parking) and employment opportunities in a wide range of industries.

The city has been naming properties to this list since 1998. Qualifying properties must be at least 50 years old, within the city limits and have architectural or historic features that contribute to the city’s social and/or aesthetic resources, according to the city announcement of the event. Properties named to the list have ranged from brick streets to the Blue Note, from Stephens Stables to several of Columbia’s churches.

For more information or to see what other properties have been named to this list, see Columbia’s Most Notable Properties, go to this City of Columbia page.

But maybe these Notable Properties don’t interest you. Or they do and you aren’t attending this event. Why are you missing the event? What properties would you like to see highlighted? What would make you turn out and what makes you interested — or avoid — Columbia history? I’d like to hear from you.



The big business of bricks

Bricks once meant big bucks in Columbia, Missouri. In 1908, The Edwards Brick Co., invested $50,000 — $1.3 million in 2012 purchasing power according to — and employed 40 men, producing 25,000 paving bricks a day. The big buck investment was cited in Brick, Vol. 29, published in October 1908.

W.E. Edwards established the Edwards Brick & Tile Company in 1896 in Columbia, Missouri.

W.E. Edwards established the Edwards Brick & Tile Company in 1896 in Columbia, Missouri.

By the time the company closed in 1985, the name had been changed to Columbia Brick and Tile, but the employment and output hadn’t changed much. According to a Sept. 12, 1971 article in the Sunday Missourian Magazine, the plant produced 35,000 bricks a day and employed 35 men, including owner operator Bill Powell.

Now Columbia has approved fixing the city’s brick roads, citing their historic value and even the economic value of brick roads. Asphalt roads must be replaced every 15 years, while brick roads can last more than 100 years, notes a March 16, 2014 article by Veronike Collazo published in the Columbia Missourian. On March 17, 2014, Collazo reported the city approved restoring brick streets in Columbia over the next 20 years. See this city map for information on where brick streets are now. In the agreement, it should be noted, the city agreed to limit the cost and include characteristics to make brick streets safe for persons with disabilities.

Today, the brickworks once at 2801 E. Walnut, Columbia, Mo., is roughly under the Lowe’s on Conley Road, according to Liz Kennedy, the sister of the now late John “Jack” Kennedy, the last operator of that brick company. Kennedy noted that Columbia once supported a half dozen brickworks, an industry she says was put out of business due to several factors: increasing regulations, soaring energy costs, the availability of inexpensive mass-produced bricks and a shift toward a demand for perfect and uniform colored bricks, something the beehive kiln bricks of the local company couldn’t be counted on to produce. Today, the reminders of the brickworks exist in a stack of a wide variety of brick and tile at Liz Kennedy’s home — and the brick buildings in Columbia.

Bricks and tile from Edwards Brick, later called Columbia Brick and Tile.

Bricks and tile from Edwards Brick, later called Columbia Brick and Tile.

But the energy costs Liz Kennedy cites might not have affected W.E. Edwards who established the Edwards Brick and Tile Company in 1896. In 1907, he sank a shaft at the works “so as to get at the coal to use at the works,” notes the 1907 Clay Record, Volumes 31-32 by J. Dixon Doyle and George H. Hartwell published by Clay Record Publishing Company.

Here’s a brief chronological history of the Columbia Brick and Tile Company:

According to The State Historical Society of Missouri archival material and summaries of this information, the Edwards Brick and Tile Company “manufactured brick and tile for use in residential, commercial, and institutional projects in Columbia, central Missouri and out-of-state.”

In 1930, the plant became the Edwards-Conley Brick and Tile Company, when Sanford Conley joined the firm.

In 1945, Edwards sold his interest to A. Burnett Coleman.

In 1947, the company’s name was changed to Columbia Brick and Tile, following the death of Conley died and the sale of his interest to Hart Robnett.

In 1950, Fred Kennedy and William Powell bought the plant. In 1966, Fred Kennedy died and his son Jack Kennedy continued the firm in partnership with Powell.

In 1985, Jack and his sister Liz closed the business. The historic archives explains the closure: “Inflation; cost increases in labor, materials, and gas prices; gas shortages and curtailments; and increases in federal regulations in the 1970s took their toll on the small business…”

Now, the history of Columbia as a town with brickworks is nearly forgotten. Yet the legacy lives on in the brick homes and buildings with their multihued and unusual bricks