By Diane Euston
Capturing the essence of the Christmas season is upon us. Less than an hour drive from Kansas City, a small town is oozing with charm in its well-maintained antebellum homes, enchanting main street shops and quaint churches, all carefully decorated for the holiday season.
Weston, Mo. looks like the setting of a Rockwell painting or the scene of a Lifetime movie. In fact, Weston is the backdrop for a new Lifetime Christmas movie called “Rebuilding a Dream Christmas” set to air Dec. 23.
If you’ve ever been to Weston, then this is likely not a big surprise. It’s a place that makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time, and it’s one of my favorite day-trip getaways.
That’s why each year, I look forward to their annual Weston Candlelight Homes Tour. It’s a rare opportunity to visit the town and walk through the houses usually only admired from the street. 2021 marks the 40th year of this tradition, and the houses opening their doors Dec. 4 and 5 are bursting with historic holiday cheer.
A Brief History of Weston
In 1836, the Sac and Fox Tribes ceded their lands in western Missouri. Called the Platte Purchase, counties of Platte, Buchanan, Andrew, Holt, Nodaway and Atchison were formed a year later and open for legal settlement.
Just to the west of this purchase across the Missouri River was Fort Leavenworth. Laid out in 1827 by Col. Henry Leavenworth, it is today the second oldest active military post west of our nation’s capital and is the oldest settlement in Kansas.
Like so much of Missouri’s early history, some of the details of Weston’s founding are preserved in oral histories passed down through generations. One story indicates that Joseph Moore, an army dragoon stationed at Fort Leavenworth, bought the future site of Weston from an Indian trader for a barrel of whiskey in 1837. With little knowledge of town platting, Moore allegedly enlisted the help of fellow dragoon Thomas Weston – thus the birth of the town’s name “Weston.”
Other stories state that the name derives from the fact that Weston was the furthest “West-Town” in the United States until Texas was admitted as a state in 1845.
Weston’s founder, Joseph Moore was said to build a log cabin, lay out some streets and sell some lots. However, according to the Annals of Platte County, Missouri published in 1898, Moore “possessed no business qualifications, and the town did not prosper.” Just one year after its founding, half of the interests of the town were sold to 21-year-old Bela M. Hughes. Within short order, the new owner began selling lots with reasonable terms. Settlers such as Ben Holladay (founder of what is now known as McCormick Distillery and later the founder of the Overland Stage Route to California) moved to the area. Holladay (1819-1887) was the town’s first postmaster.
By 1840, the town began to attract steamboats from the Upper Missouri River. With the river traffic, Weston grew to be the second largest port on the Missouri River behind St. Louis, and by 1850, the population reached 5,000.
The border troubles ignited as pro-slavery residents living in Weston and throughout the western counties of Missouri rallied for the expansion of slavery into Kansas. Towns such as Weston suffered on the eve of the Civil War, and a major fire destroyed many of the buildings downtown in 1865. When the railroad originally bypassed the town and chose St. Joseph as a hub, the town’s population drastically declined.
This may be part of the reason that so much of the original town still stands as a time capsule; antebellum brick homes have been spared by the bulldozers. So much of the town’s character remains as a gentle reminder of simpler times, and the residents today host various events in order to encourage tourism and share Weston’s colorful history with us all. The Candlelight Homes Tour remains a town favorite. The homes featured this year are a perfect sampling of the town’s history, architecture and charm.
Quinley Home (Events at Greenbrier) – 626 Main Street
Sitting high on Main St., this brick home is an example of common antebellum architecture in the town that has been carefully preserved. Built in 1852 by Col. James A. Price (1829-1916), Price moved to Weston as a young man and opened a dentist’s office. He was the first man to practice dentistry in Kansas; he would often cross the river and work for soldiers at Fort Leavenworth. He married Russella Boone Warner, granddaughter of Daniel Boone, in 1848.
Interestingly, Price is said to have never lived in the home. Around the time the house was completed, he moved to Shasta, Calif. for several years before returning to Weston where he later served as mayor and postmaster.
From 1921 to 2008, the Quinley family occupied the home. Harve S. Quinley (1881-1947) was born near Weston, Mo. and opened the Quinley Paint Store on Main St. After Harve passed away, son Charles (1911-1988) and his wife, Mary Lee (1918-2007) lived in the home and he carried on operating Weston’s local paint and wallpaper store. Mary “was an avid supporter of the Weston Homes Tour.” The paint store is now occupied by Beverlin’s Statuary, and on the second floor, preserved rolls of old wallpaper are still stored.
After Mary Quinley’s death, the home was purchased by three girlfriends with a dream to knock something off their bucket list. The Quinley Home has recently been transformed into Events at Greenbrier, a “whole house” event space available for private parties. The Weston Candlelight Homes Tour will serve as their grand opening.
The Christmas Cottage – 1033 3rd Street
Reminiscent of a vintage cottage featured on a Christmas card, this historic home was built in 1922 by Henry Lamar (1873-1954) and his wife, Daisy (1878-1952). Henry first worked as a farmer in the area before moving to town where he was a clothing merchant and a post office employee.
The house was recently renovated by the current owner who has updated the floors to compliment the original woodwork and updated rooms. Starting at the welcoming porch and extending into the light-filled sunroom, this Weston home is full of holiday décor that is a tribute to family, heart and home.
The Calvert-Stoner Home – 720 4th Street
Built in 1906 by William Calvert (1855-1937), a descendant of Lord Baltimore, this house was built to be his retirement home in “the city.” Born on the Calvert Homestead in Platte Co. near Pleasant Ridge, William was “a polished gentleman farmer and an outspoken Democrat.” He and his wife, Nora raised three children; son Lewis Cass Calvert would go on to being one of Weston’s most coveted local doctors.
In 1936, then-County Commissioner Harry S. Truman spent the night in what was then a parlor and now functions as a dining room. The open dining and kitchen area is a focal point in the home and reflects a cheery Victorian Christmas.
A large, four-story addition with a screened-in porch on the east side of the house was added in 2006 and was crafted to be the same structural design as the rest of the home, reusing the large, rolled glass windows and doors. It features an arched stained glass window from an old church in Fayette, Mo.
Rooms are full of antiques and family heirlooms cherished by the family. The current owner’s great-grandfather, Charles Slayback (1840-1924) was the founder of the St. Louis Veiled Prophet Pageant in 1878 and was the first Veiled Prophet; Slayback’s beautiful 19th century roll top desk is a cherished family heirloom on display in the home.
Visitors will be welcomed at the large wrap-around front porch fully decorated to celebrate the holiday season and reflect a perfect picture of a Victorian Christmas.
The Ankrum Home – 625 Washington
Built in 1892 by Stephen “Ben” Lee (1860-1934), the Ankrum Home features original BullsEye trim, beautiful wood floors, original stained glass windows, pocket doors and high ceilings. The home was sold for $1,235 in 1941 to Benjamin B. Layton (1882-1961) and his wife, Amelia. Benjamin left farming in 1927 and operated the Weston Elevator Co. from 1930-1957.
The owner today cherishes this unique, beautiful home and will point out his favorite details and décor from his descendants.
United Methodist Church and Christian Church
Two iconic, historic churches will open their doors to visitors on the Weston Candlelight Homes Tour.
The Christian Church located at 540 Washington St. was organized by 23 members in 1852. Their first church was completed in 1854. In 1906, the present building replaced it. This year, this iconic landmark is celebrating their 169th year.
At 533 Main St., the United Methodist Church will serve as the check-in location for tickets and holds an interesting history. Methodism in Weston first began with camp meetings and services in private homes. Officially organized in 1839, the first church building was a simple log structure. In 1859, construction on the current building began but the division of members on the issue of slavery halted progress. The building stood unfinished until the close of the Civil War, and construction was finally completed in 1867. The brick church is a favorite of photographers.
Celebrations During the Homes Tour
The Homes Tour takes place Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5 from 2p.m. to 7p.m. Tickets for the 40th Weston Candlelight Homes Tour can be purchased on Eventbrite.com (search for Weston Candlelight Homes Tour) and are $20 until Nov. 25. Tickets are $25 if purchased after Nov. 25.
On Saturday, Dec. 4 from 10a.m. to 7p.m., the lower block of Main St. will be closed off and will feature music, treats, strolling carolers and Father Christmas!
To celebrate the upcoming Lifetime movie filmed in Weston, the town is featuring a “Tour Within a Tour.” In the summer of 2020, the Lifetime movie crew took over downtown Weston. Locals bundled up in the sweltering summer heat for their roles as extras, and the town was converted into a winter scene. Several local businesses and locations were used in the film, and the town has created a map of these locations.
Weston is a picturesque destination any time of year, but there’s just something special about it at Christmastime. As we struggle to find time during the busy holiday season, Weston is the perfect place to intentionally slow down and take in the sights, sounds and beauty that form a charming Christmas in a quaint, antebellum town on the Missouri River.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.