By Diane Euston
It’s hard to believe the holidays are already upon us, and it’s time to step into the season of cheer. Sometimes, it is hard to get into the spirit of the season with family obligations, busy work schedules and the overloaded list of to-dos that often distract us.
Occasionally, it’s good for the soul to set some time aside to see something new, and less than an hour drive from Kansas City is a quaint town dating back to 1837 that embraces the holiday season and all its splendor. Historic homes, one-of-a-kind merchants, a brewery, pub, distillery and museums decorated for the season are a perfect way to welcome in this beautiful time of year.
Weston, Mo. knows how to celebrate the holidays, and the town is full of residents who know how to host some pretty wonderful events, and for 41 years, the Historic Weston Candlelight Holiday Homes Tour gives visitors a rare opportunity to visit the town and step inside homes with some pretty amazing history. On Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 from 2-7 pm, you, too, can up your holiday ante by attending this must-see event.
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. Ben 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.
Ironically, what hurt the town and its residents back then is what benefits us now. Because brick buildings in their downtown weren’t demolished to make way for modern structures and large homes on large parcels of land weren’t knocked down to divide up the land, so much of the town’s character and history remains.
Many people who live in Weston today were drawn to the town because of its charm. The Candlelight Homes Tour remains a town favorite to host, and visitors this year will be treated to a theme of remodeled, restored, reimagined and rescued homes.
Owners of historic homes in Weston get asked all the time what it takes to remodel a Pre-Civil War home or opt to live above a store on historic Main St. This Candlelight Homes Tour on December 3 and 4 (2-7 pm) includes six historic homes that will give visitors a chance to step back in time and enjoy all Weston has to offer during the holidays.
Restored and Refined: 865 Ashley Street
This home, coined “Montage,” was built in 1842 for Theodore Warner. The walls of this two story home are three-bricks’ thick, and the foundation was constructed with 48 inch thick limestone.
The land where this home sits was originally homesteaded by Ben Holladay. The impressive home, one of the earliest in Weston that survives, includes colored glass transoms and an ornate outdoor stairway that was designed to be a true showpiece of early Weston.
The builder of the home, Theodore Fulton Warner, was born in 1818 in Fayette Co., Ky. He was the son of Minerva S. Boone and Wynkoop Warner, his maternal great-grandfather being Daniel Boone. A year after his birth, the family relocated to Callaway Co., Mo.
Theodore relocated to Weston as a young man and began work as a dry goods merchant in about 1839. In addition, he began investing heavily in real estate and became connected with much of Weston’s commercial growth. In 1842, he married Emily Underhill and began building this incredible home for his newly-established family.
In 1849, Theodore joined forces with famed Ben Holladay and formed the firm of Warner & Holladay. The primary objective of the business was to capitalize on the emigration to Salt Lake City and other points west spawned by the Gold Rush. The first train to Salt Lake City consisted of 50 wagons packed with $70,000 of merchandise that Theodore Warner bought on credit. Holladay took the merchandise to Utah, and the business venture was successful for both men.
The following year, the men sent another train to Salt Lake City with $150,000 in merchandise. The firm was one of three in Weston capitalizing on the trade with the west.
In 1850, Theodore was one of Weston’s largest tobacco dealers and was involved in the hemp trade. Hemp was a large market in Weston; in 1850 alone, 4,355 tons of hemp left the area for other markets.
Theodore was a slaveholder with three enslaved people in 1850. His vision for the town of Weston certainly influenced the way in which the town grew. Three of his children lived to adulthood, and after serving two terms as county clerk, he relocated to Independence. He passed away in 1891 in Jackson County. He had lost his wife 12 years prior.
His home he built for his family on Ashley Street was restored for the first time in 1953 by Jesse and Mary Pepper. In that same decade, a two-car garage addition was added by them. They added the Southern-style wrought iron to the exterior as well as over 20 varieties of trees on the side and backyard of the property.
The current owners, James and Emma Lowe have worked to refine the beauty of this 180-year-old home and are ready to show off their beautiful antique pieces they inherited from a family member who worked in the antique business.
A Reimagined Space: La Petite Maison at 839 Ashley Street
La Petite Maison, French for “the little house,” was originally a Federal style cottage with a gable roof and chimneys.
The cottage is down the road from Theodore Warner’s home he built for his family in 1842. Two years after he finished his own home, Theodore commissioned this home to be built as a speculation home. In some ways, this was Weston’s first suburban neighborhood where residents had a choice to live outside the downtown area and away from a traditional large farm with acreage.
Originally heated by coal, the home included a sitting room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. It was constructed from handmade brick, and a later owner, William F. Harts added three fireplaces to the cottage.
The home was restored in 1976, and over the years, subsequent owners have had a knack for reclaiming items from different spaces being remodeled. For example, crystal chandeliers from hotels in California, railings from a train station in southern Missouri, light fixtures in Las Vegas are just a few of items now present in the home that have helped reimagine this historic space.
Current owners Drew and Janelle McDonnell saw promise in La Petite Maison when they purchased it. The couple built a modern addition onto the back of the home where they live today. The original four-room structure now functions as a bed and breakfast.
The oldest portion of the home will be open to see during the homes tour and showcases the charming residences available for overnight stays.
Rescued From Destruction: 307 Washington Street
In early Weston’s history, some of the most impressive views overlooked the Missouri River. The homes built on the bluff were originally the homes built by some of Weston’s most prominent residents.
One beautiful brick home, built in 1847 and perched on a hill, had one of the best views the area had to offer. However, things drastically shifted – literally.
Homes like the one at 307 Washington St. lost their beautiful views when flooding relocated the Missouri River to a channel two miles away in 1881. This home, once valued at $1,000, was viewed by many to be worthless. But, one enterprising woman with an interesting past and decided to move her family there.
Her name was Mariah Vaughn. Born about 1830 into slavery in Kentucky, Mariah was enslaved by Ben Holladay. Working extra hours as a laundress past her duties for the Holladay family, Mariah was able to save money and purchase her own freedom. She then continued her extraordinary work ethic and invested in real estate throughout Weston.
Her great-great-great-great granddaughter, Angela Hagenbach spent years diligently researching her family’s history. Recently, Angela founded the Black Ancestors Awareness Committee (BAAC) within the Weston Historical Museum in order to continue telling the stories of Weston’s Black history.
Luckily, a craftsman with an eye saw Mariah’s former residence and thought it was worth saving. The house, now a showstopper, was close to being demolished when Jake Porterfield visited the house and discovered an empty shell that needed a lot of TLC. Now, the home has been renovated and has been given a new life.
Inside the home today, the current owner pays homage to the previous owners of this beautiful home as well as Weston’s interesting history.
Repurposed, Remodeled and Recycled – Three Additional Homes on Tour
Three additional locations will be part of the homes tour, and each offers a unique perspective to living in Weston.
At 874 Washington St.,the rectory for the historic Black church next door was built in federal style in 1890. In 1942, the home was added onto and turned into the shotgun style seen today. The current owner is a historian with deep roots in Weston, and he will be sharing some early artifacts from the area as well as stories about the community.
Just down the road on 1008 Washington St., a charming two-bedroom bungalow will be open to visitors ready to see the current owner’s whimsical holiday decorations on display.
The home, owned by Bailey Hiatt, was built in 1932 at the end of the American Bungalow architectural movement.
On Main St. in Weston, most buildings are more than one story. It was common in the past for two or three story buildings to be constructed with a retail store owned by a family on the main floor and their home to be above it.
Above a retail store at 422 Main St., one woman saw some serious possibilities where others would have turned the other way.
Returning from a stint as manager of the American Pickers store in Nashville, the current resident of this second story space on Main St. recently remodeled the apartment and has furnished with unique finds and sentimental pieces she’s collected over the years. In fact, the owner just recently returned from working at the American Pickers store in Nashville!
Celebrations During the Homes Tour
The Homes Tour takes place Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 from 2p.m. to 7p.m. Tickets for the 41st 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.
Two shuttle buses will be running to each residence to keep you warm while exploring Weston. The United Methodist Church at 533 Main St. will serve as the check-in location for tickets and will offer delicious homemade chili, soups and desserts.
Stores in Weston will be fully stocked and decked out for the holidays! And, as always, Father Christmas will be present and ready to take photos and listen to your wish list while Victorian carolers stroll around the streets singing some of your favorite holiday songs.
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.