Monday, June 2, 2014

Vaile Mansion Stands Proudly As A Kansas City Architectural Gem

If you like old homes and Kansas City history, then Vaile Mansion in Independence, MO is the place to go.

Even better, this Saturday will be the Vaile Strawberry Festival, an annual event held on the mansion grounds, which includes lots of strawberry treats and approximately 100 antique vendors/craft booths set up on the expansive lawn.

I can't stress enough that, if you do visit Vaile Mansion, be sure you take the guided tour of the mansion's interior.  It is like taking an instant and intimate step back into Kansas City's turbulent and affluent history.  

Built in 1881 in the Second Empire Style by Harvey Vaile, the landmark is a 31-room, beautifully restored home with a rich history.  It was home to Vaile's wife, Sophia, until her death in the mansion in 1883 and Mr. Vaile until his death in the home in 1894.  

Vaile Mansion was designed by Kansas City architect Asa Cross with nine marble fireplaces and  a beautiful wood/glass entryway into the home.  

Step through the tiled entryway into the 40-foot long grand hall, and you realize you have entered a different era. 

The tour begins with the drawing room (gentlemen's parlor).  This opulent space contains 14-foot ceilings, 11-foot windows, and is repainted in its original green color.  

Mr. Vaile was an abolitionist, teacher, lawyer, cattle rancher, major player in establishing the Republican party in Kansas City and an entrepreneur who established the Star Mail Routes, which ran mail and other freight between here and Santa Fe, NM.  With such a varied background, imagine the conversations that might have taken place in this room.   

From the drawing room, the house flows into the music room, which contains one of the mansion's original crystal chandeliers, an 1871 Lindeman Grand piano and a working Regina music box.  

The music room was probably one of the busiest rooms in the Vaile household and is adorned with a Vermont marble fireplace.

From there, the music room leads into the dining room, which has an outdoor-themed mural on the ceiling depicting amenities once on the grounds of the estate - including a pond, boathouse and greenhouse.

The table is made from what was once a square grand piano.

Past the dining room is the serving/warming kitchen (the cooking kitchen was in the basement along with some of the servants' quarters and laundry facilities) and the butler's pantry.

The kitchen contains an antique Acorn stove and a German icebox. The butler's pantry has lots of storage room for dishes, silverware and utensils.

To the southwest of the kitchen is the water tower room.  When Vaile Mansion was built, one of its many innovative features was a self-sustaining water supply.  The house had a 6,000 gallon water tower which allowed water to flow to the upper floors.  

Today the mansion is connected to city water and the tank has been removed.  The room is now set up as a breakfast/eating area.

Also on the first floor of the mansion is the informal parlor, which is where the Vailes would have spent their time when they weren't entertaining guests.

The informal parlor has original pocket doors that separate it from the ladies parlor and a red decorative theme.  It is the smallest parlor in the home and also boasts one of the home's original chandeliers.

The formal parlor is the last room open to the public on the first floor.  It has the most expensive mantle in the home, made from Italian marble. 

This is where Mrs. Vaile would have formally entertained ladies who came to the mansion.

Ascending to the second floor, you can see the original skylight in the roof, which lets in lots of natural light.  

The floors on the second story are original to the home, and this level contains a large hallway, a gift shop, two bathrooms, the master bedroom, guest bedrooms, the library and the nature's bower.

The bathrooms were built to have running hot and cold water, flushing toilets, and copper bathtubs, which was quite an extravagance at the time.

The guest bedrooms have a separate bathroom from the main bedroom.  

All the rooms feel cozy and spacious at the same time.

The main bedroom was the location of a scandalous ceiling mural - a mural of a woman who is nude from the waist up.  

Today the woman has a transparent piece of material shrouding her upper body.  It is a common tale that this controversial art kept Mrs. Vaile from being accepted by the "proper" ladies of society and that the woman in the painting is actually her.

The nature's bower (Mr. Vaile's smoking room) is quite an interesting room.  To make it seem as close to nature as possible, Mr. Vaile had dark green carpeting on the floor, and the ceiling is a dark blue with stars like the night sky.

The knotholes and imperfections in the variety of woodwork used in the nature's bower also makes it appear to be full of human and animal faces, and " J.H. Kay October 12, 1881" is mysteriously inscribed above the door.  

The library is where Mr. Vaile often worked when he was home.  

Here, visitors can read Mr. Vaile's obituary, see a desk which belonged to the home's architect, browse photos of the mansion's restoration, and view a beautiful donated mobile desk on wheels.   

The third floor of the mansion is not open to the public tour.  The original plans called for a billiard room and a ball room on this level, but it was never completed.  The basement of the home is also not open to the public.

Behind the mansion is the only standing outbuilding left on the once expansive property - the carriage house.  Today it is a private residence and not part of the mansion grounds.

After The Vailes passed, the mansion was used for a variety of functions including a women's college, an inn, a private asylum and for many years, a nursing home. 

In the early 1980s, the home was turned over to the Vaile Victorian Society who tirelessly renovated and restored the home and decorated it with vintage furnishings.   

Today, Vaile Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an Independence Historic Landmark.  

If you would like to see Vaile Mansion for yourself, it is located at 1500 N. Liberty in Independence and is open from April through October and again through the holiday season when it is decorated for a beautiful Victorian Christmas.  

April 1st - End of Oct
Mon-Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 PM - 4 PM

Closed for Decorating Nov 1-25.

Holiday Hours:  Nov 25 - Dec 30
Closed Dec 23-25
Mon - Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 - 4 PM

Admission $6.00
Children/Students $3.00
Seniors/Groups $5.00

If you plan on attending the Strawberry Festival on June 7th, the hours are 9 AM - 4 PM.  

Entrance to the grounds, which at one time included fountains, a 48,000-gallon wine cellar and arbors, is free.  

There will still be a fee for guided mansion tours (which take less than an hour.) 

Call (816) 833-1646 for more information about festival activities or (816) 325-7430 for more information about the mansion.

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