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Two houses preserve part of Columbia's history

The "Blind" Boone and Taylor houses are two of 47 national historic places in Boone County

Photo courtesy of the Tucker family

Robert and Deborah Tucker purchased the Taylor House in spring 1999. This photograph was taken after repairs to the roof had started, a job Robert says was first priority for renovations.

August 11, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Horse-drawn carriages and oil-fueled street lamps are mostly gone; they’ve been replaced by modern marvels such as skyscrapers and cellphones. Across the nation, thousands of buildings have stood tall amid such advancements. Missouri has more than 1,815 listings on the National Register of Historic Places; Boone County is home to 47.

The register was created as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which helps coordinate and support the United States’ treasures. The Department of Natural Resources deems a building “historic” and places it on the register if it meets one of four criteria: it is associated with historic events, it housed important former inhabitants, it has distinctive architecture or it provides information about history.

John W. “Blind” Boone House, 10 N. Fourth St.

The house is an empty shell with no plumbing or electricity, but the original framework has been restored. The living room, dining room and pantry are empty. From 1889 through 1927, during John W. “Blind” Boone’s time in the house, there were pianos in both the dining and living rooms. Two photos from Boone’s lifetime suggest there was a detached kitchen. Today, there are three empty rooms on the second level.

A total of $1.6 million was spent on the two-year renovation, though the Taylor House ...

The City of Columbia purchased the "Blind" Boone House in 2000 and has since donated ...

The JW "Blind" Boone Heritage Foundation Committee hopes to include an ethnography exhibit and an ...

Boone, a blind ragtime musician active 1880-1927, moved into the unfinished Victorian house on Fourth Street in 1889. He had deep roots in Columbia, where he began his music career. Boone died in 1927, and his wife lived in the house until she died in 1931. The house then became Stuart Parker Funeral Home and, in 1989, became Warren Funeral Chapel.

The changing of hands

The house was put up for sale in spring 1997. Warren Funeral Chapel representatives said it would reduce the asking price by $10,000 if the new owners historically restored the house, says Lucille Salerno, the former president of the JW “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation Board. Citizens from the Douglass community wanted to do just that, and in 2000, the City of Columbia purchased the house.

The foundation was formed in June 1997, and the commission allotted $39,000, but Salerno says it wasn’t enough to buy the house. The Missouri Humanities Council conducted a meeting with historic preservation and architecture experts, and a grant proposal for an architectural reuse plan was submitted by the foundation to the Department of Natural Resources Office of Historic Preservation. A $6,000 grant was awarded, which the city matched. “We were so different from each other, but we had a single passion,” Salerno says of the efforts made by different groups in the community to acquire the house.

Warren Funeral Chapel owned the house during this process. Minor repairs were made, but Salerno says major structural repairs couldn’t be made until the business moved out. A majority of the grant money was used to repair a termite infestation rather than for restoration.

The foundation continues to raise money for restoration. It applied for the “Save America’s Treasures” grant, a $250,000 matching-funds grant that would have been matched by the city. It was denied, but the city did donate the $250,000.

The house was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places on July 2, 2003. The foundation will try again for the “Save America’s Treasures” grant in 2012.

Big plans for a little house

Plans for the house include an ethnography exhibit intended for high-school students and stations that show visitors what it’s like to live with disabilities such as Boone’s. “The museum will always be changing, so the community will have to come back,” says Clyde Ruffin, current president of the foundation.

The public will be able use the house for lectures, readings, community groups and outdoor concerts in the tribute garden. The plans include a handicapped restroom on the first floor and an apartment upstairs to house a grounds caretaker.

Salerno says it would be beneficial to have interactive displays of the history of American music. “I want to see ‘Blind’ Boone credited for his impressive contribution to the development of American music,” she says.
Images of Columbia in the ’20s will hang in the windows that face Fourth Street. Digital screens in the house will show scenes from Boone’s life and the history of ragtime and jazz. The foundation hopes to have two lifelike statues of Boone and his wife, with Boone seated at his upright piano.

Taylor House, 716 W. Broadway

John Taylor, a successful businessman, and his second wife, Elizabeth, built the three-and-a-half-story home on West Broadway in 1909. It was one of the first houses in Columbia to have gas, water and electric utilities. Today, it’s the site of the Taylor House Inn Bed and Breakfast.

After John died in 1932, Elizabeth continued to live in the house with their daughter, but in 1934, it was divided into three apartments and rented out. The Taylor family owned the house until 1989.
Robert and Deborah Tucker, the sixth owners, bought the 102-year-old house for $300,000 in the spring of 1999 and converted it to a bed-and-breakfast.

The wide main staircase welcomes guests as they enter the house’s foyer. Up the main stairs are five guest rooms, and opposite the upstairs landing is an open lounge. On the main floor, there is a parlor, complete with a fireplace. A door, hidden behind an armoire, leads to the only guest room on the first floor. Opposite this is another parlor where Elizabeth entertained guests. Through the pocket doors is the formal dining room; another door opens to the kitchen, equipped with all the amenities of modern life. A staircase, formerly used by servants, leads to the Tuckers’ third-floor apartment. A third staircase leads to the basement’s unfinished rec room and wine cellar, two projects Robert is currently working to finish.

A dream becomes reality

The Tuckers undertook the renovations themselves. “I decided ‘I can do this,’” Robert says. He and a small crew renovated the house during a two-year period.

Bathrooms were added to each guest room and to the apartment. A fire sprinkler system, kitchens and laundry rooms were added on the second and third floors. A total of $1.6 million went into renovations, but the house is only worth about $1.2 million. “It would’ve been a lot cheaper to duplicate the house, but it’s not the same,” Robert says. “The feel isn’t the same. The smell of old wood isn’t the same.”

The Tuckers and their children, Jennie, 7; and Reid, 3; love living in the historic home. Robert says Jennie likes playing in the yard and exploring the pond, and Reid likes running his hands on the raised wall treatments and going up and down the stairs.

“I love the romantic side of things,” Deborah says. “People come here to get away and get closer to one another.”

Brand new house in an old shell

The 7,100-square-foot house was built in a Center-Hall Colonial Revival style, a symmetric layout and style uncommon in the Midwest at the time. It’s one of the reasons the Tuckers thought it belonged on the national register. It is also one of the largest intact structures built along Broadway in the early 20th century.

In 1999, the Tuckers hired Deb Sheals, a historic preservation consultant and architecture historian, to prepare the application for the house. Sheals confirmed the State Historic Preservation Office staff was on board with the project before she began research. The Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation generally won’t accept a nomination it doesn’t think will stand on the national level, Sheals says.

According to Sheals, the most challenging part of research was determining the architectural significance of the house. It’s a blend of late Victorian and Colonial-Revival styles, and buildings were transforming from one style to another. Sheals says she enjoyed the challenge. “It was fun to do something in my hometown,” Sheals says.

The Taylor House was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 after the state and national review processes. The City of Columbia Historic Preservation Committee recognized it as a local historic landmark in fall 2002.

The historic register dictated what the Tuckers could and couldn’t do to the house. “The registry has guidelines,” Deborah says. “They’re written from the front to the back of the house. For instance, you can’t change the windows in the front, but you can in the back. It was a time-consuming and tedious process.”
The Tuckers were dedicated to preserving the house. Its most prominent features, the columns and railings of the limestone front porch, have stood since the house was built. The two fireplaces, hardwood floors, dining room paneling, three sets of pocket doors and lead glass windows on the north and east sides of the house are original.

Today, the house has 11 common rooms, nine bedrooms, a basement and two porches.

For the Tuckers, the Taylor House is a dream home. It’s a source of pride for them. “I like feeling the presence of the initial family who made it,” Deborah says. V

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