Photographer's Note

The exterior of the stunning Vaile Mansion, a sterling example of the opulent Second Empire architectural style, is located in Independence, Missouri. As with some of the other elaborate estates in the area, it's now a house museum which you can tour. The Harvey M. Vaile Mansion, located at 1500 N. Liberty St. was built in 1881 for a wealthy businessman, Colonel Vaile, a strong supporter of the abolitionist movement, and his wife Sophia. Vaile, originally born in Vermont in 1831, graduated with a law degree from the University of Louisville, and, like so many adventurers of the day, went west to seek his fortune, arriving in Kansas City in 1859. Vaile had already made a substantial fortune from construction, particularly business interests in the Erie Canal, but he was also part-owner of Star Mail routes, including with rights to Santa Fe, a lucrative venture indeed.

Construction on this enormous estate began in 1871 and was not completed for a decade, until 1881. The property originally encompassed some 630 acres, which included a vineyard and an apple orchard (there was a wine processing plant on the property as well as an ample wine cellar) but today, the site is situated on a 5.6 acre lot. Its total cost was approximately $150,000, the equivalent of US $3-4 million today. It was notable for entertaining, and important guests included numerous US Senators and congressional representatives. It was designed by Kansas City architect Asa Beebe Cross, and was inspired by one he and his wife had visited in Normandy, in France. It's a two and a half story block with a three-story central tower, and is constructed primarily of red brick, which alone cost $50,000. There are also limestone mouldings, bracketed cornice, and polychromous slate shingles adorn its most famous feature, the incredible mansard roofs. The tall, narrow windows enhance the vertical appearance of the façade, making it a towering and imposing structure. It was described by a Kansas City Times reporter in 1882 as "the most princely house... in the entire west." It contains 31 rooms with 14-foot-high ceilings, which were decorated by Continental artists. Unfortunately, all of the original furnishings were auctioned off after the house was sold by the Vaile family, but the interiors still feature original paintwork, marble fireplaces and two of the three original chandeliers, which were actually produced for the White House. Vaile was able to purchase them in D.C. because there was some flaw in them; he got them for a reported $800. It also featured some state-of-the-art amenities, including speaking tubes, a kind of rudimentary intercom system popular in 19th century homes, indoor hot and cold water, and even flush toilets; in fact, it was the first home in Jackson county to feature indoor plumbing.

However, life at the mansion was not always as grand as the house: Vaile was eventually charged with defrauding the government over an investment scandal involving the Star Route, and faced two trials, but he was found not guilty. He did, however, spend more than $100,000 in legal expenses. Unfortunately, his troubles continued, as his wife developed stomach cancer, and while he was away in Washington, D.C. in February, 1883, she was found dead at the home from a morphine overdose, though suicide was suspected. Vaile continued to live in his mansion until his death in 1895, whereupon his heirs contested ownership of his estate and engaged in a five-year legal battle over his property. The house was eventually sold, and was inhabited by various persons. It became a sanatorium in 1908, and was converted into a nursing home, then a business, the Vaile Pure Water Co., a spring water bottling company. The mansion had become quite dilapidated over the decades, but it was purchased by Roger and Mary Mildred DeWitt, who undertook extensive repairs and renovation. In 1983, it was finally acquired by the city via donation by Mrs. DeWitt and underwent an even more significant renovation project. It's now a house museum operated by the Vaile Victorian Society, a non-profit organization established in 1983. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1178] (2096)
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