So today I had a more interesting day than I’d anticipated. My mom and I had planned to go to the WWI museum downtown, but right before we left, I got another idea. Back in high school, we took a little tour of Kansas City and went to this one historic house, and I was trying to remember where it was. In the process of looking that one up online, I found the John Wornall House, near the Plaza. So we went there.
1. It was built in 1858 by John Wornall, a farmer and businessman from Kentucky. His land originally extended all the way to the Kansas border, so obviously the first few years of living there were rather dangerous. Basically you just didn’t go outside at night for any reason. Unless you were very well-armed. They even had a couple rooms in their house that could only be accessed from the outside called “stranger rooms.” These were for people who found themselves out at night and didn’t have a place to stay the night. This was actually a very common practice at the time, letting random people sleep in your house. Cause it’s not like you could just pull into the nearest Holiday Inn. During the Battle of Westport in October of 1864, the house was used a field hospital for four days and sustained heavy damage. The family had to replace all the floors downstairs because they were so soaked with blood.
2. It’s design is a classic Southern plantation house, Greek Revival style, very symmetrical. Wornall owned several slaves and rented others for various jobs. During the Civil War, he started paying his slaves in order to avoid having his house burned/being captured by Union soldiers. Because of this, he got on the army’s good side, but no one told the Jayhawkers who were still making things very interesting for those they saw as southern sympathizers. So during the battle of Westport, the Union army had to take him under their protection.
3. The living room, the room that the army used for their surgeries. On the little table they had a bunch of old copies of Harpers Weekly magazines. At the time wallpaper was less expensive than paint, so they would have only used wallpaper in rooms they didn’t have guests in. Also, all the wood in the house was shipped in from St. Louis because in the 1850s, there were no trees in Kansas City.
4. The parlor. If I remember right, the piano is original to the house. The chairs are covered with slip covers for the summer. The ladies’ chair is on the right (the one without arms so that those huge hoop skirts wouldn’t catch on the arms and fly up, lol)
5. A lithograph in the dining room, by George Caleb Bingham (who is actually one of my favorite artists, and I admit I got way too excited when I recognized his work without even looking at the name, lol) of General Order 11.
6. The kitchen. So if you go to a lot of historic houses, like I do, there’s some things you start to recognize in every historic kitchen. It varies by region, of course, like what they could get (for example, by this time in the East, most kitchens would have had stoves rather than open hearths). One thing is sugar cones. During the 19th century and before, sugar was really expensive and it came packed in really hard cones and covered in paper. You didn’t just keep sugar on the table where anyone could get to it. You kept it in a special locking case made just for that purpose. You then put that case somewhere where all your guests could see it, so they could see that you could afford sugar.
7. One thing I didn’t know before today though, was about blocks of tea. Back in the day, tea came from China packed into really hard blocks and printed with intricate patterns. To make liquid tea, you’d break off a small chunk of it and grate it with something like a cheese grater. Apparently it wasn’t like…tea bags or even liquid tea that the colonists in Boston threw into the harbor, it was huge blocks like this. I have no idea how I never learned this before now.
So yeah…it was very interesting. :) There’s still so much I don’t know about Kansas City, so I hope we can go on more KC adventures soon! You’ve all inspired me so much to explore the places around me that I always take for granted.
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