What is there more significant than a history kept alive? There is a Castle in Independence. It is nearby 24 Highway and William Christman High School. Who would guess it is there? There is no sign, no big fence surrounding it. I would not be wrong guessing that not many Kansas City residents know about Vaile Mansion or the history behind it. The locals called it "the house of gold", the Kansas City Star wrote about it "the most comfortable home in the entire West", even the Vaile water was labeled "Queen of Table Waters", but for Harvey and Sofie Vaile their dream castle became a nightmare (America's Castles). I had a great opportunity to visit the Mansion and was just amazed by such a great piece of American (Kansas City) history here in Independence.
The Mansion was featured "America's Castles" on A&E in 1998 (guided tour). It does not look like much from the first glance, and in its own way gives you "ÃÂgoose bumps'.
The houses surrounding Vaile Mansion make it stand out, but still there are only few visitors. Most of the tour guides are of older generation, which makes it a unique experience for a 20-30 year old. A visit to the Vaile Mansion is special. You step back in time to the 1880's for a visit in the home of one of the city's pioneer millionaires, Colonel Harvey Merrick Vaile.
In 1859 America had only 33 states. The frontier began just west of Kansas City, Missouri. Vermont native Henry Vaile traveled to the Wild West and settled here; here he practiced law and bought real estate. He became a local entrepreneur and United States mail contractor. Three main mail routs ran through the state of Missouri. This became Vaile's real fortune, as well as a unifying effect for the entire country. True American Pioneer, he extended the lines of communication, providing mail service and blazing trails. He made communication possible for everyone in the country (America's Castles). Mr. Vaile was never satisfied with anything but the most magnificent. He lived well, but was looking further (than most of us at present day) into the future. Thus he designed and built the "Crown Jewel of Independence," the Vaile Mansion. It is an architectural gem. It was also the Colonel's own design as well as architect's, Asa Beebe Cross. After a trip to Europe large French home inspired the Colonel and Mrs. Vaile in Normandy, France for the design of the Mansion. They even gathered furnishings, as well as some valuable paintings and statues on a trip to Europe in 1870. (Wilcox, 308).
In 1861 Mr. Vaile married Sofie Gramm from New England, and few years later they moved to Independence, Missouri. Harvey Vaile bought more than 2000 acres of land in and around Independence. Prominent Kansas City architect and Vaile's friend Asa Beebe Cross was working in the Mansion's design. In the summer of 1881 Vaile Mansion was finished; it became a " show off" Mansion. It was just what the owner wanted. Unfortunately, it has changed now; we invest more in the convenience, not the architecture. We cherish comfort, not the art.
North of Independence, a mile or so stands one of the most pricely houses in the country. It is the style of the Second Empire, of Louis Napoleon or Napoleon the 3rd, it is the image of Louver in Paris, it is that image of the sophisticated cosmopolitan Parisian image Vailes family brought, creating a small outpost of Europe in the hinterlands of America (Ameica's Castles).
Vaile Mansion has 31 rooms and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Second Empire style Victorian architecture in the country (Schondelmeyer, 14). Like in Paris and other well-developed big cities in Europe of that time, as well as some of the American cities of the East cost, Vaile Mansion was built for Parties and Balls. For the convenience of visitors Mr. Vaile built (on his own land) the road all the way to the Square in Independence.
The cost of the Mansion was $150,000. 1/3 of the total cost or $50,000 of which were spent on hand made bricks. It is an example of "ÃÂmore is better'. There are a lot of forms and gingerbread details. The Mansion is well light up by the 127 windows with limestone trim (those still have original wooden blinds). But the most overpowering feature is its 75-foot tower, A lot of the locals called it a "House of Gold", but they mostly saw it from the outside, while the treasure was lying inside (America's Castles). In the hallway, behind the heavy entrance doors with the hand-curved glass, the 14-foot high ceilings and the woodwork impressed guests; Mr. Vial used Georgia pine. He imported it and asked a craftsman to create 41 different samples of wood grinning. I believe, since everything was so much more difficult (you could not just go and pick out a sample at the Home Depot store, designers and architects put more of the soul into their creating. When a visitor came into the door, the servant would greet him and sit him down in a very comfortable round shaped divan. If Mr. or Mrs. Vaile did not want to see the person, a servant would take a business card to the visitor instead.
Drawing room "" this is a room where the couple generally received their guests? It is the first room to the right with a large crystal chandelier "" the centerpiece that was originally made for the president's White House in Washington, DC. and burnt gas. The president's staff rejected chandeliers when they claimed it had a flaw, and Mr. Vaile bought both chandeliers from his presidential friend for just $800 (Wilcox, 308). Thought the whole Mansion there are gigantic mirrors that earned it another nickname "the house of mirrors". Originally the mansion was built on a 55-acre tract surrounded by hundreds of acres. The grounds surrounding the Mansion provided for a brick stable, reflecting lake with gazebos, arbors, fountains, and goldfish pond, greenhouse, a wine cellar with a 48,000-gallon capacity with vessels holding 2000 gallons (America's Castles). Also the gas and water works system was rare for the 1880's. Octagonal tower near back-concealed 6000-gallon water tank (was used for shock treatment). I never thought shock therapy existed back than.
Colonel Vaile was known as a cultured man, and a patron of the arts. His plans for the Mansion included frescoed ceilings and murals that (as a matter of fact, those are very popular in Russia and some European countries still now) would symbolize those interests. It is said that he engaged artists from Italy, France, and Germany to implement those designs. It was the work of the Italian artist that attracted the most attention and scandalized the town (Wilcox, 309). On the ceiling of the master bedroom he painted a life-sized figure of a reclining female which was, according to legend, nude from the waist up. When I was visiting the Mansion, tour guide pointed out some details about this particular painting: it moves eyes, as well as knees and torso right along with you moving from one side of the room to the other. No wonder Mr. Vaile had a separate bedroom"ÃÂ¦ There is the story that because Mrs. Vaile allowed the painting the ladies of the town ostracized her (Wilcox, 309). This alone showed me a different type of relationship between a husband and wife at the time (no one I know would tolerate such a piece of art in their husband's bedroom). This fact shows how much more control women gained in America since 1880's. At some later time a lace bodice was painted over the offending bosom. The Italian artist was paid $1500. He also had a free access to Colonel Vaile's wine cellar (as we were told during the tour at the Mansion) while working (no wonder it took him as long as 15 months to finish this work).
Music room was just behind the drawing room, when pioneers made their difficult journey West one of the first things they had to deal with were musical instruments, especially heavy pianos. The fact that Vailes had a piano was a testimate to their wealth and love of music (America's Castles). Rosewood piano sounded nicer than the brand new one I had growing up and taking music lessons. I was able to play while touring the Mansion. Also, it felt a lot easier on the fingers.
The house was designed for entertaining and those who came for being entertained were escorted to Double parlors on the north side of the estate. Vailes spent a lot more money furnishing this room than any other in the house did. The most expensive item was the front parlors rare Carrara marble fireplace, among the 11 fireplaces in the mansion, at the cost of 1500 dollars. There were 4 white Carrara mantels, the kid of marble used in making statuary and imported from the mountains in Carrara, Italy (Wilcox, 308).
Vaile wanted the Mansion for showing off; this was his showing off room. It was the sign of wealth and prestige. The front parlor for guests (where official functions took place), and the next to it behind the pocket door was a family parlor, more of a family parlor.
The fireplace here is made out of Vermont marble in honor of Vail's home state, had grapes motive. Vailes had 30 acres of vineyards; he had the largest vine cellar in the world attached to a private residence (guided tour). Even on the ceiling above the dinner table there is a sign "In vine there is truth". Guests were escorted to the music room usually after dinner, which was served in the dining room. The Vaile's dining room was small; they never had any kids and enjoyed entertaining in small intimate groups. The pantry was attached to the back of the dinning room, which made service easy for 30 servants, who assisted Mr. and Mrs. Vaile (America's Castles). If you step out of the dining room into the pantry, it feels like stepping from sophisticated designer house into the poor country style cabin. It so more affective in this Mansion being so impressively rich in dÃÂÃÂ©cor.
There were a few details that reminded me of the present life. For instance, there was no door out to the patio. The reason for that was the real estate tax (one did not have to pay as much if he had less doors), and now there is almost the same situation but with the closets. It also shows how practical Mr. Vaile was, building a castle but trying to save on the real estate taxes on only one or two extra doors.
As much as Vaile liked parlors, his favorite space was tucked away on the second floor between his bedroom and library. Natures Bayer, or the Natures room, was where he liked to bring is friends to and discuss business and the nature of the world over a glass of vine, and also as the visitors set here and looked carefully at the woodwork they saw faces appearing out of the surface (Americas Castles). Was their too much vine? (vine was another big characteristic of a modern French or Europe's social life).
No, it had nothing to do with it. The faces were the handy work of craftsman JHK who produces 41 different types of wood grain, and was so proud of his work that signed his name and date on there.
Harvey often brought close business associates to Nature's Bayer. One of his associates helped Vaile to make a fortune. He oversaw all 3 mail Western routs. And at one point they controlled every piece of mail delivered through Independence, Missouri (America's Castles). Business thrived until they were charge with the national scandal. They were accused of defrauding the government of 4 million dollars. The trial lasted for 14 months. His associate L. Williamson was convicted, H. Vaile was awaiting the verdict in Washington, DC. Less than a year after he has moved to the Mansion H. Vaile was in the courtroom in Washington, DC, and Mrs. Vaile was alone in the