Independence, MO

The historical ornate Harvey M. Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri is open to the public as a museum

CJ Coombs

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Vaile Mansion, Independence, Missouri.Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Harvey M. Vaile Mansion is located at 1500 North Liberty Street in Independence, Missouri. It was built in 1881 and is a powerful example of "Second Empire Gothic Italianate brick beauty." It's also known as the Napoleon III style including a variety of historical styles. This style was popular during Napoleon III's reign in France from 1852 through 1871.

Vaile history

Colonel Harvey M. Vaile, originally from Vermont, moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1859 after graduating from law school at the University of Louisville.

He had a passion for education and abolitionism was also one of many passions. He desired to be in politics, and was a founding member of the newly formed Republican Party in Jackson County. (Source.)

Vaile has been referenced as a self-made man. He was a man with many hats as some might say.

He practiced law, worked as a journalist, lobbyist, a gentleman farmer, breeder and owner of the finest registered cattle, and an expert maker and authority on wines. He was a contractor for mail leaving Independence as well as a partner in the “Star” mail routes in the midwest. (Source.)

He invested in business ventures and was a part-owner/operator of Star Routes serving as a U.S. Mail Contractor. Star Routes was a method of transportation to get mail and other goods via stagecoaches and wagons to their destination.

Vaile was considered a very prominent figure in independence, Missouri among the social and business circles. Certainly, his wealth was expressed through the mansion that was constructed. Interestingly, that construction started in 1871 and wouldn't be completed for 10 years. His mansion was so spectacular that it was used as a place to entertain guests including politicians.

Vaile was also involved in the Star Route scandal in the 1880s. He had two trials, one in 1882 and one in the subsequent year. He and others were charged with defrauding the government. He was found not guilty in both trials.

In early 1883, while in Washington, D.C., his wife, Sophia, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer was found deceased in their home from an overdose of morphine. It was believed that she committed suicide. They only lived in the mansion together for 18 months. It's been said that Sophia was lonely at the home.

His time in Washington D.C. had earned him many acquaintances in high places, and he was a lobbyist, when needed. (Source.)

Vaile stayed in the mansion until he died in 1894. He was only 63. Naturally, as some heirs do, there were heirs who contested ownership of the estate and there was a five-year legal battle that ensued. Vaile had seven siblings and no children.

In 1908, the mansion became a sanatorium. Later, it was converted into a nursing hope by attorney Carey May Carroll. It was also where Vaile Pure Water Co. operated a spring water bottling company.

After Miss Carroll died, the property was threatened with demolition. It was soon purchased by Roger and Mary Mildred DeWitt and they began making repairs.

In 1983, Mrs. DeWitt donated the mansion to the City of Independence. The mansion became a restoration project. The mansion is now a historic museum that is operated by a non-profit organization known as the Vaile Victorian Society, which was established by local residents in 1983.

On October 1, 1969, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mansion

Kansas City architect, Asa Beebe Cross, designed the mansion. Supposedly, the inspiration for the Second Empire style came from the Vailes' visit to Normandy. There is a lot of hand-pressed red brick in the construction which was purchased for $50,000.

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This photo shows some of the detail in the staircase that is in the entrance hall.Photo by Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There are 31 rooms in the mansion with 14 feet high ceilings. When the estate left the Vaile family, the original furniture was auctioned. The Vaile Victorian Society refurnished the mansion after 1983. There are nine marble fireplaces. Allegedly, two of the three chandeliers in the home were intended to go to the White House but Vaile was able to buy them for $800 while he was there because supposedly they were flawed. The mansion was the first house with indoor plumbing in Jackson County.

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This image depicts one of the towers of the mansion.Photo by Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

What used to be a 630-acre estate is now 5.6 acres. Noteworthy, Vaile had a wine processing plant on his property and a wine cellar with a capacity for 48,000 gallons of wine. Way back then, the house cost $150,000 to build which would be worth millions now.

Open to the public

There are several events throughout the year beginning in June and particularly from October beginning December near the holiday. Click here to see the gallery of photos and to go elsewhere on the Vaile Mansion website for more information. They are open for tours on Thursday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 p.m.

There are rumors the mansion is haunted. Regardless, it is stunning to look at.

Thank you for reading.

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30 years of legal secretarial experience, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, my life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO
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