Bunceton, MO

The Ravenswood estate near Bunceton, Missouri has six generations of a lot of history and mild rumors of hauntings

CJ Coombs

The Ravenswood estate near Bunceton, Missouri.HornColumbia, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1975, this mansion resting on 1,932 acres was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

It’s known as the Ravenswood Estate and has also been referred to as the Leonard Home also since six generations of Leonards have lived there. This historic home near Bunceton, Missouri in Cooper County, and is located about 10 miles south of Boonville, Missouri. 

Built in 1880

The construction style of this brick mansion is described as Victorian Eclecticism. 

The term ‘Victorian Eclectic’ is used to describe buildings built in the styles that developed during the rule of Britain’s Queen Victoria, but which do not cleanly fit into any specific style popular during that time. (Source.)

At the time of the submission of the Nomination Form to have this property placed on the list of the National Register of Historic Places, the owner was Charles W. Leonard.

Original outbuildings still remain on the property. The summer kitchen at the northeast corner of the house is older than the house, dating from 1869. Other buildings include the Tally-ho Barn, the Mule Barn, a Sheep Barn, Milk Barn, Carriage House, Manager’s House, servants’ houses, smoke house, sheds, a garage, and a pump house. The buildings are in various states of repair. (Source.) 

Note: The above description (1973) is based on information from personal interviews of Charles Willard Leonard, the then owner of Ravenswood, and a great-grandson of Nathaniel Leonard who was founder of Ravenswood.

Some family history

The farm property belonged to a wealthy couple named Charles and Nadine Leonard. The original owner, Nathaniel Leonard, (b. June 13, 1799, d. Dec. 30, 1876) was a notable cattle-raiser in Missouri. Although born in Vermont, he moved to Chicago where he was involved in fur trading before relocating to Cooper County, Missouri. 

With the assistance of his brother, Abiel, Nathaniel bought 80 acres in 1825 where he started building a farm. Nathaniel married and became involved in raising and trading mules. By 1839, he began purchasing cattle and building a herd. His son, Charles Edward (b. Mar. 27, 1839, d. Mar. 8, 1916), was responsible for economically improving his efforts. 

Photo of the mule barn.Picryl, public domain.

In 1850, after Nathaniel’s house burned, he built another one on the site of the present Ravenswood home. Charles went on to graduate from the University of Missouri in 1860 and served in the state militia during the Civil War achieving the rank of Captain.

… Nathaniel Leonard was a slave holder, as reflected in the Slave Census of 1850, and that ‘Ravenswood’ farm therefore demonstrates the use of slave labor in building up a large homestead in Missouri prior to the Civil War. (Source.)

Supposedly, there is a cemetery in a wooded area near the location of Nathaniel’s first home that burned down. There were also a number of slaves buried here including stone markers with dates.

In 1872, Charles (Capt. Leonard) married Nadine Nelson (b. June 6, 1850, d. Nov. 11, 1935) who was a daughter of a wealthy Missouri banker. In 1880, Charles built the Ravenswood brick home which replaced what his father built. 

Charles became financially supported with Shorthorn cattle. He was also the president of the Central National Bank in Boonville. He and his wife had one son named Nathaniel Nelson Leonard (also called “Nelson"). Their son also went on to become successful and made additions to the Ravenswood home. 

Nelson and his wife, Roselia, had three children. Their son, Charles Willard Leonard (b. Jan. 18, 1912, d. Jan. 5, 2002), was a businessman in Boonville.

Charles Willard and his wife, Mary Ellen, had one son, Charles Edward Leonard (b. July 3, 1936, d. Feb. 3, 2015) who was a fifth generation to reside in the mansion. He is survived by wife, Sara, and four sons and one daughter.

The magic of research

In 1999, an individual shared her research online while looking for family history involving slavery (her ancestors) on the Ravenswood farm/plantation. At that time, she was able to meet with one of the Leonards who was in his late 80s at the time. Her writing about that experience was 23 years ago. She described the condition of the property inside which was interesting, to say the least. Maybe it’s in a better state now.

The individual who shared her research is Traci L. Wilson-Kleekamp, a genealogist who likes to investigate. She was interviewed by the Columbia Missourian in November 2017. She moved to Columbia from California in 2004. Traci is a graduate student instructor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is also the President of Race Matters, Friends.

Reports of strange occurrences at Ravenswood

It stands to reason there are stories of hauntings in this large mansion, partly because many mansions carry those stories. And, they are as haunted as we want them to be.

One of the stories involves Nadine Leonard who died at age 90 in one of the bedrooms. After her body was removed for preparing for the funeral, a servant was unable to enter the room to collect her closing because the door was locked. There wasn't anyone in the room to have locked the door. Once the servant obtained tools to get the door open, when he returned, it was unlocked. Other stories include a music box playing, objects being thrown, and the sound of laughter or music coming from the property.

Visitors have reported hearing a mechanical music sound, but the music box in the home has not worked for years. And some have seen lantern lights bobbing over the lawn at night, like they would at the large summer parties Leonard loved to throw before her death. (Source.)

What we do know is that this mansion has been in the family for six generations. There's an interesting blogging site, The Long Dirt Road, that has a piece about this mansion associated with a tour including images.

The house and outbuildings represent a rare survival of an intact late 19th century, gentleman's farm residence. Descendants of the original owners still occupy the farm, and many original records and documents still survive, along with original furnishings, wall-paper, and other appointments in the house itself. (Source: Library of Congress.)

Based on research, it's my understanding that tours of the mansion are no longer provided and the property is no longer open to visitors. Hopefully, the property is being restored for preservation.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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