The Parsonage Parlor
As the steamboat Morning Star came up the Missouri through breaking ice on a frigid March day in 1856, Prof. Charles Himes of Pennsylvania noted in his diary that the population of Lexington was about three thousand and property values were on the rise. Himes observed, “There is not much to be seen on the levee except for several large warehouses and a ropewalk.” One of those warehouses belonged to William Bradford (W.B.) Waddell. Professor Himes also recorded that he had spotted the steamboat William H. Russell on its way upriver, named for and owned by the flamboyant partner of conservative businessman Waddell. The two men gained fame when they partnered with Alexander Majors to create the Pony Express.
W.B.’s success at Lexington began with a dry goods store in 1835. His fortunes grew along with freighting to the new West and the hemp trade that provided Southern plantations with twine for cotton bales. After the Civil War, W.B. acquired the First Baptist Church’s parsonage for his son, Robert, and Robert’s bride, Emma Clement Waddell, because that was where the couple met and fell in love.
Built beside the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840s, the parsonage—now known as the Waddell House— was solidly constructed with fourteen-inch brick walls in an eclectic style. The gabled roof of the house contrasts with a mansard porch roof topped with Victorian gingerbread trim. White scalloped verge boards with pendants dropping from each corner and peak tie the two roof styles together.
The asymmetrical front façade is dominated by the porch on the west third of the building. The parlor where Robert and Emma met completes the remainder. Guests enter the foyer through the original front doors. Inside, furniture from the estate of the Pony Express founder has been passed down to succeeding generations. The parlor is accessed from the foyer, as is the dining room behind it. Bedrooms are reached via the gracefully curving staircase. Until 1907, the second floor consisted of two bedrooms. An extensive two-year remodel added a third bedroom and a bath to the back, above a living room, bath, and utility room. In 1911, each fireplace was bricked when radiator heat replaced them. Sadly, that was also the year that Robert died, leaving Emma a widow until her death in 1917.
To make ends meet, Emma divided her home into four apartments, renting three of them and living in the fourth. Upon her death, W.B. Waddell—grandson of the original—moved into the house with his wife, Kate. The apartments remained and were known as honeymoon apartments because so many newlyweds started married life in them. In the 1840s, it was standard practice to build the kitchen as a separate structure in case of fire. Eventually one was added to the back of the Waddell House, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the current kitchen was built off the dining room.
In the 1960s, the apartments were dismantled, and the home was restored to its original structural components, marking the last major change to the structure. In 1979, the Waddell House was included on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination form noted that the original portion of the house remained “as it was with its original wooden doors and window frames, trim and interior double oak floors intact, and in very good condition.”
Inspectors found that the framing and foundation remained in excellent condition after 150 years. Today, the Waddell House is home to Katherine Bradford Van Amburg, namesake of her mother and grandmother, both named Kate Waddell. She moved to the family home in 1962 with her parents, R.W. and Katie Waddell Van Amburg.
When speaking about what it is like to eside in the ancestral home, Katherine says, “It is like having all of them at the dinner table. I’m like my neighbor who once wondered what kind of taste in furniture she’d have if she’d had the chance to buy any. In the parlor is a full-length mirror that came from W.B.’s home, accidentally scratched by the brass ring of a slave as she polished it. In the basement is a petrified bag of sugar set aside by Grandmother during World War Two. It’s wonderful.”