By Danny Wood
A mile from Liberty’s old town square, four imposing buildings overlook Missouri Route 291. In daylight, the view across landscaped lawns evokes a French château. In darkness, these ominous shadows resemble a vast Gothic mansion.
Three of the structures consist of red brick with sandstone-framed windows and steep, gabled roofs topped by parapets and pommel decorations. These buildings exemplify Jacobean Revival architecture, a hybrid style that used design motifs from the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras and Gothic elements reminiscent of medieval cathedrals.
Bill Hart, field representative for Missouri Preservation, says the oldest structure, a former orphanage and school, is one of the best works of this important late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century style, designed by nationally recognized architect William Butts Ittner.
“Ittner is famous for his revolutionizing approaches to the design of school buildings,” Hart says. “His style of buildings lent itself well to institutional architecture that didn’t have the rigid classicism of the architecture before.”
The buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1955 for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal society with a dedication to charity and education. For a century, the Odd Fellows delivered social services from the property, caring for orphans, the elderly, the sick, and the poor.
In the early 1990s, the last residents left the nursing home. Enter local Dr. John Bean and his wife, Marsha. The family purchased the 170-acre property, taking on four buildings in need of renovation plus ruined outside buildings, a cemetery, and a World War II memorial.
John financed major restorative work on the orphanage in 2009, following Marsha’s death the previous year. “We provided a new structure between the basement and the first floor and then between the first floor and the second floor,” Jesse Leimkuehler, property manager, explains the restoration of the floors. “We re-supported those with structural steel—hundreds of tons!”
The first floor was completely rehabilitated, and materials and objects rescued from other local buildings were incorporated into the interior design. There are candelabras from a Benedictine monastery, and the bar contains a wooden and stained-glass wall from a demolished Kansas City mansion.
The Odd Fellows’ Home reopened as Belvoir Winery in 2010. Wine and weddings are now the main business, but local artists and school children display art, charities use meeting rooms for free on weekdays, and paranormal investigators stage regular ghost hunts. The communityfocused redevelopment won the City of Liberty’s 2011 Historic Preservation Project of the Year Award.
The orphanage has been saved, but the other buildings, including the former hospital and nursing home, still need some repair. For two years running, 2006 and 2007, four of the buildings were on Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered historic places.
However, Jesse is optimistic about the future, and though some buildings are rumored to be haunted, many of the former Odd Fellows’ Home’s problems have already been exorcised.