The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 27, 2012

Jo Ellis: Historic home in Carthage being brought back to life

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Horace M. Baker house, located in the heart of Carthage’s historic homes district, is being brought back to life by new owners David and Rhonda Thorn. A Queen Anne Victorian, the house will mark its 120th anniversary next year.

The Thorns are not amateur house restorers. Before buying and moving into the home last November, they completed a major restoration of the antebellum (1851) Kellogg House northeast of the city, where they lived for 16 years. Before that, they had lived in the Victorian-style McCune home, 1427 Grand Ave.

“We’ve always lived in old houses,” David Thorn said. “I tell people this (Baker) house is 40 years newer than our last house.”

C.W. Terry, the architect, designed several Victorian homes in Carthage. The five-bedroom, three-story magnificent Baker house at 205 W. Macon St. is one of the best, featuring a wrap-around porch and balcony and the towers and turrets that were his trademark. The house has 12-foot ceilings, and a front door that is 42 inches wide and 9 feet high. David Thorn said he could not find a screen door that would fit it, so his cabinet-maker built a custom door.

Horace M. Baker owned a mine and a farm in the Oronogo area. He founded the Methodist Church in Carthage. As a furniture maker, he invented a rocking chair that used the chair’s rocking motion to fan the user as he rocked. A photograph of Baker has continuously been displayed in the home’s foyer.

The house has gone through several owners since the last Baker left in the 1920s. At one time, Carthage Historic Preservation was responsible for the home. It also had been divided into apartments, with many of its tile-fronted fireplaces wall-boarded up, and its finely carved and stained woodwork slathered with a dark brown paint.

The Robert and Patti DeBaca family did a partial restoration in 1978, but not a lot has been done since. In the six months the Thorns have been working on the house, they have had a lot of plumbing and roofing repairs done. The heating and air conditioning flows to four different zones in the house, and their daughter Maddy’s room was not getting heat when they first moved in. It was impossible to find anyone in the area who knew how to fix it, David Thorn said, so he researched the problem on the Internet and corrected the boiler problem himself.

“A house this size just has so many projects, we had to have a priority list,” he said. At 5,500 square feet, the house is more than double the size of the Kellogg House. A huge priority facing the Thorns now is repainting the exterior with its 12 different shades of color.

Original chandeliers, one of them Venetian glass, grace the parlor and dining room. The kitchen had to be gutted, and a new pressed tin ceiling was installed. With nine doors and windows and a brick chimney, finding wall space to rebuild the cabinets was difficult, but the tall ceiling allowed the cabinet-maker to incorporate 5-foot upper cabinets to provide plenty of storage space. The downstairs bathroom also was completely redone.

“We try to recapture the original as much as possible, and bring back the homey feel,” Rhonda Thorn said. She anticipates the restoration will continue for some time. “I’ve heard that when you stop working on (an old house), you’ve fallen out of love with them. We don’t restore a house to resell; we restore it to live in.”

A massive oak staircase leads to five bedrooms on the second floor, one of them considered a “sitting room,” since the sleeping accommodation is a Murphy bed hidden in the wall. Two of the bedrooms are connected by a secret passage behind the inside wall, and on a closet wall are penciled notes from 1896 that have not been painted over.

The third floor offers the couple a recreational area and office space for David Thorn. There also is a small, round room in the tower where Rhonda Thorn and her sisters like to sit and look out the windows while they visit. David Thorn enjoys sitting on the balcony porch and enjoying the passing parade.

“I’ve always wanted a porch,” he said.

He has heard that there are pocket doors behind some of the door frames, and he is hoping that is true so he can bring them back to working order. The Thorns have agreed to put their home on Carthage Historic Preservation’s Christmas Homes Tour.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.

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