WEBB CITY, Mo. — A late Victorian-era Queen Anne-style house built in the late 1800s in Webb City may soon become listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Owners Don and Becky Freeman have lived in the Elijah Thomas Webb residence at 4 S. Liberty St. for a decade and are vying for the listing. Elijah Thomas Webb was a banker and the son of the founder of the town, John C. Webb.
The Webb family came to Jasper County in 1856 from Tennessee. John C. Webb settled on about 200 acres. He later acquired an additional 120 acres, which ended up becoming the community of Webb City.
Don Freeman said the Civil War broke out shortly after and that John Webb served in the war under Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, a senior officer in the Confederate army. He returned to the area in the 1870s, and his son went off to college at the University of Missouri.
“Turkey Creek is where they settled originally when they came to Missouri, and John Webb wound up buying 200 acres of land and he added to it,” Freeman said. “In 1873, he was plowing his fields for planting corn and found something that looked peculiar. The story goes that he found lead, and they went from there. John tried the mining ... himself, but it was too big of a task for him, so he wound up selling the mineral rights to the land and collected royalties off of it.”
Freeman said it’s difficult to find information about the property or even about the Webb family.
“Ironically, the history of it is kind of muted,” he said. “I’ve had to dig and dig and dig to get information. You think with it being the Webb family, there’d be all kinds of documentation. But as far as we know at this point, we’re predicting by the abstract that it (the house) was built in 1891.”
The home has 11-foot-high ceilings with hand-printed wallpaper replicates. The 4,000-square-foot, three-story home is encompassed by a wrought-iron fence mounted on a limestone foundation and is designed in a blend of architectural styles and design features, including Queen Anne, Romanesque, Italianate and Eastlake Ornamentation, according to the nomination form. Freeman estimates the house is worth at least $1.5 million by today’s standards.
When the Freeman family purchased the home from its previous owners, Clarence and Imogene Wade, it was already in great condition. One of the only major renovations needed was to the original Buckingham slate roof.
“A guy from Germany and Belgium did the work, and replaced the old copper valleys where the points of roof connect,” Freeman said. “The metal deteriorates faster than the slate does. They replaced the copper in 2013. A lot of people try to give me credit because I’m the face of the house now, but the Wades did a great job preserving it.”
The interior hardwood floors downstairs feature geometric shapes like pinwheels and basket weave designs. A large coal-fired steam boiler was originally used to heat the home; it now has a modern gas-fired boiler.
“When you live in something like this, it’s really a unique feeling to know that you’re living in history,” Freeman said.
Jeanne Newby, who’s been dubbed the town’s unofficial historian, described the residence as a focal point of Webb City. She can remember living in the house at age 9 when it was an apartment building.
“I think it’s a beautiful home,” she said. “The house has been quite a few things throughout the years. After E.T. died, the house was an apartment building and an optometry office. I think the Freemans have done a wonderful job of getting it back to what it originally looked like.”
Freeman said obtaining the designation for the National Register of Historic Places is no easy feat but that he and his wife are awaiting word from the state, which plans to review the nomination at a meeting on March 20.
“It costs quite a bit of money, if you were to hire a consultant for this, so I’ve done the slow process, gathered the information and submitted it,” Freeman said. “You have to send off for an assessment through the State Historic Preservation Office in Jefferson City for them to really acknowledge if this property is worthy of being listed on the national registry.”
The family should know by May whether the home will be listed.