Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site

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Want to tour a house built in 1850 by a man who also built and ran a woolen mill?

We did too, so we paid a visit to the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic site near Liberty, Missouri a couple weeks ago.

In 1839 Waltus Watkins moved with his wife and young family into a 2 room log cabin on a piece of land he named Bethany Farm. His growing family soon outgrew the cabin, so in 1850 he began construction of a 2 storey brick home with 8 bedrooms and 2 parlors. He designed the home himself and made the bricks from clay on his own land.

Four years later, he and the family moved in. It must have been a wonderful experience to move out of the cramped cabin and into the spacious mansion. Here Mr. Watkins and his wife, Mary Ann, would raise 9 children and 2 foster children.

A long drive leads up to the front of the home. Just inside the front door, you see a gracious winding staircase made of walnut,

and a tray ready to receive calling cards from visitors.

To the right is the formal parlor where guests were received and entertained. A piano awaits a cheerful tune.

The opposite parlor was for the family and contained a small library of books and childrens’ toys.

From the family parlor, you can enter the dining room.

And adjacent to the dining room is the winter kitchen, now containing a loom for weaving rugs.

There was also a separate summer kitchen which we’ll see later. The walnut staircase takes you up to the next floor where you can access 2 large bedrooms, a guest bedroom

and master bedroom.

There are also girls’ and boys bedrooms on the 2nd floor, but accessible only by their own separate small staircases. There was no access between the girls’ bedrooms and the boys’. The reason for this is that Watkins had several daughters, and sometimes he had male boarders, workers at the mill, staying in the boys’ bedrooms,

so he deemed it best that the girls’ bedrooms have separate private access. And for added insurance, the only access to the girls’ bedroom staircase is through Grandma’s bedroom. Grandma was, in effect,  an 18th century equivalent to a modern security system.

Back downstairs and out the back door leads to the summer kitchen, a separate building. In the pic below, you can see the back of the house with the summer kitchen a separate building on the right.

It was not uncommon back then to have a kitchen in a separate building used only in the summer. It kept the house cooler, and if the kitchen caught fire, it wouldn’t take the whole house too.

The tour doesn’t include the basement, but we were told that was where they had a small dairy where they made cheese and butter.

The acreage surrounding the house had a large orchard with many kinds of fruit trees, and the Watkins dried their own fruit in a large drier house heated by a small wood fire.

Large trays could be pulled in a out to add or remove fruit.

They also raised many chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat.

Silver Laced Polish Chicken

They also had a large garden too where vegetables and herbs were grown of every kind.

At about the same time the house was being constructed, Mr. Watkins built a grist mill, sawmill, and a woolen mill.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you the 3 storey brick woolen mill, which still contains all the old machinery for turning sheep’s wool into fabric. See ya then!

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Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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21 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    Thank you for sharing, I love this!

  2. Lynda M O says:

    Wow, so sweet of you to share this place with us. I love old places’ Nor California is filled with old cool spots that people have lived in for centuries.

  3. Kerry Hand says:

    Summer and Winter Kitchens. New idea to me but it makes sense. Also this house emphasises to me how old the United states is. Mid and East. And how new the West is. 1850. All this elegance there in Liberty, and at the same time the wagon trains going west into quite a primitive way of life.

  4. Alica says:

    I’m wondering how many kids might’ve slid down that bannister on that beautiful staircase! 🙂

  5. Nancy says:

    I am loving this place! Love the staircase, the old floors, the furniture, the piano…just all of it! But oh my mercy! What kind of chicken is that? Can’t say I have ever seen one like that before!
    Thanks for sharing this amazing place with us.

  6. Karen says:

    Mr. Watkins was a very industrious man! He even made his own bricks! I love the drying shed with the pull out trays. And Grandma’s Security System…That probably worked great! I would love to have that garden. A very interesting tour. Oh, my great grandparents had a summer kitchen. They would take the big woodburning stove out of the winter kitchen and put it in the summer kitchen, separate from the house to keep the house and the cook cool in the summer! Great Gramma cooked for a large crew as they had an 800 acre farm in Massachusetts. xx

  7. caroline says:

    I loved this photo tour and I love you blog. Could you do a little walking photo tour of your farm?

  8. Karen says:

    That was very interesting. Thanks for sharing. It makes me want to find an 1800’s estate and live there and live more simply, the way they lived back then. It would be more healthy too. Just wondering, does anyone know what they grew in the wire covered plantbeds in the garden in your photo? I never saw anything like that.

    • Suzanne says:

      Having grown up in Missouri, I can say that the wire was probably to deter those pesky voracious rabbits/garden lawnmowers.

  9. Sonya says:

    Did you walk around the lake?
    And have you ever been to Missouri Town? It’s near Lake Jacomo. I think you all would like it. Lots of pictures to take.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Sonya,
      We didn’t get a chance to walk around the lake, maybe on a future visit. Haven’t been to Missouri Town either, but will put that one on our list. Thanks!

  10. Glenda says:

    That chicken is a silver laced Polish.
    We raised some when we got a mixed batch from a hatchery one year.
    Love the tour! Love historical homes and the stories they tell!
    Thank you Suzanne!

  11. Beth says:

    I love to see old places like this.. that is one cool looking chicken..thank you for sharing..

  12. Nancy says:

    Enjoyed your tour. Do you know if any of the furnishings are original to the home?

    • Suzanne says:

      The Watkins family continued to operate the farm until 1945 when it was bought by a rancher from Texas. They sold the property at auction in 1958, and the house furnishings were sold too. But some of the furniture has found it’s way back to the house including Mr. Watkins desk, some of Mrs Watkins china dishes, and a large mirror in the formal parlor.

  13. Louise S says:

    Nancy, I was wondering the same thing about the furnishings. And this fellow’s name, Waltus Watkins, brought me a chuckle. 🙂

  14. Tina says:

    That is one of my favorite tour that you have taken us on. The chicken is cool too. I second the motion for a tour of your farm.

  15. Carolyn Brown says:

    Hi, Suzanne, loved your blogs on Watkins Mill. It’s a very special place for me — my grandmother, Virginia Watkins, was the daughter of Waltus’ son and grew up at the mill (well, the house) and in Lawson. She told me some fun stories, that Jesse James, as a kid, was a “next door” neighbor (his father and Waltus, I believe, were friendly), and that there’s a family mystery about why the mill was left intact. Seems one day — this is after Waltus died, I believe — everyone left for lunch and never came back. Just didn’t return…. Last nice thing, and this is for all those who asked about furnishings. My grandmother, who inherited some beautiful pieces from her father, was insistent about returning them to the mill and she did so before she died. I’m not clear on what exactly she sent back (there were records) but she kept my mother busy running back and forth to UPS there for a few years :). The folks who run the museum are amazing. Anyway, thanks for rekindling some wonderful memories.

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