INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - As soon as you walk into the Bingham-Waggoner Estate in Independence, you know you aren’t in a newly-built home. It has a walk-in ice box the size of a room. You can talk to people in other rooms with "speaking tubes," which are kind of a pre-electric intercom. The chandeliers are (well, used to be) gas-powered and some of the house’s electricity still flows through an old fuse box.
"The house is exactly as it was in 1900," said volunteer Janice Pearson. "People say this is so cozy, if you can look at a 26-room mansion as cozy."
Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 30, you can see the historic mansion decked out for the holidays. Christmas tours are an annual tradition for Independence's historic mansions. They help attract visitors, and they bring in much of the money it takes to keep them open. The Bingham-Waggoner Estate has a $100,000 annual budget, which they have to raise on their own. They hope to raise around a third of that with home tours and gift shop sales during the holidays.
This house was built in 1852 by John Lewis, a saddle maker from Kentucky. He moved to Independence and set up a business selling supplies to people moving even farther west.
Famed artist George Caleb Bingham lived here for six years in the 1860s. He built a studio on the grounds, long since gone, where he painted some of his most well-known works.
For a century, the Waggoner family lived here while running a flour mill across the street. As their family grew, they enlarged it from 6 rooms to 26. Pearson said it barely survived after the last family member died in 1976.
"There was talk of using it for storage, demolishing it, and then there was also talk of the land being sold and apartment buildings put here," Pearson said.
A preservation society partnered with the city and state to buy it in the early 1980s. A long period of restoration followed, and the home opened for visitors in 1984.
Supporters hope this year's "Woodland Christmas" theme helps more people see how things used to be.
"We have many, many people that come here year after year to help because they love the place and don't want to see anything happen to it," Pearson said.
The mansion is at Pacific and Osage on the south side of downtown Independence.
Tours will run from the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 30, except Dec. 23-25. For times and more information, visit the Bingham-Waggoner Estate website at www.bwestate.org or their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bingham-Waggoner-Estate/206459329366256 .
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