The dogwoods and azaleas are the star of the show during the third week of April in Charleston, MO. Just like Hollywood or Broadway, the stars are surrounded by a supporting cast that has merit of its own. The history that surrounds this small town in the Upper Delta Region of the Middle Mississippi River Valley makes Charleston a worthy stop any time of year.
By Laura (Abernathy) Huffman
The Moore Home, built in 1899, and designed by well-known St. Louis architect Jerome Bibb Legg, is located at 403 North Main, Charleston, Missouri. Legg was contracted by James Handy Moore, a lawyer and banker, to design the Colonial Revival style home. Moore had married Mary Bird Hunter in 1890 and they had four small children. Their growing family needed a larger home. J. H Moore carefully chose a spot on the family farm just north of town. Moore was an astute businessman and champion of Charleston and he was confident that the town would expand towards his new home. He was correct. His vision for the new family home also included a servants quarters and a grainery.
According to the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Moore “himself supervised construction of the palatial, seventeen room house, faced with modern brick veneer and equipped with private water and sewage disposal systems.” Moore, who was the director of Southeast Missouri Power and Light, had the light fixtures made to adapt to either gas or electricity. The chandelier in the dining room had been brought back from Nashville by Moore, whom attended university at Vanderbilt. Wood for the home and servants’ quarters was harvested from the family farm. The home included seven fireplaces- two wood burning and five coal burning. The Mississippi County Historical Society notes that the duty of stoking the fires and removing ashes would keep one servant busy all day in periods of cold weather.
The completed home had cost Moore $7,400 but his home was the showplace of Charleston. Moore’s wife, children, rare books, collectible coins and paintings all moved into the new home.
Tragically, the life of James Handy Moore was cut short November, 1906 when he was killed in a runaway carriage accident. Moore and Dr. J.H. White, accompanied by Moore’s thirteen year old son, Ben were journeying for a hunt when the team of horses became spooked in the darkness and rain near Windyville, south of Charleston. The elder Moore and White were thrown from the carriage and both men succumbed to their injuries. Ben survived. Mary continued to live in the home until she passed in 1949. The home remained occupied by the Moore family until 1977 when the grandsons of James Handy and Mary Bird Moore donated the building and grounds to the Mississippi County Historical Society. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Today, tours of the home are offered by the Mississippi County Historical Society during the annual Dogwood-Azalea Festival. Following in the tradition of the homes reputation as a place for social activities and entertaining, the first floor, including the beautifully landscaped grounds, and dramatic wrap around porch are available for events. The Historical Society also offers their archives for historical and genealogical research.
The home is currently filled with many pieces of original furniture and décor. Ben, a grandson of James and Mary has notes in many of the rooms that describe the room’s purpose and tidbits about the two generations of family members that lived there. Charlestonians have donated pianos, period clothing, a bedspread from 1810, a post Civil War carpetbag, and a myriad of other pieces- each with its own unique tale to tell.
The Moore Home was recently featured in the premiere episode of “This Place in History.” Show host Julie McCullough notes that the home, and its contents, will especially appeal to architecture lovers, fashion aficionados, and photographers.
We couldn’t agree more.
Information for this article was gained via Moore Home docents (Emily and Mr. Hunter Ely, a descendant of James Handy Moore), the Mississippi County Historical Society website, Dogwood-Azalea Festival brochures and publicity materials, the National Register of Historic Places, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch (November 21, 1906).
*During our Charleston, MO adventure Population 91 dined at Bread + Butter (Poplar Bluff), City Limits Grill (Charleston), and Waffle & Pancake House (Charleston). We lodged at Quality Inn. Plan your trip at www.charlestonmo.org.
Our trip was not hosted or sponsored and all opinions are those of Population 91 staff.
Learn more about the history of Charleston, MO: