It’s a Leavenworth holiday tradition steeped in history! The Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour has been an integral part of the holiday season in Leavenworth for over twenty-five years. The tour committee, headed by Kathy Huskey, has been busier than Santa’s elves putting together another great holiday historical homes tour. It’s always fun to rediscover the forgotten or lesser known history of vintage homes and churches found right here in Leavenworth, the First City of Kansas.
The Carroll Mansion museum, at 1128 Fifth Avenue, is tour headquarters, which will open at 12 noon on tour day, December 10, for pickup of pre-ordered tickets, the sale of holiday wrapped specialty breads and museum tours. Ticket availability at local businesses and through on-line purchase will end at 12 noon on December 9, but will be offered on tour day at the museum for a $20 donation per ticket. The gift shop will also be open for holiday gift and museum memento purchases, to include a 3D commemorative ornament featuring the façade of the museum. Throughout the day live entertainment can be enjoyed at the museum as well as a visit from Father Christmas.
Even before the Leavenworth County Historical Society acquired the Carroll Mansion in 1964 from Ella Carroll, the last of the Carroll family to reside here, the home was considered one of Leavenworth’s historic landmarks. Built in 1857 as a four-room farmhouse by John McCullough Foster, it underwent two major renovations and by 1887, when Edward Carroll purchased the property, the home appeared as it does today. The property, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, today provides a step back in time to the Victorian age in Leavenworth. It also serves as a local research center and repository for early Leavenworth County history. It is here that the rich history of Leavenworth County is collected, preserved, and shared.
Most often lost to history are the folks who once lived in Leavenworth’s vintage homes, such as the residence of Ray and Helen Hartjen on south 5th Street that was once owned by Margaret O’Keefe, widow of Cornelius, who was an early day carpenter. The home was actually built by long-forgotten H.D. Rush who owned the first lumberyard in Kansas. The O’Keefes raised ten children, many making a significant mark on Leavenworth history….a prominent criminal lawyer, a Catholic Chaplain in the Army stationed in the Philippines, a railroad postal clerk, and a prison guard. The youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married William C. Helmers, the president of Helmers Furniture manufacturing and Josephine, the last to reside here until her death in 1960, was a principal at Third Avenue School.
The house on Pine Street is a two-story late Victorian style originally constructed in 1868, and usually described as a “Federalist Craftsman Victorian farmhouse located in the heart of Mayberry.” Certainly the past owners and residents of the home carried out the Mayberry ideal that was comprised of business owners, churchgoers, charming children, a friendly and helping-hand neighborhood and more.
From 1907 to the late 1940s, Irish immigrant, Mathew B. Reardon owned the home. Mathew Reardon was for many years the street foreman at Leavenworth Light and Heating Company. He and his wife, Matilda had three daughters and following Mathew’s death in 1950, she sold the house to Ivan & Lucille Meyer. Born in Basehor, Ivan Meyer served in World War II. After the war he and his wife and children returned to Leavenworth and with two of his brothers, expanded the Meyer Dairy that had originated with their father in Basehor.
The stately home of Bonnie Joranko and Michael Burke is always a crowd pleaser. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home is familiarly known as the Judge Robert Crozier home. The Judge numbered among Leavenworth’s early pioneers. First he founded what is known today as the Leavenworth Times and later was appointed by President Lincoln as the 3rd U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas. Crozier implemented the major expansion of the small four-room house into the grand two-story Italianate seen today.
The homes tour also includes a loft apartment at the Historic Ben Day Loft Apartments at 1100 Third Avenue. Back in September 1923, the building was one of two grade schools opened in Leavenworth, which had been designed by Charles A. Smith, the “school board architect”. With identical layouts and facades, the brick schools were located on North Broadway and Third Avenue and were named after their locations. Myron K. Feth of Feth & Feth was an associate architect in the design.
In 2011 the school building was purchased and plans drawn for a total renovation. The building was featured on the Candlelight Vintage Homes tour in that year, showing the “before” of the extensive transformation.
A homes tour isn’t complete without including one of Leavenworth’s historic old churches. This year is no exception and the church chosen for the tour is certainly a forgotten “jewel”. Some old timers might remember it as the “Match Stick Church”, but today it is the home of the All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church, at 528 Spruce. Built in 1894 under the direction of Rev. J.W. Kimmel, pastor of the newly founded First English Lutheran Church, funds were always in short supply. To raise money the idea of selling match sticks was formulated. So many boxes of matches were sold that the church soon became known as the “Matchstick Church”. The purchase of bricks was made incrementally, according to the funds raised, which resulted in bricks of varying shades of red on the façade of the church. Setting foot inside the doors of this quaint place of worship, the visitor immediately experiences the sights and sounds of Christmas. Ambient light from its stained glass windows and the strains of the century-old pipe organ harken back to times gone by!
An added bonus on this year’s tour is the First Presbyterian Church at 407 Walnut. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic church celebrates the “Classical Revival” style of architecture by William P. Feth. The building is majestic on the outside and awe-inspiring within. Local prominent businessmen have supported this church over the years to include the Abernathys, E.P. Willson and William Small, all who have left their mark on the pages of Leavenworth history. Not only will the visitor enjoy the exquisite Tiffany stained-glass windows in the sanctuary but will also witness a live nativity scene. During Sunday’s tour hours a chili feed will be available to tour goers for a donation to Presbyterian charities.
To celebrate the season, join with others who have made the Leavenworth Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour their own holiday tradition. Revisit the past in historic Leavenworth on Sunday, December 10 for the 26th annual homes tour. Tickets for this year’s tour can be ordered on-line at www.leavenworthhistory.org with a pre-tour donation of $15 or at the Carroll Mansion museum, 1128 Fifth Avenue, Leavenworth, KS, on tour-day for $20. This is one of the major fundraisers for the historical society, so be sure to order your tickets and tell all your friends. Tour sites will be open from 1:00pm to 7:00 pm. The tour goes on regardless of weather.