The John Wornall House is one of surviving antebellum houses in the Kansas City area and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wornall built the house in 1858, on his 500-acre farm. It served as family for over 100 years before being restored to its mid-nineteenth century style and opened as a museum. Today, the Wornall property would have spanned north-south from 59th to 67th streets, and east-west from Main Street to State Line. The house faces west, looking out over Wornall Road, named for John in the early days of Kansas City.
The Wornall house was erected about 200 feet east of the original homestead, purchased In 1843, which was a simple one-story log cabin. John Wornall made his living selling his crops to wagon trains heading west on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. A portion of the Santa Fe Trail followed the current path of Wornall Road and would have passed directly in front of the house.
The design of the Wornall house expressed John’s position in the community. The large Greek columns and solid brick construction displayed his wealth as well as providing shelter for his family. Wiley Britton, a young man hired to help build the brick farmhouse, recalled that Wornall had been living in a substantial frame house but desired to build “the most pretentious house in that section.”
Wornall may have had help in designing his new home, as Kansas City at the time had a few academically trained architects. But Wornall, as was typical, acted as his own contractor for the construction of the house. The brick for the Wornall house was fired on a site fifty feet east of the present building. The Wornalls were slaveholders, and much of this work was performed by enslaved people. In addition, Wornall hired Wiley Britton to haul sand from the Missouri River and then carry the brick and mortar.
All the walls are 12 inches thick and load bearing. The thick walls were banded together by placing specific brick cross-wise. Two types of bonding were used. The sides and back of the house were laid in common bond, a simple pattern consisting of one row of headers (bricks laid lengthwise). Flemish bond, with alternating headers and stretchers in each row, produces a more attractive surface but is more time-consuming to lay and was reserves for the most important wall—the front.
The limestone for the foundation, fireplaces and door and window lintels was quarried nearby. A large root cellar was built under the kitchen, but the rest of the house stands on an 18-inch foundation. Receipts for materials for this house and others like it show that Wornall spent about $2,000 in materials and $2,500 in labor, for a total cost of $4,505.69.