The Majors House

The Alexander Majors House is one only four surviving antebellum houses in Kansas City, Missouri, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1856 for the family of Alexander Majors, the house served as both a family home and as the headquarters for Majors’ successful freighting company. The Majors House was built facing westward, overlooking what was then the Kansas Territory.

Alexander Majors’ farm ran alongside a dirt road leading from Westport Landing to the original Santa Fe Trail. That dirt path is now known as State Line Road – the boundary between Kansas and Missouri.  Majors deliberately built his home mere feet from what was then the national border of the United States, symbolically looking westward. His house’s strategic location enabled him to conduct business on leased property in the Kansas Territory. On this leased property Majors had huge corrals, grazing lands, oxen pens, barns, and wagon and blacksmith shops. Family legend has it that Majors did this because goods in the Territory were not taxed, making him a very shrewd businessman.

It is likely that enslaved people performed much of the construction of the Majors House, as was the case for many similar homes in Missouri. The house is T-shaped, built of heavy oak timbers and square nails. The home is a modified Greek revival style and its facade features an unusual two-story, recessed porch. Although census records reveal that Majors and his son-in-law owned 16 or 17 slaves in 1860, we have no way of knowing where on his large farms their dwellings would have been located.

Originally, the Majors House had nine rooms and nine fireplaces—one in each room. The walls were plastered with white lime and hog-hair. The house’s main rooms consisted of an office, parlor, and dining room on the first floor, and three bedrooms and a family parlor on the second floor. Before the rear additions were constructed in the early 1900s, the Majors family’s kitchen was a detached outbuilding or lean-to.

The house stayed in the Majors family through his oldest daughter Rebecca and her husband Samuel Poteet until 1904, when it was sold to the Ruhl family. The Ruhls made several additions to the house, including a large bay window on the south and a two-story addition that gave the house two additional rooms and an indoor kitchen.

In 1924, the Majors farmstead was sold and divided up to make way for a new “suburban” housing development. The old mansion was then converted to a schoolhouse for three years. As the population in the area grew, there were plans to demolish the house, but it was determined to be too costly to tear down because of its sturdy construction. By the late 1920s, the Majors house was vacant and deteriorating.

In 1930, Louisa Johnston, a great granddaughter of Alexander Majors, bought her family’s decrepit mansion from the school district for $2,500. She began to slowly restore the house, replacing windows and patching the roof. Louisa lived in the house for nearly 50 years. Upon her death in 1979, she willed the house to a long-time friend, architect Terry Chapman. As trustee of the Majors Historical Trust, Chapman undertook a major restoration of the house and opened it for tours in 1984. Terry Chapman and his wife Victoria managed the house museum for more than 25 years until his death in 2010. In 2011, management of the house merged with the John Wornall House Museum to create Wornall/Majors House Museums, one non-profit organization dedicated to caring for both historic structures.

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