Move to Jefferson City leads family to historic home preservation

Laura Ward serves on Jefferson City’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Laura Ward serves on Jefferson City’s Historic Preservation Commission. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

The white brick home’s lights glow each evening when Laura Ward pulls into her extended drive off of Atchison Street. After four months, she still is amazed the long-dreamed-of home is hers.

“It’s an awe-inspiring view,” Ward said.

The home built for Nelson Burch in 1868 caught Ward’s attention on one of her evening strolls in historic neighborhoods with her children, soon after her family moved to Jefferson City 13 years ago.

“I’ve always hunted for an 1800s home like where I grew up,” Ward said. “I had always watched this house; I knew it was an early, stately-looking home in need of some TLC.”

The Ward family moved to the Capital City to send their children to Catholic school. In Columbia, the waiting lists were long and uncertain.

Relieved that St. Peter Interparish School, where she currently serves as board president, was not so inundated, Ward found a new challenge.

She and her husband Mike bought an older home to fix up on West Main Street. She became vocal about historic preservation, when in just a few years, the Sam Cook Mansion was razed.

In response, she helped organize the first and only Conservation District in the city.

And, she found the Historic City of Jefferson, where she served eight years on the board, and more importantly, has developed friendships with people who share her fondness for the structures and their stories of the past.

Those connections also led her to serve on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Both leadership roles reinforced Ward’s belief in education as a proactive tool.

As the Continuing Education Coordinator for the University of Missouri, Ward knows “it’s never too late to learn.”

That goes for her children, Ella and Patrick, too. They have walked their mother’s crusade to respect older homes. And now she is pleased they are noticing the contributions of historic architecture.

“My kids have had to sacrifice because of my passion for historic preservation,” Ward acknowledged. “But I believe it’s something I’m giving to them.”

Her father gave it to her, rearing her and her four siblings in a pre-Civil War home in Gerald while he restored it.

“I always knew I wanted to live in an older home,” Ward said.

Just days before Christmas, Ward had a crowd of contractors interviewed and on the job within three days after closing on the Nelson and Gertrude Burch House.

Through the holiday season, plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling specialists, floor refinishers, bathroom tile workers, plaster specialists and roofers were in and out of the new Ward home.

The historic renovation is one of the first to benefit from the Old Town Revitalization Company’s loan program in partnership with local banks.

Ward served as her own project manager to ensure her prize did not change character during the updates. She had more than one discussion with a contractor who wanted to remove or replace old pieces for modern ones.

But she held on, even to the 143-year-old plaster on most of the walls and the wavy-glass windows. She also established a built-in bookcase in the living room as the holding for unique finds uncovered in the process, even coal scraps vacuumed from the old chute.

“I like the history of what happened inside,” Ward said.

Eventually, the building professionals added items, including knob and tube wiring pieces, push button lighting fixtures, swatches of wallpaper, and square nails.

“The contractors got into it,” Ward said. “I think they learned from the experience and gained an appreciation for it.”

Her historic interest continues to a “primitive” state when it comes to her furnishings, particularly in the kitchen. She had a step-back cupboard made to look old, including a mouse hole. And she had a modern sink hidden in a dry sink antique.

The porch is the most recent restoration. Red paint gave it a flare, reflecting the new owner’s personality, but the pillars and corbels hold true to the original owner’s grand entry overlooking the Capitol and downtown.

There’s plenty left to do, too.

She’ll put the railing back on the widow’s walk to bring out the Italianate style and most of the interior painting awaits.

“My husband walks around saying, ‘oh, I love our house,’” Ward said. “That makes me feel really good.

“This is my dream; I’m happy to know he loves it too.”

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