When the Moreau Drive area was developed in the early part of the 20th century, the homes of many prominent Jefferson Citians and five Missouri governors made it a highly desirable residential area.
But by the 1960s, the neighborhood was in slow decline as residents moved to the west-end suburbs.
In 1964, when Nicholas and Mildred Monaco bought Vineyard Place at 1122 Moreau Drive, the former stately residence had been vacant for eight years. The neglect of these many years was evident in peeling wallpaper, 19 broken windows, warped wooden floors, a dirt-floored basement and extensive moisture damage.
The structure "just smelled bad," as Nick Monaco tells it. "It was a mess." Today, Vineyard Place stands as a Jefferson City treasure, elegantly restored and probably better looking than in all its 170 years.
Vineyard Place is a 23-room Georgian Colonial Mansion built circa 1849. Its history began when Missouri Gov. John Edwards (1844-48) purchased the 80 acres on which to build. Initially, he lived in what is now the back "L" before constructing the main mansion.
According to a plat map found in the basement, the original plans included a portico with columns and a widow's walk. However, these two additions were not completed, presumably when Edwards' marriage plans collapsed. Once the house was sold in 1858 to Paul and Phoebe Edmunds, Edwards headed west seeking gold.
The Edmunds owned Vineyard Place during the Civil War's threat of an attack on Jefferson City by Confederate Gen. Sterling Price. Outnumbered Union soldiers occupied the house during this impending danger, camping on the front lawn and observing Price's movements from the roof.
The Edmunds sold the house in 1865 to Christopher Wagner, whose widow, Elizabeth, sold the house in 1888 to Mrs. Lou Bolton, who in turn sold the house and 15 acres in 1892 to Mary Hammen Haviland, from New York, widow of Frank Haviland, of the Haviland china family. The Havilands had one child, Mayme who, after also becoming a widow, moved back to Jefferson City to live with her mother.
The house, known now as Vineyard Place, was occupied for 57 years by mother and daughter — by Mary Haviland until her death in 1934 and then by daughter Mayme until her death in 1949.
Mayme defied the social norms of the day by developing the street of Vineyard Square in a male-dominated business world. Mayme designed and built up to 23 houses on Vineyard Square and the surrounding neighborhood. The homes were quality built, but she spent too much and sold them for too little. As her debts mounted, repairs to Vineyard Place were neglected, and Mayme was reduced to renting rooms and selling eggs from her backyard chickens. For decades, Vineyard Place sunk into disrepair, taking the neighborhood down with it. Sadly, Mayme died broke.
The deed to Vineyard Place was transferred in 1947 by Elmer Ott. Elmer's wife, together with friends Mildred Monaco and Neida Raithel, principal of old Moreau Heights School, began plotting the Monacos' next move with their sights on Vineyard Place.
Nick Monaco wanted to buy the Ott house across the street, but when he presented a check to the Ott estate for the family home, Elmer, at the urging of his wife and her friends, convinced him otherwise. "They all conspired to make me buy Vineyard Place," Nick recalled. "Mildred loved this house. She had a vision."
Mildred directed the restoration work of contractor Elmer Goldammer and architect Hurst John. The original plans found in the basement were used to construct the front portico and four columns, as it was meant to be. The widow's walk was restored after removing seven layers of roofing down to the original split cedar roof. The interior was taken totally apart and put back together with as much of the original as could be saved, including walnut and oaks beams, ash stairways and banisters. Doors, windows, woodwork and flooring were removed, repaired and returned. Goldammer went to antique stores and other vintage homes to find replacement parts. The soffit brackets on the added front portico perfectly match the original. The walls are foot-thick limestone, as are the interior walls, topped by 12-foot high ceilings. Today, the mansion remains in beautifully maintained condition.
Legends of a secret tunnel in the basement are apparent and true! The opening in the east wall of the basement, now bricked up, is about 5 feet in diameter, heading east from the house. According to Monaco, a neighborhood teenager, Chris Graham with fellow Cub Scouts, explored the tunnel, going in "quite a way until they did not feel comfortable going further." Its original purpose is only speculation.
And with the restoration of Vineyard Place by the Monacos, the Moreau Drive District has come back to life as well, proving that often neighborhoods go down one house at a time, just as they surely come back.
Jenny Smith is a retired chemist from the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and former editor of HCJ's Yesterday and Today newsletter. The unabridged version of this article may found on page 4 of the May 2012 newsletter at historiccityofjefferson.org/resources.