Sitting empty and slowly deteriorating, Phelps House was purchased by Carthage Historic Preservation, Inc., in 1988. Through extensive restoration and repair work, Phelps House has been returned to its original splendor. Today, the Phelps House serves as a lovely setting for weddings and other events. Phelps House is also open to the public for tours on Wednesdays, April through November, and other days by appointment.
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Phelps House History
The land upon which the Phelps House is built was purchased by Colonel William H. Phelps in 1868. Designed by Colonel Phelps and completed in 1895, the house is constructed of Carthage-mined grey marble and features a mixture of Beaux Arts, Classical Revival, and Romanesque styles. It is currently owned by Carthage Historic Preservation, Inc.
The historic home boasts many unique features and architectural details including ten fireplaces with imported tile and marble, original hand-carved woodwork, hand-painted wallpaper, a hand-operated dumbwaiter, a heated coat closet, and a roof of Ludowici clay tile. The Colonel’s inventiveness and originality are evident throughout. For example, although the house was heated by a hot water system, no radiators appeared in the four public rooms on the first floor. For these rooms, radiators were placed under the floor and air was forced over the radiators and into the rooms through ducts.
The Ladies Parlor showcases furniture purchased by Colonel Phelps at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Mrs. Phelps’ bedroom has original furnishings. Many of the additional furnishings throughout the house are period-appropriate and have been provided by generous contributors and friends of the Phelps House.
Colonel William H. Phelps (1845-1916) was born and raised in Hinsdale, New York. He studied law in the office of Hon. M. B. Chaplain, and completed his laws studies at Albany Law School where he graduated in 1867. That same year, he made his way West, arriving in Carthage where he hoped to find more opportunities to practice law. Arriving without means, Colonel Phelps would eventually become one of the wealthiest and most respected men in southwest Missouri, prominent in state politics, and actively involved in Carthage industry.
Colonel Phelps was the principal attorney for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad and largely responsible for securing the White River branch of the railroad in Carthage. He formed a law partnership with Judge E. O. Brown with offices located in Carthage. He served three terms in the Missouri General Assembly as a State Representative and was often a delegate to national conventions. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Missouri State Senate. He was influential in the decision to use Carthage stone to build the State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Missouri. He was widely known as a Democratic political boss who wielded great power in Missouri government, and many important political figures were frequent visitors to the Phelps House.
Colonel Phelps was also known as a very charitable man, privately assisting many people. He helped many a farmer and widow, financed the education of several young men, invested early to help Carthage businesses get started, and supported several churches regardless of their denomination.
Upon his death, the flag on the Jasper County Courthouse was flown at half mast in recognition of Colonel Phelps’ many contributions to the city of Carthage, Jasper County, and the state of Missouri.
In 1868, Colonel Phelps married Lois Jane Wilson of Northfield, Illinois. They had three children: two daughters, Helene and Florence, and a son, William (Will). In 1894, Mrs. Phelps tragically died in St. Louis at the age of 48 as the result of a runaway carriage accident. Helene died at the age of 29 from Tuberculous. Florence married Waldo H. Rothert and had three children. Florence and her family lived for a number of years in Omaha, Nebraska, and then in Los Angeles, California, where she died in 1962. Will was born deaf and later married Laura Alice Bigley who was also deaf. Colonel Phelps built a country house for the couple but they only lived there a few years. They eventually moved to California with their four children where Will was successful in the real estate business.
In 1905, Colonel Phelps married for a second time to Bridgey O’Leary who had emigrated from Ireland at the age of 18. According to an October 16, 1905 Carthage Press article reporting the marriage, “the wife of one of Missouri’s best-known men and leading Democratic politicians, is a comely young lady of about 35 years. She has been in the Phelps household for many years and for the last five or six years has been the colonel’s stenographer and secretary having a more intimate knowledge of his private affairs than any other person. She is an unusually bright and cultured lady.”
Bridgey and Colonel Phelps had two sons, Cyrus and George. Cyrus was killed just shy of his eighth birthday when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle in front of the home. George became a prominent Carthage attorney. He married Elizabeth O’Keefe and had two sons, George Jr. and John O. (Pat). Pat and his wife, Carolyn, actively served on the Board of Directors of Carthage Historic Preservation for many years, and currently serve as Honorary Board Members.
Colonel Phelps died at the age of 71 in 1916. Bridgey continued to live in the Phelps House until 1959 when she sold the house to St. Ann’s Catholic Church Parish. The house was used as a home for the nuns who taught at St. Ann’s School. Several of the rooms were used as classrooms and the school library. Bridgey moved to the Drake Hotel where she lived until her death in 1962 at the age of 91.
In 1982, the Phelps House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, Carthage Historic Preservation, Inc., purchased the Phelps House from St. Ann’s and began the process of restoring the historic home to its former grandeur. Today, Carthage Historic Preservation uses proceeds from rentals and tours, memberships, donations, and various fundraisers to maintain the house.