Historic house is full of memories

Thursday, March 6, 2008 | 8:23 p.m. CST; updated 7:34 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Martha K. John knows for a fact that the house at 2011 N. Country Club Drive has the best hide-and-seek spots. After moving there in 1954 at the age of 3, John grew up in the historic house that was originally built for A.W. McAlester on his 160-acre farm in 1883.

“The house has a lot of odd closets,” John said. “There’s a also continuous loop on the main level so you can run round and round looking for each other and never see each other.”

John’s house was named one of the 10 notable properties in Columbia for 2008.

The Victorian house features the original oak framing and cedar lap siding. According to the Boone County Assessor’s Web site, the house is a total of 2,813 square feet. It has 10 rooms and two bathrooms, and the cellar is only accessible from outside the home.

“I like the architectural structure of the house,” John’s husband, Jim Downey, said. “It’s a very classic style. Some of the architectural details of the house exemplify this, such as the wrought iron detailing on top of the roof on the two tower areas. It’s almost like a fence.”

Inside the house, the couple shows visitors other unique elements.

For instance, two large vats are hidden in the back of the attic. John says she believes these vats allowed the house to have running water when it was constructed because the internal gutters on the roof would collect water, which would then enter the two large containers. From here, the water was available to run throughout the house.

“One of the other secret things is a little rosette window of stained glass,” John said. “It’s original to the house and it’s in the attic. It brings in an interesting light. We don’t know why it’s there.”

John lived in the house off and on after she graduated high school. Six years ago, she moved back in permanently. Her brother, John John, also lives in Columbia.

Having grown up in such a historic house, John said when she was younger she often didn’t realize how unique her home actually was.

“We have sliding shutters and those were features I assumed were normal,” John said. “Then when I went on tour of the Maplewood Home and the tour guide was gushing about the sliding shutters and I was like ‘yeah, so?’”

John has many fond memories of the holidays in the house, as high ceilings allowed the family to enjoy a 12-foot Christmas tree each season. She also has frequently used the fireplace that was original to the home.

“We used to have a fire in the fireplace all the time in winter,” John said. “My dad grew up in a house that was heated by fires.”

John’s father, architect Hurst John, made several adjustments to the house before 1954, when the family moved in. For instance, the steps leading to the second floor originally had four 90-degree turns and began in the front room. Hurst John, however, took out one of the turns, built a wall where the stairs originally began and added new stairs to lead into the kitchen.

“My understanding is there were originally seven doors and two corner cabinets and the windows that were in the front room, and he thought that was too many,” John said.

Some other adjustments that were made included transforming the original main level bathroom into the kitchen and expanding it, changing the hallway under the stairs into the bathroom and making the old garage a playroom for John and her sister when they were girls. The playroom later became a bedroom for John’s brother Larry, and now serves as a workroom for her husband, who runs his business, Legacy Bookbindery, out of the home.

“I look at a lot of old documents, some about as old as this house,” Downey said. “The room is well-fitted for the work I do. I don’t need a whole lot of space. It is a nice, comfortable space.”

Despite altering some structural elements, John said her father was certain to never change the essence of the house.

“The character of the house stayed constant,” John said. “He was very careful about that.”

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