New owner turns historic Guitar Mansion into graceful home again

Piano moved into the music room

COLUMBIA — Almost everyone who visits Guitar Mansion has a story to share about the historic antebellum home.

Elena Vega, who spontaneously purchased the home at 2815 N. Oakland Gravel Road in 2010, said a man stopped by earlier last year and insisted there was a tunnel inside the house.

Another visitor mentioned a second stairwell with private access to the bedrooms, though neither the tunnel nor stairwell remain today.

Ghosts are common topics at the mansion, which was built more than 150 years ago. Members of the Missouri Ghost Hunters Society reported encountering several during a visit in December 2002, including a young boy and several slaves.

The house got its name from the Guitar family, who moved in during the 1860s, just as the Civil War was rupturing the country. The house changed hands several times over the years until Vega and Pat Westhoff bought it, restored the building's utilities and moved in last January.

Before their purchase, it had been vacant for three years. Previous owners included Ward Dorrance, an MU French professor who lived in the home from the 1940s to the 1950s, and historian Miriam McCaleb, who helped secure a place for the mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was most recently used as a wedding reception site and for bed-and-breakfast lodging.

At a public auction on Oct. 18, 2010, Vega surprised herself by buying the house for $155,500. When bidding began lower than she expected — at $75,000 — she was moved to jump in. The contest was largely between Vega and one other bidder.

"It’s my dream to live in an historic home," she told a Missourian reporter at the time. "I just don’t know if I can afford it."

Preserving a piece of history

Vega lightly taps the antique door knocker against Guitar Mansion's emerald green front door. The sound, she said, can be heard throughout the two-story, four-bedroom, three-bathroom home.

The door opens into a room with a black-and-white linoleum floor and a curved walnut stairwell, Vega's favorite part of the house.

The staircase, believed to be original, features a small, carved acorn on the handrail. A music room with a piano and antique red couch is to the left, and a small pink library is to the right.

The family keeps modern appliances, such as TV sets and other electronics, out of these front rooms to preserve the historic feeling of the house.

Signs of the mansion's historical roots in the Civil War lie both inside and on the surrounding property.

Within the perimeter of a wrought iron fence in the yard sits a vine-covered brick dovecote. Nearby is a wooden gazebo, built within the last decade when the home was used for wedding receptions.

Behind the house, a worn wooden smokehouse and cookhouse, both now used for storage, contain an oversize, rusted tub that remains intact from the original farmhouse.

Neighbors, Vega said, discovered a cannonball in their yard while digging the foundation for their home.

Much of the original architecture and furnishings in the Guitar Mansion hark back to its time when a big Victorian house accommodated growing families and provided a backdrop for gracious living.

A house divided still stands

Brothers Odon and David Guitar moved to Boone County as children in the late 1820s.. David Guitar purchased the home on Oakland Gravel Road in 1859* and lived there with his 10 children — who shared two bedrooms — for about 40 years.

During the Civil War, the brothers supported opposing sides. Odon served for the Union Army in the 9th Missouri Cavalry, later known as the "Bloody Ninth." He was recommended as brigadier general by President Abraham Lincoln.

David Guitar's home was named Confederate Hill by author Ward Dorrance, which refers to his service as a captain for Confederate forces during the Civil War, according to a document from the National Register of Historic Places.

"It’s one of the last Civil War-era houses that’s standing in town," said Liz Kennedy of the Boone County Historical Society.

The Guitar family originally had about 862 acres, according to the National Register of Historic Places, but the house now sits on 6.3 acres.

Much of the land was sold after 1997 by the McCaleb family, after Miriam McCaleb, who lived in the home from 1956 until 1997, was killed in an automobile accident.

Although this is the first historic home for Vega and her husband, Pat Westhoff, she said they have always been interested in older houses.

Since moving into the Guitar Mansion, the couple has made several changes while trying to preserve its historical elements.

"You can't really see what we’ve done so far, but it’s been a lot of work," Vega said. "It’s always a work in progress."

The first thing they did after moving to the Guitar Mansion was yard work. This included cutting grass that had grown 2 feet tall and removing a huge, broken tree limb dubbed "the widow maker."

Vega also plans to replace the black locust trees on the property with maple, oak and walnut trees — vegetation more typical of the home's history.

She said the Guitar family used to call the home "The Maples" because the driveway was lined with maple trees.

The couple intends to keep the original glass on the windows, as well as the "cello-shaped" wood carvings on the shutters. The eight fireplaces and abundant chandeliers also will be preserved.

Over the holidays, Vega's three children stayed in the original bedrooms of the house. The names bear witness to the contentious history of the Guitar Mansion.

One room is called “The Confederate Room” and the other “The Union Room.”

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