Jefferson City is haunted—but not by the typical ghosts and ghouls you might expect. Instead, it's haunted by the buildings that once lined our streets. These ghosts range from majestic mansions to simple family homes to public buildings to entire neighborhoods. They all played a part in our city's history and had a story to go with it. Although the buildings themselves are gone, some of these stories remain while others are lost to history.
Just blocks from the state Capitol, at the corners of Jefferson and McCarty Street, once sat the home of Dr. Alexander Caldwell Davison. The house was unique due to its elaborately detailed Queen Anne-style. It would have perhaps been more appropriate as the setting for a gothic novel than the home of a well-respected town doctor in the mid-west.
The two-and-one-half-story house was intricately detailed and ornamented on nearly every surface. It checked all the boxes of a typical Queen Anne home, a popular style from 1880-1910. Queen Anne buildings almost always featured a steep roof with cross gables or larger dormers, an asymmetrical front façade, and an expansive porch with decorative wood trim. A round or polygonal front corner tower is a distinctive feature of many buildings of this style.
Davison was born in Jefferson City in 1842 and attended public school. He later attended Cincinnati Medical College and served an internship at St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis. During the Civil War, he served the Confederacy as a surgeon in Williams' Regiment, Shelby's Missouri Brigade, CSA. After the war, he was a charter member of the Medical Society of Central Missouri in 1873.
The home, which was utilized as a family residence and a medical office, featured three porches on the front facade. The main entry porch wrapped around the west corner of the house. A smaller one-story porch sat atop the entry porch. On the left side, the corner projected in a two-story pavilion with cut-away corners, topped by a square porch with a steep roof with metal finial. The hipped roof featured scalloped shingles and flared outward at the edge, with metal cresting along the ridgelines.
The property was demolished in the late 1920s to make way for a service station. Today, the area is an empty lot.
The urban renewal movement of the 1960s created an entire neighborhood filled with ghosts of buildings that were once there. From the early 1900s to the 1960s, Lafayette Street and the Foot District were the heart of the black community in Jefferson City.
In an oral history interview conducted by Historic City of Jefferson, Mr. Perry Douglas explained how he had no idea what The Foot was when his family moved to East Miller Street when he was in sixth grade. "I kept trying to see a shoe or foot, and finally, my dad told me it was called The Foot because Lincoln [University] sat up on top of a hill, and the neighborhood sat at the foot of the hill," said Douglas.
Black-owned restaurants, barber/beauty shops, and other businesses, such as the Booker T. Hotel, created options for Black individuals to shop, eat, and stay at while in Jefferson City. These businesses provided opportunities and options for Black residents at a time when segregation imposed strict limits.
"The Booker T. Hotel was the only place where African-Americans could stay in Jefferson City. There were no motels at this time, and they were not allowed at the Governor Hotel, the Central Hotel, or the Missouri Hotel, but at the Booker T., they were welcomed," remembered Douglas.
The Foot created a sense of community and was a destination for both black and white visitors. It's rumored that celebrities such as Tina Turner, Louis Armstrong, Satchel Paige, and Wilt Chamberlain visited the area over the years.
The urban renewal program promised to revitalize the area; however, looking back, it's clear that all it did was decimate a neighborhood. Places that should have been preserved, such as the Booker T. Hotel or the residence of well-known Black businessman Duke Diggs, were demolished, leaving only the memory of the neighborhood that once was.
OLD CITY JAIL
Built in 1842, the old City Jail occupied the corner of East McCarty and Monroe Streets for 140 years and was one of the oldest remaining jailhouses west of the Mississippi River. When it was demolished in the early morning hours of February 2, 1982, local preservationists realized that it was time to join together to say, "These places matter!" Shortly after that, the city's first historic preservation group was formed.
Preservationists don't want to hinder progress in Jefferson City. Many local preservationists ardently support progress but in a way that includes preserving historic buildings and the stories that go along with them. Historic buildings are an integral part of our community, and we must work together to save them or else Jefferson City itself could become a ghost town.