The word “home” had special meanings for people living in the 19th century. First of all, a home was seen as a refuge from the tribulations of an increasingly industrialized society. Surrounded by loving family members, the head of the household could relax and enjoy life.
Second, a home was seen as the place where a wife and mother served her family and was in return rewarded with a secure place where she would be enshrined as queen of her household and protected by the breadwinner who provided the home. The circular reasoning here is obvious, but was firmly enshrined in the norms of the time.
Finally, a home was seen as a reflection of a man’s work and good life; the more elaborate or expensive the home, the more it reflected well on the breadwinner.
When the Sedalia Democrat published a list of buildings built in 1877, it included the value of the homes, partly to emphasize the increasing wealth of the city, but also to reflect positively on those whose homes were costly.
Several people had expensive houses built. One of them, William Beck had a colorful life before coming to Sedalia. He was born near Hamburg, Germany, served in the Germany army, and worked for the Custom’s Service before going to Australia to search for gold. He left Australia, went to Europe, then came to the United State, finally settling in Priceville, near what is now Smithton.
Beck was a merchant; shortly after the Civil War started, he moved to the newly established Sedalia and opened a store. The store burned in 1864, but he rebuilt and after the war, he made a great deal of money. In 1876, Beck began a partnership with Charles E. Messerly in a store building at Osage Avenue and Second Street.
In 1876, Beck’s home burned, and in 1877, he had a new home costing $4,000 built on Kentucky Avenue for his family of his wife Rebecca Bohon Beck, and their three living children, Lewis, Cora, and Ella.
Another of those who had costly homes built was Dr. R.T. Miller, who had been born in Kentucky in 1831. His family came to Moniteau County and settled near Tipton. He attended the University of Missouri and studied medicine at the St. Louis Medical College. After his medical training, he settled in Tipton and started a drug store, but business was slow, so he moved to Sedalia in 1860 and opened a drug store on Main Street.
He employed W.E. Bard as a clerk, and the two eventually became partners. During the Civil War, he returned to his farm in Tipton where he supervised the labor of his enslaved workers. Following the war, he returned to Sedalia. He served as mayor in 1873. Active in commercial affairs, he was a vice-president of the Pettis County Bank.
In 1877, Miller had a home built at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Lamine Avenue for his wife and their four daughters. His wife died in1880, allowing her only a short time in the luxurious home. In 1882, he married again.
Both Beck and Miller were numbered among the original merchants of Sedalia. Their homes were indeed a tribute to their hard work.
Next week’s column continues the study of those who built costly homes.