The Phelps House at 1146 Grand Avenue recalls a day of opulence,
representing a unique chapter in the history of Carthage, Missouri.
The historic home serves as a wonderful example of
late nineteenth century, Victorian Era residential style.
Sitting empty and slowly deteriorating, Carthage Historic Preservation purchased the Phelps House in 1988. Through fundraising efforts and extensive restoration and repair work, volunteers returned the Phelps House to its original splendor. Today, the Phelps House is open for public tours by appointment and offers a lovely setting for all types of events to include weddings, bridal and baby showers, anniversaries, birthdays, family reunions, luncheons and dinners, business meetings, and holiday parties.
For details on renting the Phelps House for your event:
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.
In 1894, Mrs. Phelps tragically died at the age of 48 in St. Louis as the result of a runaway carriage accident, having never lived in the Phelps House.
They had three children: two daughters, Helene and Florence, and a son, William (Willie). Helene died at the age of 29 from Tuberculosis, or consumption as it was commonly known then. Both Florence and William were born deaf. While attending Gallaudet College for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., they met their spouses.
Florence married Waldo H. Rothert and had three sons. One of their sons, Harlow Phelps Rothert was a two-time Olympian in shot put. At the Los Angeles Games in 1932, he won the silver medal. He was a torchbearer at the 1976 Atlanta Games. A three-time inductee in the Stanford Sports Hall of Fame, Rothert was named in 1978 as one of the five greatest athletes in Stanford University history. Florence and her family lived for a number of years in Omaha, Nebraska, where Waldo taught at the Nebraska Institute for the Deaf. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Florence died in 1962.
William married Laura Alice Bigley and returned to Carthage, where they lived in a country home northeast of Carthage that Colonel Phelps built in a style similar to the Phelps House. William was a successful farmer for several years. William and Laura had four children: William, Josephine, Howe, and Helen. William and his family later moved to Los Angeles, where William was successful in the real estate business.
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 followed in his father's footsteps becoming a Carthage attorney and serving in the Missouri Legislature. He married Elizabeth O'Keefe, and they had two sons: George and John "Pat". George had a successful 35-year career with IBM in Dallas. Pat attended Harvard and, like his father and grandfather, became an attorney. He and his wife Carolyn still live in Carthage.
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 on all three floors plus the basement 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 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.
In 1905, Colonel Phelps married for a second time to Bridgey O’Leary who had emigrated from Ireland at the age of 18. Bridgey worked for several years as a housekeeper for the Phelps family but later attended business college. 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.” When asked about his father’s marriage, son William responded: “If father marries I would rather he marry Miss O’Leary than anyone else. She has been in the family so long she seems like one of us and is pure gold.”