Ray County Genealogy

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Last Updated 5/28/2008

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Watkins House

Watkins House

302 S. Camden St., Richmond

added 1983

Building - #83001036

Sources: Missouri Deparment of Natural Resources

The Watkins House is a large Queen Anne residence in Richmond constructed about 1890. It is located on a large lot at the southwest corner of Lexington and Camden Streets. It is one of the few known examples of mail order houses in rural Missouri.

John Rice Watkins was the son of Charles Allen Watkins, who came to Missouri in 1846. Here he met and married his cousin Henrietta Rives and bought 967 acres adjoining his uncle's farm. His uncle, James Allen, was one of the area's earliest pioneers, having arrived about 1822 from Farmville, Virginia. Having no children, upon James Allen's retirement in 1850 he deed Charles all of his property. This included the original land certificates James had bought for 1,842 acres at $1.25 per acre.

Charles Allen contracted pneumonia while on a mission for the Confederacy and died in 1864, leaving Henrietta with eleven children. At his death his personal estate was put up for sale and approximately 3,716.5 acres stayed in the Watkins family. Henrietta was not to escape from the annals of history: The small farming community of Henrietta was laid out on the Watkins estate and named in her honor.

By the time John Rice Watkins inherited the family estate it comprised some 8000 acres, much of it Missouri River bottomland south of Richmond. This estate, and his banking career, were to be the financial sources for the grandiose construction of the Watkins House in Richmond.

John Rice Watkins graduated from the University of Missouri and began a banking career at the Bank of Hardin, then moving on to become Cashier of Exchange Bank of Richmond in 1901. He married Allie Duvall Watkins and at some time between 1890 and 1900 built the Watkins House on Camden Street. The exact date of the house cannot be ascertained. Artifacts dating to as early as 1883 have been found, but these do not date the house. The light fixtures were originally electric, never gas. In the Victorian era bankers, even cashiers, were considered prominent community leaders and often lived in the finest residences. It was only fitting for John Rice Watkins to build his fine Queen Anne edifice, a symbol of a man on the upward path to success. A photograph, the original of which has been lost, shows the family proudly arrayed on the front porch of the manse with the horse and buggy parked at the curb.

Upon John Rice's death in 1926 the house was deed to his son John Albert, who was born in 1895 and died in the house in 1979 at the age of 84. John Albert was prominent in World War I, and upon his return took over the management of the family land and worked at the Exchange Bank with his father. Upon his father's death John Albert expanded his large farming operation to include livestock; he was well known as a leader in the local farming industry, being the first to terrace his land and to implement other innovative agricultural practices. A picture of him in velvets and lace in his early years attests to the family's wealthy Victorian status. The picture was found in the attic.

Upon his death the house was in Probate Court until purchased by the present owner. All original furnishings and family memorabilia that had survived were inherited by a son, John Albert, Jr., and a nephew, Samuel A. Wollard, the son of Angela Boone Watkins Wollard.

The Watkins House in a near-perfect original condition, a condition rare to Victorian houses. The Watkins obviously changed very little and kept everything. In studying the details of the house one can recreate a vivid view of Victorian life in Richmond. A brass dog tag was found, dating to 1883. The window shades are original with information on the company's thriving business printed on wooden rods. The original maroon portiere which hang between the parlor and music room were found in the garage, as were the original fire screens. Curtain rods with ornate brass balls and filligree attested to a typical Victorian love of decortation. The upstairs carpets are woven of deep colors. The servant's room even retains vestiges of its cheap reed matting. Unfortunately most of the other Queen Anne houses in Richmond, although none are comparable to the Watkins House, have been altered into apartments and stripped of their detail.

Perhaps even more significant than these details is the discovery that the house is a mail order plan from the George F. Barber Company of Knoxville, Tennessee. Upon viewing the house in a real estate catalog a scholar of Barber, Mr. Richard Lucier of Jacksonville, Oregon, sent information from the 1892 publication "The Cottage Souvenir, Revised and Enlarged". The company existed between 1888 and 1917.

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since July 7, 2005

Last Updated 5/28/2008