A tour of any of three historic Missouri mansions reveals plenty of secrets about their long-gone owners.
The state historic sites in the Missouri parks system include battlefields, birth places, cemeteries, covered bridges, homesteads, grist mills and ancient Indian villages. Also on the list are three grand homes with much of their contents remaining as if the residents had stepped out for the day.
One of those homes is the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site. Located in New Madrid in southeast Missouri, this architectural gem exhibits the wealth of a Missouri family prior to the Civil War. Walk in the front door and see the splendor of their lifestyle on display in the parlors, dining room and bedrooms.
Like the other mansion properties – Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site in Sedalia and the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site in Kansas City – spending an hour or two at Hunter-Dawson gives a glimpse into the lives of those who lived there.
The Hunter-Dawson mansion, sitting regally in a grove of tall trees, reflects the culture of the thriving river port of New Madrid in the pre-Civil-War era. The house has Georgian, Greek revival and Italianate architectural elements that were popular in homes of the Old South. The 15-room house has seven bedrooms and nine fireplaces.
William Hunter, a successful dry goods dealer, had the house built in 1859-1860. The family owned some 36 slaves, who might have helped hired craftsmen in the construction. Hunter died of yellow fever just before the house was completed; his wife, Amanda, and seven children moved in after his death. Upon Amanda’s death in 1876, the house was left to her youngest daughter, Ella, who had married William Dawson, a Missouri and U.S. legislator.
Amanda was fond of ornately carved furniture in the rococo revival style and assembled one of the largest collections from that period in purchases from the Cincinnati firm of Mitchell and Rammelsberg.
Descendants of the family lived in the house until 1958; in 1966 it was purchased by the city of New Madrid, which donated it to the state one year later. Visit the Missouri State Parks website for information on tours and special events at the Hunter-Dawson mansion.
Written by Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks.