I don’t know how much you know about your family history, but the more I learn the more interested I become in knowing about my ancestors – where they came from, how they lived, and what their lives were like. I think one of the best things about being a part of an agricultural based family is that we are literally tied to the land, which has been passed down from generation to generation. It also means that I have a lot of family members from older generations that still live in the area – and they have lots of stories to tell. I love talking to my grandma about her growing up years, and thinking about how much our world has changed during her life time. She rode a horse to school as a kid and later had a job as a teacher in a one room schoolhouse. Now, at age 91, she sends me e-mails and keeps up with all of us on Facebook. Isn’t that crazy?

Last week I visited a big old house that is home to a whole lot of family history on my mom’s side of the family. My great great great grandpa was a steamboat captain. Captain Joseph Kinney. He ran a fleet of steamboats up and down the Missouri River, transporting goods, and was pretty good at it. In the 1860s, he and his wife, my great great great grandma Matilda, built a house on the north bank of the Missouri, just across the river from Boonville, and named it Rivercene.

It’s pretty grand. They held nothing back. The house is three stories, and a basement, and comes in at 12,000 square feet. It has 52 big walnut doors, most of which are ten feet tall, and eleven fireplaces. A few of the fireplaces have marble mantles, and there’s a big brick one in the kitchen. It makes me want to live in a house some day with a fireplace in the kitchen – it’s so cozy. The staircases are the best part, in my opinion. Three different sets of stairs – one big grand staircase in the entryway, a smaller one that zig-zags up the entire three stories to the attic rooms, and another spiral shaped one. Rivercene was passed down through the family for several generations, and up until the early 1990s was owned by my great aunt. She eventually sold it, but I remember going there as a little kid and feeling dwarfed by the size of the house. Lots of rooms and lots of staircases makes for lots of fun when you’re a kid. It’s a hide and seek player’s dream.

The current owners of the house have opened it to the public as a bed and breakfast, and over the Christmas holiday they invited those of us in the family to come spend some time there. They have been working on restoring it back to the way it was originally built – or as close as they can get. It’s still a work in progress, but the best part is that they have also been doing tons and tons of research on the house, and on Captain Kinney and his family, and learning as much as they can about stories and events that happened there.

I’ve always known Rivercene as a part of the family history, but never knew many details. Here are some interesting things we found out…

*  Captain Kinney gave Matilda a budget of $50,000 to build the house. The actual construction cost a little over $24,000, and the rest was spent on furnishing and decorating it.
*  Everyone in Booneville called Rivercene “Kinney’s Folly” because he built right on the bank in the river bottom, which was likely to flood. The house never flooded – not until the big flood in 1993 – 130 years later.
* One of my ancestors, Matilda’s uncle, signed the Declaration of Independence. This kind of blew my mind. His name is Abra Clark. Check the document…he’s there.
*  George Caleb Bingham painted portraits of the Kinneys. There are a couple of small reproductions at Rivercene, but the originals are hanging in a bank somewhere in Kansas City. I might have to go see those sometime.

My Grandpa always said “you don’t want to dig too deep into the family tree, you never know what you might find.” I guess maybe he knew something that we don’t know about! I’m not sure, but it’s a lot of fun to have a place like this to visit.

If you’re in the Boonville area (about 20 minutes west of Columbia, MO) and want to spend a night or two at Rivercene, it is located just across the Missouri River bridge on the north side of the river between Boonville and New Franklin, Missouri.

:: Carrie ::