The Allure of Weston, Missouri (Part One in a Series)

I like to fancy myself a time traveler, at least in my own mind. No broken window layered in decades of dust, centuries old stone wall or dilapidated house standing alone in a field is safe from the capture of my camera lens. Its not that it is a beautiful scene necessarily, because it isn’t always. It’s just that I can’t help but wonder about the eyes that peered through that window. I wonder about the hands that carried the stone to build the wall and the way the callused hands felt when they embraced their loved ones. The dilapidated house alone in the field once sheltered a family who laughed together, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and one day experienced loss and grieving. These scenes grab my attention and hold me for days. I fall asleep with their stories in my mind and wake to their images lingering from a night of dreaming. Weston, Missouri is a jackpot of those images and stories and I can’t seem to stay away.

When one drives north on 29 highway just past Platte City the terrain changes. The foliage becomes more robust, the river curves and winds and the fields roll and stretch into the horizon. The scenery seems rather Van Gogh-esque with its textures and colors and it begins to feel a bit surreal. Tobacco barns begin to appear and dot the landscape, that’s when you know that you are getting close.

Weston Barn

Weston is only 30 minutes north of downtown Kansas City. It has become my “off the grid” place. It is not far and yet it feels remote. My cell phone service stops as I cross over highway 45. If I really need to make a call, I can stand on one leg and lean to the left with my hand outstretched and if the wind blows just right, I might catch a signal. Most of the time, I don’t want to. It is my “go to” location to write and edit photos undisturbed.
Stroll down main street in the historical downtown presents architecture that has hardly changed in over one hundred years. Much of the brick used in the construction was handmade and though it has a worn, porous appearance, walls are three bricks thick and have withstood fires, attacks by abolitionists and time.

The downtown area has a little bit of something for everyone in the form of independently owned stores and restaurants. One of my personal favorites is unsurprisingly, a vintage camera shop. I was lured in by the sweet voice of Ella Fitzgerald that spilled out into the street and pulled me through the front doors. Inside Sundance Photo Gallery and Morts Classic Cameras, I found a nice selection of vintage cameras and a wonderful collection of Kansas City vaudeville photos taken by Orville Hixon from 1910 to 1930.

A stroll down any street offers beautiful civil war period homes. Old trees stand watch and seem to hover protectively over the homes that have been their companions through time. The Building that is now the Weston Museum has had many incarnations beginning with a three story brink building that was once the International Hotel. Sallie, the volunteer historian on duty explained that the “red legs” set the hotel on fire as an act of retribution for arsonist acts on the Kansas side. A Baptist church was built on the site of the former hotel in 1868 which also burned and was rebuilt in 1900. In 1960 the building was sold to the historical museum for $6000.

The Forstyne Loyles

Homes on Spring Street was built in 1864 by Colonel James A. Price and Russella Warner Price, the great-granddaughter of Daniel Boone, legendary Frontiersman and folk hero. Though millennials might not know Daniel Boone, a black and white television series that ran from 1964 to 1970 starring Fess Parker chronicled the adventures of Daniel Boone.

Not all of Weston’s history is reflected upon with fondness. As is true of most historical southern sympathizing states, many of the structures were built by slave laborers and the evidence of slavery still exists in the form of shackles mounted to walls of outbuildings on area farms. There are stories of lynchings and other tales that make my blood run cold. However my own hometown, that was founded by abolitionists was also home to German Internment camps. During WWII Americans of German ancestry were gathered up and contained in camps and forced to perform labor such as building the chapel on KU’s campus. Through history, mankind has committed countless atrocities against others. There is no indication that it will end.

As I start the ignition of my car a recording of Robert Johnson comes on. It is a digital recording of a record. I can hear the needle as it glides through the grooves producing a slightly scratchy quality that somehow compliments the sound and the era from which it came. I look out over the vastness of the landscape and at the river which has exceeded its banks and feel a bit sullen to leave my day of time travel. As though I’ve crossed the time/space barrier my phone begins buzzing with text messages and voice-mails and I am back again.

Check back next week for part two.