Jacob Blickensderfer’s Legacy
For more than a century, the great house in central rural Laclede County, Mo., has been known by several names including Jacob’s Folly, coined by a few of the Ozark neighbors while it was under construction and the White Elephant, according to more than one real estate agent over the years.
For most, it has simply been the Oakland Mansion since the end of the 19th century. It took Jacob Blickensderfer about two years to construct the home, which was completed in 1887 and eventually sold by his heirs in 1909, it has been the home of Ronald and Shirley Tuley for the past 20 years.
“We came from California and were looking for a place to retire. Ron is originally from Wyoming and I was from Ohio and we traveled around the country, looking for a new place after 35 years in southern California,” Shirley said. “We’ve been here since September 1997. Ron was really interested in woodworking and still has a woodworking shop out back so he was able to do a lot of that here.”
Ron and Shirley bought themselves quite a challenge with the house and 80 acres. Jacob Blickensderfer, a surveyor for the railroad, was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln and surveyed much of the Rocky Mountain area for the Union Pacific Railroad, in its completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s.
According to local historians, Jacob’s son, Robert was a Civil War veteran and was given a grant to purchase land in Missouri. He and Jacob visited the Oakland area for the first time in 1869.
As Jacob approached retirement, he purchased a total of 900 acres, 12 miles east of Lebanon, Mo., to build his dream house for his beloved wife, Maria Louisa. Together, they had 13 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Jacob designed a three-story, 22 room house, which included a basement, separate servants’ quarters and an observatory, complete with a large telescope that was set on small cannonballs so that it could rotate with the movement of the stars.
There were various challenges encountered during the construction of the house, including workmen who did not follow Jacob’s instructions to the letter. On more than one occasion, he was said to have arrived on site and torn out their work and insisted it be re-done according to his directions.
Sadly, Maria Louisa died the night before they were to move in so she never lived in the completed house. Jacob brought her body to the Red Room, the bedroom he had built just for her that included red carpet and redwood that he had shipped in from California. An entry from his journal on what was to have been their moving day, stated “placed mother in her own red room in the new house, with Herman’s picture over the mantel, and there let her remain until tomorrow.” Herman was one of their young sons. He died in a shooting accident.
Jacob’s house design included a slate roof and a furnace in the basement, which many of his Ozarks neighbors labeled a disaster in the making, believing that such a thing would surely burn down the new house. He also incorporated a unique system that vented cool air from the basement throughout the house. A spring house was also included in the basement. Four red brick fireplace chimneys still adorn the mansion’s roof, but Jacob’s furnace and his cooling system have long since ceased to function.
Another family who owned the house in the 1980s reported that they nearly froze the first winter they were there and installed four wood-burning stoves, using the original chimneys as flues, before the next winter. They also reported that on more than one occasion, the observatory fell victim to the winds of the relatively flat farmland of the area and eventually had to be nailed down since it was lifted off of its base and found in a nearby field.
The interior staircase is made of walnut and different rooms are paneled or trimmed in redwood, cherry or walnut, with 12-foot ceilings and hardwood floors. Ornate ceiling light fixtures, brass hinges, and coordinated doorknobs were also an original part of the decor but sadly, most have been lost over the years, during times when the house sat empty and was vandalized. At one time, in the early 1990s, local and state law enforcement agencies even busted a methamphetamine lab located in a milk barn on the property.
Jacob spent his last years in his Oakland Mansion, a residence that was of no interest to his grown children who had settled in other parts of the country and considered his retirement home to be too far from civilization.
A strong but stern Christian, Jacob helped form a local Moravian Association and donated 160 acres to help build and establish the Oakland Moravian Church. In addition to the church building, the property had a parsonage and church library.
Jacob’s son Andrew was killed in hunting accident in 1886 and his body was shipped to Lebanon, carried by hearse to Oakland, and placed in the church with his brothers watching throughout the night. He was buried next day at the side of the church.
The church was later used for many years by the United Methodist Church and now belongs to the Oakland Heritage Church of God. Jacob and Maria Blickensderfer are both buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church.
Shirley said she was told that Jacob believed the railroad that eventually routed near the town of Lebanon, was to come through Oakland, which explains why he constructed his house where he did.
Upon their arrival, Ron and Shirley had five geo-thermal units installed which keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They have also replaced most of the windows over the years.
In 2009, she decorated the interior with numerous Christmas trees and other holiday decorations for her Red Hat ladies club. Later that same season, they decided to hold an open the house for a Christmas tour to benefit the local Humane Society.
There have been no other public viewing of the house since that time.