Historic Home in Liberty, MO, Gets a Facelift

1800s charm meets a bustling family of seven in historic downtown Liberty

Words: Samantha Collins
Photos: Jill DiMartino

In 1868, there lived a man and his family in a red brick house on the edge of Liberty, MO. Horses roamed around the surrounding acres and a mill sat just a few hundred feet away. Train tracks ran nearby that are still being used today. The man worked at the local Jesse James bank down the hill—that Jesse James himself robbed—as a secretary. The house stayed in the same family line for years until they could no longer care for it. Almost 150 years later, and after decades of weathering and neglect, Brooke and Justin Ricklef, along with their five children, took the house under their wings and turned it into a home again.

“Our biggest goal was to find a house that our children could grow up in,” Brooke said. “Somewhere we could grow roots.”

After living most of their lives in cookie-cutter suburbia, Brooke and Justin were ready to try something different.  The family often spent their Sunday afternoons driving around town together trying to find their perfect family home. One day they came across an old, boarded up brick house near downtown Liberty. It just so happened that a family friend had purchased the house and planned to renovate it. At this time, the house had been vacant for 10 years—and it showed. Once they were convinced to take a tour of the house, Justin bit the bullet and took the first look while Brooke waited in the car with the kids.

“It was pretty scary looking at first. It was dark, dingy, and just wood and bricks. I remember him coming out and his eyes were huge,” Brooke said. “I thought ‘oh, gosh, that’s either good or bad.’”

It was good. About a month later, all of the papers were signed and the house was theirs. Then the real fun began. The entire house was updated according to historical codes in order to preserve the site. Brooke said people from around the area would stop by the house to volunteer their services. Many of these people were history buffs who wanted to make their mark on the house. Or, they were simply local neighbors who wanted to see the house shine again. She said if the volunteers had been paid for their help, then it would have cost more than $1 million in labor alone. After everything was up to code, the house was essentially a blank palette for the Ricklefs to make their mark. They mixed a little modern with a little bit of old all while keeping the house’s history. It soon became the best of both worlds.

“We did our best to honor the story of the house,” Brooke said. “The previous family deserved that. This was their life and we wanted to keep their life alive.”

Pieces of the house’s old life can be found all over the home. When first walking into the house, guests are greeted with a grand dark-wood staircase that curves up to the second floor. Brooke said the 147-year-old staircase didn’t need any additional work, surprisingly. The staircase was so well-made that a structural engineer the family hired said he had never seen such well-thought out construction when it came to antique staircases. Original floors lie throughout the house, with just a few updated sections here and there. In the 1920s, the original family turned the house into four separate apartment homes. The doors, locks and hinges, covered in layers of paint now, from these apartments are still being used in the house. The original single-pane windows were salvaged and reused, which is why it tends to get fairly cold in the house in the winter, Brooke said. Her kids love to draw pictures and write their names in the frost when the temperature is just cold enough.

“Our kids seem more like kids here,” Brooke said. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”

The house also came with some hidden gems of the past. In the back of the house, sits an old smokehouse where the original family would smoke meats. It eventually became a mass storage room for the original family. When the Ricklefs came across the room they found a treasure trove of priceless antique items that they restored and placed around the home. 100-year old cabinets are being used as a bathroom vanity, along with one in the dining room. The house’s original kitchen sink is now a bathroom sink. Two rusty claw-footed bathtubs are now shiny, perfect additions to their children’s bathrooms. Brooke said that during construction, an area of the floor had to be replaced because of some flooding. Underneath the old floor boards, they found antique glass marbles. A little while later, a family friend walked around the property with a metal detector. They found old horse shoes, handmade nails and even a 1908 coin.

“It makes you think what else could be hidden in the walls and floors,” Brooke said. “I’m sure we’ll find more surprises.”

The family has only lived in the house for about a year. Brooke said she thinks it’s turned into the perfect home for her bustling family. What first started out as a somewhat “scary” endeavor and leap of faith has turned into something of which they could only dream. They went from impeccable and modern in new development, to mature and flawed with a story. And they haven’t looked back since.

“There’s going to be some cracks and imperfections throughout the house,” Brooke said. “That’s what we really love about it.”

Samantha is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City. She’s a recent University of Kansas journalism graduate (go Jayhawks!) who can be found buried in a good book, travelling around the country or just wandering around Kansas City.