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Civil-War era home has become a bed and breakfast in Independence

Updated: 2013-04-18T03:38:27Z

By ROXIE HAMMILL

Special to The Star

It was one of Independence’s most notable houses — a balconied, Civil War-era mansion whose builder saved it from destruction by signing a loyalty oath to Union forces.

It was home to some of the city’s elite, including a judge and inventor. But for the past few years, the fate of the Stone-Gamble mansion was in limbo, as the heirs of the last family to live there waited for a buyer.

After a couple of years sitting empty and another in renovation, the white Greek Revival style house on Noland Road has risen again. It is now the Silver Heart Inn, a bed and breakfast owned by Perry and Melanie Johnson.

The inn had a quiet official opening April 3, but the Johnsons welcomed their first guests, from Norway, in March.

The Silver Heart, at 1114 S. Noland Road, is the latest distinguished Independence home to become a bed and breakfast. Also in the area are the Woodstock Inn Bed and Breakfast, Hawthorn, A Bed and Breakfast and Serendipity Bed and Breakfast.

The Stone-Gamble house has been a local landmark since it was built in the mid 1850s. Originally, it was twice the size of the inn it has become, and facing Main Street.

It was built by Napoleon Stone, a Kentucky merchant and slave owner. In 1863, a Union army directive required the evacuation of some rural areas of Missouri. But Stone and some others signed a loyalty statement pledging not to give aid to Confederate guerrillas. If not for that signature, the house might not still be standing, Melanie Johnson said.

The next notable owner, Judge George Jennings, moved to the house in 1912. Jennings, realizing that Noland Road would supplant Main Street as the city’s busiest street, decided to cut the house in half, move it eastward and turn it to face Noland Road. The other half of the home was later torn down.

The last family before the Johnsons to own it was the Gambles. Roy Gamble bought the house in 1943 and rented it out for a time. Gamble was known as a “renaissance man” who made wooden toys to sell to retail chain S.S. Kresge and designed an early home freezer before they became a common appliance, Johnson said.

The mansion still has many little reminders of its previous owners, including an oddly tilted newel post and an entryway floor of colorful stone. Much of the decorating, including distinctive wallpaper with hand-painted accent colors, comes from Shirley Gamble, Roy’s second wife.

But the Stones also left their mark. Etched into the parlor windowpane are the names of three suitors preferred by Stone’s daughter Margery. She was not allowed to see these men, the story goes, because her father disapproved of them and would have cut her off from her inheritance.

“Those were the three names she liked. But she ended up marrying someone off her father’s list,” Melanie said.

The Johnsons opted to keep the house much the way Shirley Gamble left it, while also doing the kitchen and bath work needed to make it an inn. “We’re preservationists, not restorationists,” she said.

The Gambles had installed an elevator in their later years after Roy had a stroke. That, plus other improvements in the baths, makes the inn handicapped accessible—a rarity in homes over 100 years old, she said.

Melanie Johnson had wanted to start a bed and breakfast since she came across one that was for sale 25 years ago in the Poconos, she said. She wasn’t in a position to buy the Emerald Inn then, but “it was a thing I felt I had to do. It kind of took a hold of me.”

Perry Johnson was a classmate of one of the Gambles’ sons, and often came over to play the board game Risk with the family and friends. When he and Melanie took a tour of the house during a reunion of the old friends, Melanie said, her yen to be an innkeeper reawakened. The house went on the market shortly after.

It took about a year to get finances together for the offer. But all went well and the Johnsons took possession of it in April 2012.

“We took a step of faith,” said Melanie.

Although the house had stood empty a couple of years, it was in generally good shape because the Gambles had taken good care of it, they said. Traffic is heavy on Noland Road, but the thick mansion walls keep out the noise. The Johnsons spent most of the past year getting the place ready for guests and learning the innkeeping business.

Perry’s career is in information technology and Melanie has been a jewelry store manager.

The inn has four guest rooms plus a separate building in back known as the “Beach House” which has its own kitchen. The Johnsons and their 10-year-old daughter live in a downstairs section of the main house.

The Silver Heart name comes from a trinket the Johnsons found on an outing in 2008.

The couple had gone geocaching, an orienteering activity where participants try to find little treasures hidden at certain coordinates. Among the treasures that day was a small silver heart, a memento that reminds the couple of their first date. On one side of the heart was written “romance” and on the other side “passion.”

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