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July 6, 2015

Selmo Park - Gone Forever, But Not Forgotten UCM Warrensburg, Missouri

Historic Selmo Park, Warrensburg Missouri 
UCM President's Home
Torn Down 2015

Selmo Park

Selmo Park
Selmo Park, the president's residence and reception center at University of Central Missouri, has a rich and proud history.
The gracious post-Civil War mansion was built in 1866 by Edmond A. Nickerson, a well-known attorney of western Missouri and one of the original signers of the 1875 Missouri Constitution. Because of Nickerson's prominence in the state, many of the nation's greats shared the gracious hospitality offered by the Nickerson family.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, August 31, 1832, Edmond Augustus Nickerson came to Missouri in 1857 and settled in the Franklin County town of Union where he practiced law. He was commonly referred to as Major Nickerson, although he never served in an army. A young man in his 20s, he and his bride the former Hulda Tyler of St. Louis county, moved to Warrensburg soon after they were married in 1866. He bought a wooded 20-acre tract more than a mile south of the then business portion of town. Nickerson located the site for his mansion near the center of his property, in the midst of virgin forest, which at the time was one mile from town. He delayed bringing his wife and three young daughters to the new home until 1869 due to "civil chaos" in Warrensburg following the Civil War. Solid and ageless, the big square built post-bellum brick house was constructed in the Italianate style characteristic of the homes of dignity and chaste simplicity of earlier days, with 18-inch brick walls, high ceilings, a grate in each room, white trim and polished walnut finish, appropriate furnishings, oil paintings of distinguished forebearers and an air of dignity and worth. The brick came from a St. Louis foundry and was shipped up the Missouri River by paddle boat to Lexington, where it was hauled over rough country roads and through the woods to the site of the new home.
Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson loved the outdoors, and they took pride in their new home. They planted all kinds of trees that would thrive in this climate among the big forest trees already on the spacious grounds. The Nickerson's had an orchard containing different kinds of fruit, and a vineyard with thirty varieties of grapes in the park. Southwest of the house was a white picket fence that surrounded an acre vegetable garden, which included a rose garden maintained by Nickerson and his granddaughter. A graceful circular driveway was built in front of the house, which was often lined with the decorative carriages of the Nickerson's many visitors. Later, it was removed because of the dust and fumes from automobiles, and today a paved drive entering and exiting on Holden Street circles the house. The original driveway was laid out by the civil engineer who surveyed the first railroad across Missouri. He was assisted by Louis Nickerson, a brother to Edmond.
Five years after the house was built, the state located the then Second District Normal School on an adjacent 16-acre tract, and it served as a magnet to draw the growth of the city in that direction. That growth took the north five acres of Nickerson's land. Reverend James Henry Houx, the famous pioneer Cumberland Presbyterian minister, obtained the south five acres and resided on that property. The remaining 10 acres constituted Selmo Park, which Nickerson named for the former slave to whom Nickerson owed his life and freedom.
Missouri was a divided state during the Civil War, with Warrensburg residents having sympathy for both the North and South. During the war, Nickerson was disbarred for speaking out for the Southern cause, and on August 16, 1861, he and three other residents were imprisoned in the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis Gratiot Link, near the levy of the Mississippi River where he remained in custody for three years. In those days, prisoners were not given food. The families were responsible for feeding their jailed relatives. Hulda lived with her family, while Edmond was in jail. The newly emancipated slave, Selmo, went daily to the old prison by the levy with a basket of food for Nickerson, and later aided Nickerson in his escape from prison.
Elizabeth Tyler Nickerson, one of the Nickersons' four daughters, was a mathematics teacher at Normal School Number Two from 1890 to 1915, and she inspired her parents to stage annual receptions honoring summer students and faculty for many years. In 1962, the large red brick residence hall northwest of the house was named for her.
Nickerson, more commonly referred to in his later years as Judge Nickerson, died April 21, 1920, and was buried in St. Louis. Six and one-half years later, on November 4, 1926, the Board of Regents of then Central Missouri State Teachers College used $35,000 from local funds to purchase "West Campus", a 19-acre block of land located two blocks west of the quadrangle. On the southern end of the property stood Selmo Park. Land north of the home was later developed with additional tracts into west field, renamed Vernon Kennedy Field in 1954. The remaining acreage became the grounds that surround the Selmo Park mansion today and the site for residence halls on the south and west.
Within a short period of time, the 60-year-old structure was renovated and made the home of the president. Several additions were made to the structure at this time including the addition of the south sun room, a half bath, dining room, upstairs master bedroom, office and closets. Wrought iron work replaced wood on all the porches. The mansion has served as the official residence for University presidents and their families. Residents have included President E. L. Hendricks and his wife, Frances Viola, 1926-1937; President George W. Diemer, his wife Myrtle, and their children, Dorothy, twins George Jr. and John, and Emma Lou, 1937 to 1956; President Warren C. Lovinger, his wife, Dorothy, and their children, Patricia (Patsy), Jeanne and Warren (Bud) Jr., 1956-1979; President James M. Horner, his wife Evelyn, and their children, Steven and Karen, 1979-1985; President Ed Elliott, his wife, Sandra, and their sons Glenn, Gregg and Grant, 1985 to 1999; and President Bobby R. Patton and his wife, Eleanor, 1999 to 2005, President Aaron M. Podolefsky and his wife, Ronnie, 2005 to 2010, and President Charles Ambrose, his wife, Kris, their son, Charlie and daughter, Kathryn, 2010 to present.
The Diemers had the stately house partially rebuilt in 1951, when it was discovered that some floors, the roof and much of the bracing needed to be replaced. The renovation was extensive as ceilings were lowered, indirect lighting was added in the dining room, fireplaces were made gas and the tile on all fireplaces--except in the den-- was changed.
White shutters were added and the original wooden porch floors were replaced with eight-and-one-half-inch bricks that were used in the crosswalks of the old Normal School. During the renovation, Mrs. Diemer requested a large porch be built at the back of the house, and it remains part of the structure today. Red Belgian glass replaced the old ruby glass beside the wide front door. All of the hardwood floors in the house were retained, and some of the more traveled areas of the hallway and study were replaced by parquet. The dining room floor was meticulously hand laid with black walnut and dark oak by a cabinet maker.
The front entrance to the rambling 14-room house is through a hall flanked on the right by a narrow stairway. On the landing stands a grandfather clock. To the left of the hallway is a formal sitting room. It, and the majority of the large rooms on the main floor, are decorated in soft colors. Also located on the ground floor are the music room, library, and the old sun porch which extends from the main body of the house on the south side. It has been divided into two rooms, a solarium and a powder room.
The guest bedroom fireplace was closed to allow for a 10-foot walnut headboard. Of the five remaining colonial fireplace mantles in the house, three are supported by colored ceramic tiles. In the library, Selmo Park's only working fireplace is surrounded by its original green tile with pictures around which depict the story of the stag leading off the hounds to protect the doe and fawn. Other fireplaces in the music room and the parlor have hand-painted ceramic Dutch tiles selected by Mrs. Diemer.
Upstairs, a hall runs the entire length of the house, and at the far end is a small study. The rest of the second floor consists of four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Doors from the old-fashioned wardrobes that were originally in the house have been mounted as doors for the closets. With carved lines and moldings in cherry and walnut, they are a striking contrast to the rest of the furnishings. The original painted china wash basin set in marble in the north bathroom has been saved to be used in the guest bath downstairs when it is renovated.
Jessie Hart of Kansas City, then a member of the Board of Regents, was chairman of the committee to direct the decoration of the college residence following the 1951 renovation. James C. Kirkpatrick, then secretary to Governor Forest Smith and president of the Board, and later named the university's first Distinguished University Fellow after serving 20 years as Missouri's Secretary of State, assisted Mrs. Hart. Their work is still quite evident.
The long library table in the downstairs front hallway was donated to the university by President and Mrs. Diemer in 1956. A beautiful walnut bed, which is in the upstairs north bedroom, was given to the university by Lucille Morgan. Miss Morgan, a nurse, was on campus from 1938 to 1952. Clark Hall, a retired university cabinet maker, restored the bed to its present, beautiful condition. It is believed that the bed was brought from England more than 150 years ago. A pier table and mirror, in the upstairs back hallway, was donated to the University by Laura Yeater, a Latin teacher on campus from 1900 to 1914. In addition, an 1860's jeweler's clock, originally donated to Yeater Hall by Miss Yeater, has been moved to Selmo Park.
Today, thanks to Mrs. Elliott's efforts, and in cooperation with the Department of Art, a number of paintings donated to the University's permanent art collection help decorate Selmo Park. They join the painting hanging on the south wall of the music room which shows how the home looked in 1935. Lillian Weyl of Indianapolis, Indiana, painted that oil for President and Mrs. Hendricks, and it was presented to the university in 1958.
During the late 1980's decorative and functional outdoor lighting was installed around the drive near the house and three white flagpoles were added to the north edge of the front lawn to display the Stars and Stripes, the Missouri flag and the university flag. New copper and terned tin flat roofs and English-style, slate-bend concrete tile elevated roofs, in keeping with the architecture and history of the house, were also added in 1987. Selmo Park's west lawn contains tall wrought iron gates that were originally parts of the stalls in the old Nickerson barn. Also cherished are two old stone mounting blocks, one of which is located near the north drive.
The endless stream of student tours, receptions, luncheons and dinners at Selmo Park help the university's chief executive officer build relationships that contribute to fulfilling the mission of the university and enhance the effectiveness of its president.
Selmo Park has been listed as a Missouri Historic Site since 1962.


Selmo Park, UCM, Warrensburg, Missouri
 Above- From the excellent book - WARRENSBURG AND JOHNSON COUNTY by Carol Berkland, Herb Best, Lisa Irle, Arcadia Publishing
excerpt from true story of 
"Looking For Jencey The Life of Lizzie Elnora Murphy Casebolt"
By Dorothy Diemer Hendry Published: 5/28/2007  



UNIVERSITY of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose used to hold events at the president’s residence, Selmo Park, including for Christmas 2011 when students visited him at the residence built in 1866. Now, due to mold and sewage backups, Ambrose lives no longer in the once-stately residence and UCM’s governing board is considering $2 million in repairs. J.C.VENTIMIGLIA | Star-Journal







I am saddened to read the headlines about Selmo Park being demolished in 25 days.
Selmo Park is a valuable piece of Warrensburg and Missouri state history.
Selmo Park’s destruction should not happen. As a Realtor, and one who appreciates history and old homes, I am having trouble accepting this act of destruction.
I have lived here over 50 years and have seen many homes razed for progress, but we have a preservation group in our city plan and this should be saved. It is such a beautiful home with such rich history for this area.
I know the renovation costs to keep Selmo Park would be significant; however, the historical value is worth even more and this mistake should be reconsidered.
Becky Dyer
April 20, 2015
Going, going, gone
Google “Selmo Park.” It is the last you’ll see of that beautiful mansion at UCM in Warrensburg, Missouri. It was built in 1866, was designated a Missouri Historic site in 1962, and was the home of the president of the college (now UCM) for many years, including 19 years that my family and I lived there. The university’s Board of Governors decided that it wasn’t worth renovating the old house, and as I write, it is being torn down by a demolition company, which is doing it for $30,000. It is painful to see the photos of the house in its demolition-inprogress.
Thank goodness I am not there to watch.
Some things were salvaged, the 1951 wrought iron around the front of the house among them (my mother never liked that wrought iron – thought it was ostentatious).
But I wonder what happened to the fireplace hand-painted ceramic Dutch tiles that my mother chose, and the red Belgian glass around the front door, and the black walnut and dark oak hardwood floors, and the carved walnut and cherry closet doors, and the bricks from the old Normal School that replaced the old wooden porch floors?
And I wonder if the voices of past lives echoed through the rooms when it all turned to dust? I remember my twin brothers, teenagers at the time, racing/clambering up the stairs to beat each other to their room. And my sister studying, sometimes all night in the library downstairs, or writing her poetry by the light of the moon. And all of us sitting in the twilight on the front porch, talking and laughing and waiting for the night insects to urge us inside. And my grandmother, sitting by the fire, her hands busy knitting coverings for new babies’ feet. And my mother planning receptions for the hundreds of students who on special occasions crowded the house with their parents in tow. And my father, working in his office on campus sometimes even on Sunday, taking care of the college, writing his speeches, making trips as educational consultant to various countries. 
And the music: all of us diligently practicing; Dorothy’s flute, George’s cornet, John’s cello. I began writing music in that house. It was an inspiring place to live.
On college campuses it is the beautiful old buildings that are the centerpieces. They are taken care of during their lifetimes, renewed, treasured. If my father had been there he would have, with my mother’s encouragement, seen that the old house was kept in good condition and useful into the next century. I doubt that “Bunky” would have prevailed.
Emma Lou DiemerSanta Barbara, California


February 26 , 2015
Delivered to the Star Journal today:
Dear Editor
Selmo Park is on its last legs, with the bulldozers due to move in in less than a month. Instead of an historic house, we’ll have some “green space,” thanks to many years of less-than-benign neglect. The price tag for renovation was cited as $2 million; the price tag for demolition is another hole in our local history and heritage.
As is typical for UCM, public input was neither requested nor accepted. Their mind was made up before the public was made aware of the problem. Unofficial rumblings were heard as far back as last October; a few Homecoming beers loosened a tongue. UCM’s decision proves that it cares little for Warrensburg’s heritage, just as the new retail complex as part of the dorms under construction on South Street proves it cares little for locally-owned businesses.
The short term costs overlook the long term costs. I doubt if the 440+ persons who like an unpubliczed Facebook page (Save Selmo Park) will ever donate to UCM. The actual costs of demolition have not been publicized; have the costs of providing & maintaining a new, “suitable,” presidential residence been reported?
Each UCM President leaves a legacy and many have been memorialized in campus buildings: we have Diemer Hall, Lovinger Hall, the Elliott Student Union. We could have a Chuck Ambrose art gallery, museum or welcome center; it appears we will we instead have the Chuck Ambrose hole in our heritage.
Bill Wayne (BS 1989)
Sandra W ayne (BS 1974, MA 1977)
431 SE County Road Y, Warrensburg
660-624-4944

Demolition begins at UCM’s Selmo Park

 by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief

Demolition plans for Selmo Park at the University of Central Missouri began today following the UCM Board of Governor’s approval of a $30,000 contract with Red Rock Construction in February. Work began on the site today and is expected to be finished by April 30, according to an email from Jeff Murphy, assistant director of media relations at UCM. The decision to begin this week coincides with UCM’s 2015 spring break.
The decision to demolish Selmo Park, which has been home to the University’s president Chuck Ambrose, was made following a Board of Governor’s decision to not move forward with a projected $2 million in repairs to the structure. The property assessment was conducted in cooperation with Burns & McDonnell Engineering based in Kansas City.
“The university hired Burns & McDonnell to assess the property in early April 2014, shortly before Selmo Park experienced excessive water damage due to spring storms and sewage backup that compounded structural issues,” Murphy said in his email. “The property assessment included numerous structural repairs to the 1866 main house, including demolition and reconstruction/restoration of the interior, and work on the property’s driveway, gazebo and other buildings. Engineers who presented to the Board of Governors during a meeting July 21, 2014 and again August 21, 2014 also noted that, as in any renovation project involving an older structure, total costs could exceed their projections once work began.”
According to Murphy, despite the long history of Selmo Park at UCM, the Board of Governors emphasized the university’s priority is to provide the highest quality education it can for its students at the most affordable cost. At a time when state of Missouri’s support is declining, Board members indicated spending $2 million on Selmo Park renovations was not deemed in the university’s best interest in serving students.
The Board recommended and approved removing the house from the property, and in its place providing a green area, until the university determines another use.
UCM’s Board of Governors in September 2014 formed the Selmo Park Committee to assess cultural and historical values of Selmo Park property, including the grounds, outbuildings, and the main structure, and to identify particular aspects of Selmo Park property for inclusion in the University Archives, repurposing in other UCM properties, and public exhibition. Their final report was presented to the board in February,2015.


First President's Home UCM Warrensburg, Missouri
located at South Street and College Street (Northwest Corner?).

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