Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

The ferry captain's house
David and Barbara Plummer open their historic Huber's Ferry home to guests

by Jim McCarty

From a bluff high above the Osage and Maries rivers William Huber could look down on his empire. Sprawled at his feet were the 500 acres of rich farmland he owned, several lots in the now-forgotten village of Lisletown and the ferry boat and landing passed on to him by his father, Frederic.

David and Barbara Plummer stroll the grounds of their Huber's Ferry Bed and Breakfast and take in the magnificent view of the Osage and Maries rivers. Their inn is located near Westphalia in central Missouri.

A man of means, William Huber decided to build a new house on the bluff to replace the flood-prone one on the banks of the Maries River. The year was 1881. Though William died in 1914, his legacy lives on at one of Osage County’s most recognized landmarks thanks to a couple who made its restoration their labor of love.

Today it has been restored to its former glory and is known as Huber’s Ferry Bed and Breakfast.

David and Barbara Plummer were state employees who saw retirement approaching. “We were looking for a place to retire,” Barbara recalls. “David likes to fish. This was advertised as having river access. Right!”

While the fishing access would have required several hundred feet of line to reach water, the magnificent view captivated the Plummers like it must have done to William Huber a century earlier.

William and Mary Huber’s portraits gaze down on new owners David and Barbara Plummer as they sit in the parlor at the old house.

“There is not a better view to be obtained anywhere on the Osage River than from this residence” was written in William’s obituary.

A real estate advertisement for the house caught the Plummer’s attention. “Like a lot of other people I wanted to see it,” Barbara says. “We fell in love with it.”

It’s a good thing for the old house that David and Barbara came along when they did. A less intrepid couple might have bought the place for the view and pushed the house over the bluff into the river.

After William died his son, Charles, inherited the house and the ferry. In 1922 the first Highway 50 bridge across the Osage River doomed the ferry operation. Charles died in 1955 and in turn his son, Carl, took over the house and the family farm. It would remain in the family until 1990, when Carl’s widow sold it to a Jefferson City doctor.

When it sold again two years later the house would fall into the hands of a loving couple who had no idea what they were getting into.

Barbara takes time from her chores to give one of the resident cats some attention.

Looking back, David remembers thinking the view was all that was worth saving when the couple tackled the restoration effort. The years had taken their toll on the mansion. “It was only empty two years,” Barbara says. “But it doesn’t take an old house long to deteriorate when it’s empty.”

There were holes in the floor. The roof leaked. Paint and plaster hung in tatters from the interior walls. The front porches were completely gone and the two-story rear porches needed work.

Undaunted, the two rolled up their sleeves. Because they hadn’t yet retired, a full-scale assault on the house wasn’t possible. Instead they dabbled at it on weekends.

And then the rains came. The flood of 1993 couldn’t touch the house on the high ground. But the torrential downpours that caused the flood found every opening the elements had made in the house.

“The rain came from everywhere,” says Barbara. “We hadn’t expected anything like that. That was one of our most discouraging times.”

Still the two kept working. They stripped a century of paint off the walls until they discovered the original colors. They learned to patch cracked plaster. They replaced plumbing and wiring and found creative ways to hide both in a house built with three layers of solid brick.

Meanwhile the family showed Barbara old photos of the building. From these they were able to replace the missing front porch, accurate to the gingerbread trim William and his wife, Mary, installed originally. They also replaced the missing picture rail molding inside.
With the hard work completed, the couple painted the bedroom walls the original colors.

William and Mary Huber stand in the yard of the house not long after it was built in 1881. This photo helped the Plummers restore the porch, which was gone when they bought the house 111 years later.

“We could tell by the last layer of paint,” Barbara says. “The paint they used back then was a chalk-based paint. Our paint won’t stick to that. That’s the reason we had to scrape it all off.

“There was more work than we thought there would be. A lot more work. And like any old house there’s still work to be done.”

But after all the hard work the fun part began. The couple searched for antiques to match the newly restored house. They also brought family treasures out of storage. Meanwhile Huber family members donated heirlooms to the cause, including William and Mary’s 25th wedding anniversary commemoration wall hanging and portraits of the two that now hang in the parlor.

To justify buying such a large house for just two people, the Plummers planned to open it to guests when the work was complete. “Our first guests were from the Huber family,” Barbara says. “I’m sure in the beginning they were kind of wondering what we were doing. Some hadn’t seen the house as we were working on it and one of them, when she came in the door said, ‘Oh my, it was a mansion.’ ”

The Plummers stay in touch with the family, collecting stories and memorabilia whenever possible. They have a “Huber rate” that requires either a photo or story to be used.
Huber’s Ferry Bed and Breakfast officially opened in 1998. Since then the couple has entertained guests from all over the United States. Thanks to an Internet presence, visitors from Japan, Australia and Europe have also enjoyed their hospitality.

A highway project at the junction of Highways 50 and 63 took out part of the bluff on which the old house sits but didn’t ruin its status as a landmark. The cottage in the center caters to guests who want more modern conveniences like a fireplace and hot tub while the huge barn, built in 1894, has been used for wedding receptions and other parties.

Guests can choose from two single rooms and one suite in the old house. A separate cottage recently opened to give guests the incredible view along with more modern conveniences like a jetted two-person tub, fireplace and king-size bed.

The Huber house was always a center for social events and that tradition continues. The Plummers have hosted several wedding receptions and parties in the cavernous three-story barn, easily the largest in Osage County. Their hard work has preserved a central Missouri landmark for many more generations to enjoy.

You can reach Huber’s Ferry Bed and Breakfast at (573) 455-2979 or toll-free at 1-877-454-2979. Their Web site is www.hubersferrybedandbreakfast.com.

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