The Anderson House is perhaps the most well-known house in Lexington, Missouri. Centered on the battleground of the Battle of Lexington or the Battle of the Hemp Bales, it sits on and is operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of the Battle of Lexington Historic Site. Built in 1853 by Colonel Oliver Anderson, this Greek Revival I-House with an ell is common to similar homes built during the mid-nineteenth century. Made of brick laid with fourteen-inch-thick walls in a stretcher course without any headers, was uncommon with surrounding Greek Revival I-Houses. Windows and doors have cast iron sills and lintels. The modified cast iron Corinthian style front porch columns adorn the front of the house. The balcony atop the front porch may have been added later. The I-House block interior contains two large rooms on each floor connected by a central hallway and u-shaped staircase which is madeof black walnut. The connecting two-story ell consists of five rooms including an indoor kitchen, pantry, and servants’ quarters. Rooms are trimmed with locally sourced black walnut. In the rear of the house, a two-story wooden gallery aligns the ell and main block.
A native of Kentucky, Colonel Oliver Anderson arrived in Missouri in 1851, joining two of his sons in Lexington. Anderson quickly established a manufacturing business, using enslaved labor, with his son-in-law Howard Gratz, that used locally grown hemp to produce ropes and bags. In turn, he began building Anderson House, which one local newspaper in September 1853 remarked “will be the largest and best arranged dwelling house west of St. Louis. The location is romantic and beautiful.” Anderson’s prosperity did not last long, as the Panic of 1857 initiated the downfall of Oliver Anderson. With a depressed hemp market and massive debts, Anderson was forced to sell off all his real estate, personal property, and enslaved people. On January 20, 1859, in the Daily Missouri Republican, Oliver Anderson listed “the most money-making Farm in Missouri” and its equipment and livestock for sale. Luckily Anderson’s son purchased the house, allowing Oliver and his second wife, Louisa Price, to remain in the home until the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war, Oliver and Louisa returned to Lexington, Kentucky, where he died in 1873 at the age of 79. Oddly enough, the local Kentucky Gazette newspaper failed to mention Anderson’s time in Missouri in its obituary.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, all Missourians were required to take an oath of loyalty to the Union. Anderson, long a Confederate sympathizer and enslaver, refused. He was subsequently jailed, and his house and property were confiscated by Union troops. Anderson was eventually paroled but forced to remain in the northern states until the conclusion of the war.
Union Colonel James Mulligan, the commanding officer in Lexington, set up a hospital in Anderson House. In September 1861, Confederate troops under the command of General Sterling Price marched north to cut off the Union water route to Kansas and to acquire more Confederate troops from northern Missouri. The two forces met at Lexington, with Mulligan establishing his command post at the Masonic College a quarter of a mile from Anderson House. Over the course of September 18-20, Anderson House changed hands three times despite most of the fighting occurring closer to the Masonic College. At one point, Union troops murdered three Confederate prisoners at the base of the staircase in the main hall. Bullet holes remain in the staircase risers. Throughout the house evidence of the battle remains to this day, with numerous holes in the interior walls from bullets and even cannons. One stray cannon ball entered through the roof, passed through the attic, and landed in the second-floor hallway. The hole in the ceiling on the second floor remains unrepaired. The east side of the exterior of the house shows extensive damage from the battle. Eventually, Confederate forces were able to lay siege to the Union forces, who ultimately surrendered on September 20, 1861. The battle became known as the Battle of the Hemp Bales, as General Price’s troops used Anderson’s hemp bales as breastworks for their assault on Union entrenchments.