The “belle” of Rogers County, the Belvidere Mansion stands proudly on the corner of 4th and Chickasaw in historic Claremore, Oklahoma. Breaking ground in March and completed by Christmas of 1907, the mansion was created by entrepreneur, businessman, and financier John Melville Bayless for his wife, Mary Melissa, and their children - Frances, Guy, Earle, Bland, Ross, Bourke and Wayne.
At the turn of the 20th century, John Bayless turned to Indian Territory, pioneering business opportunities. Fully aware of the importance of the railroad for promoting business ventures, he moved his family from Cassville, Missouri, to Sulphur, I.T., and finally to Claremore, I.T., choosing Claremore because of its two strategically placed railroads. In Claremore, he built the Sequoyah Hotel with new-fangled electric lighting and therapeutic radium baths; the three-story Windsor Opera House with a first-floor drugstore; the Claremore Athletic Association with an indoor swimming pool and trapeze; the First National Bank and the Belvidere Mansion, the family’s private residence. Of these, only the Belvidere stands today.
Sadly, Mr. Bayless died of an appendicitis attack, in June of 1907, before his dream home was completed. Mrs. Bayless and the children moved into the spacious, three-floor, 9,000 square foot, four-turret, lavishly designed brick home and lived there until 1919.
The Bayless children prospered in Oklahoma, especially after statehood was granted in 1907. On Christmas Day of 1900, Frances married G.D. Davis, President of the Bank of Claremore. Guy joined the bank in 1904 and continued in banking for 50 years. Earle became President of the Bank of Claremore after his father’s death. Bland married William Martin and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Ross became involved in banking in Miami and Commerce, Oklahoma. Bourke, also a financier, managed the Sequoyah Hotel and was postmaster. The youngest son, Wayne, was an attorney and served on the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma. At least one grandson, Guy Jr., was born in the Belvidere Mansion in 1916.
John Bayless may have had the home constructed, but Mary Melissa shaped its character. When opened, the innovative skylight of the 3,000 square foot, third-story ballroom, allowed fresh air to circulate through the home on hot summer nights. In winter, the six bedrooms on the second floor were heated with the central atrium acting as a chimney to draw heat from gas fireplaces on the main floor. Remaining to this day, the first floor foyer and fireplaces are tiled with hand-laid one-inch square and hexagonal porcelain tiles, the work of an Italian craftsman. The walls, wainscoted by white marble below, are crowned with pressed tin tiles above that continued across the high ceiling. Sturdy wooden pocket doors give privacy and conserved heat in the first floor rooms. Woodwork shipped by rail from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair finishes the stylish interior design. The first and second floors boast of intricately designed parquet floors and indoor plumbing in three bathrooms. The tiled room at the rear of the mansion, next to the original carriage entrance, was once the spacious dining room. The ladies’ parlor stood to the east of the first floor foyer entrance. The gentlemen’s parlor across the foyer to the west, now displays an original Bayless desk and bookcase and serves as the present day gift shop.
Life’s ups and downs took their toll on the Belvidere property. During the 1930’s, it was purchased by the Bell family and divided into 12 individual apartments. The home fell into disrepair in the late 1980’s. Deserted in the early 1990’s, the mansion was purchased by the Rogers County Historical Society (RCHS). This was the first of many generous expenditures used to restore the home to its former glory. Under the RCHS presidency of Wanda Moore, the extensive restoration of the Belvidere Mansion began. Annual fundraisers, donations, gift shop sales, ballroom rentals, and tearoom profits help to preserve the mansion’s grandeur despite ongoing maintenance needs. The Belvidere Mansion testifies to the importance of preserving the beautiful historic homes of the past for future generations to appreciate. We are grateful that the Rogers County Historical Society caught the vision and continues to be willing to do the hard work necessary to preserve the Belvidere Mansion. We hope you enjoy your visit to this distinctive Victorian treasure, and we invite you to return again soon.
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