I observe afternoon tea most days, a practice I adopted after visiting Scotland in 2014. What a special treat today to enjoy an elegant afternoon tea, with my mom, at the historic Phelps House in Carthage, Missouri.
Part of that town’s annual Christmas Home Tour, the fancy tea is offered at four different times, with tables set up on three floors in the house. Mom and I selected a 1:00 PM time slot, and seating on the main floor.
The Phelps House
This gorgeous restored home, owned now by Carthage Historic Preservation, was built in 1895 by Colonel William Phelps. The house is constructed from Carthage gray marble, in a mix of architectural styles including Classical Revival and Romanesque.
Phelps House features ten fireplaces, original hand-carved woodwork, painted wallpaper, a hand operated dumbwaiter, a heated coat closet, a third floor ballroom and a roof of Ludowici clay tile. Several of the rooms contain original furnishings. The rest of the house is furnished in donated pieces, appropriate to the late 1800s.
William Phelps arrived in Carthage in 1867, after graduating from Albany Law School in New York. He became one of the wealthiest and most respected men in southwest Missouri, prominent in state politics, and actively involved in Carthage industry.
After Colonel Phelps died in 1916, his daughter Bridget continued to live in the house until 1959, when she sold the house to St. Ann’s Catholic Church Parish. The house was used as a home for the nuns who taught at St. Ann’s School.
In 1982, the Phelps House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, Carthage Historic Preservation purchased the Phelps House from St. Ann’s and began the process of restoring the home to its former grandeur.
Fancy Afternoon Tea
Mom and I joined a merry crowd as we made our way indoors. Although both of us have toured Phelps House before and attended other events here, this was our first formal tea in the home. We were excited.
Large and small tables offered cozy seating throughout the main floor. More seating awaited upstairs. We sat in a corner, at Table 6, with place settings for two people. As others found their seats, a large tea pot on our table, full of hot water, allowing us to steep our first cups of tea!
A clear sugar bowl on the table contained assorted Harney & Sons teas in silk teabags. I chose a holiday blend for my first cup of tea. Mom sipped on cinnamon spice. The décor in the house reflected the season, and as we waited for our food, we enjoyed visiting and listening to Christmas melodies played beautifully on a piano.
The tiered serving tray delivered to our table featured a selection of savory and sweet morsels, for two. We particularly enjoyed a tiny smoked salmon tart and fresh scones served with strawberry and herbed butters. Mom and I both embrace a plant based lifestyle. However, for this afternoon tea, we chose to accept the fare offered, especially since the potions were tiny.
During our pleasant time together, we sipped on multiple cups of delicately spiced tea.
Touring the House
After we completed our afternoon tea, Mom and I ascended the stairs for a quick look at floors two and three. We counted five spacious bedrooms and a large bathroom on the second floor. Tables and chairs provided seating in several of those bedrooms.
On the third floor we peeked into several additional bedrooms, a sitting room and another full bathroom. A unique ballroom occupies most of this floor however. The ceiling is painted to resemble a starry night sky. How magical it would be, to dance in such a room! Today tables and chairs filled the dance floor, rather than couples twirling around the room.
Until the Next Time
We enjoyed our afternoon tea at Phelps House. The historic home provides a beautiful setting for a practice steeped in tradition. I feel like the Phelps family, known for generosity while they lived, approve this fine use of their home. And the money raised today as a result of the elegant tea go toward preserving this treasure.
I’d so love to see Joplin or Carthage open a charming little tea house. Vegan options on the menu would be a plus. How fun to regularly take tea with other enthusiasts.
I’ll look forward to afternoon tea next year at Phelps House. Hopefully more family members can join us. In the meantime, I’ll continue my own daily observance of this precious little ritual, with my herbal tea blends.