The History of the Inn on Crescent Lake

Now more than a century old, Crescent Lake Manor took its name from the two crescent-shaped bodies of water that were dug as a moat to surround the mansion. For more than two decades, it was the stylish home of Dr. Aretas S. McCleary and his family. Dr. McCleary was founder of the McCleary Sanatorium and Clinic in downtown Excelsior Springs, which at one time was the world’s largest for its area of specialty.

Dr. McCleary purchased the red brick Georgian Colonial mansion in 1925, when he relocated his medical practice to Excelsior Springs from Kansas City, MO. At the time the town ranked as one of the world’s leading mineral water resorts. The original owner of the mansion, Douglas Stinson, was a lumber baron and former Kansas Citian who built the residence for his family in 1915.

Dr. Richard C. Hedges, grandson of Dr. McCleary and his only direct descendant still residing in Clay County, recalls that the latch string was always out at his grandparents’ home. Easter egg hunts, ice-skating, costume parties, and even an open range shooting gallery were among the pastimes available on the 22 acres of wooded grounds surrounding the home. The mansion’s third-floor ballroom was the venue for ping-pong and pool.

According to McCleary’s great-grandson, Gordon Watkins, the family made sure those who were less fortunate in Excelsior Springs had a festive Christmas. Working with area churches, they would identify needy families to host at the mansion, where children received toys and parents were quietly given an envelope containing $50, the equivalent of $700 during the difficult times of the Great Depression. Afternoon teas also were held on a regular basis for clinic outpatients. As many as 200 guests were transported from the clinic downtown to the residence, where Dr. McCleary often greeted them as friends in the solarium.

On June 23, 1937, a major social event took place at Crescent Lake Manor when 700 relatives and friends gathered to celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of Dr. and Mrs. McCleary. Dr. Hedges noted that the minister who officiated at their wedding was present for the renewal of the couple’s vows. The following year Anna McCleary passed away of congestive heart failure.

After Dr. McCleary’s death on October 21, 1946, at the age of 82, Crescent Lake Manor was unoccupied for several years until another grandson, Robert B. Hedges, who was associated with the clinic, took up residence with his family.

Several of the estate’s majestic pine trees were lost when a tornado roared through the estate grounds and surrounding area in June 1947, also claiming the caretaker’s house. Dr. Hedges recalls other outlying structures, included a good-size garage outfitted for three electric cars, a root cellar, a tool shed, a barn (since torn down), and a unique two-story-tall ice house made of stone (which still abuts the lake). Ice cut from the lake was stored there in sawdust to provide year-round refrigeration.

The children of Robert and Marion Hedges (Robert Jr., Susan, and Joan) were raised at the manor, and both daughters were married there. A swimming pool and tennis court were added to the estate during this period. Mrs. Hedges carried on the tradition of hosting teas for clinic patients until it closed in 1974.

After Robert Hedges’ death, his widow sold Crescent Lake Manor to Mary Elizabeth Leake. She relocated from southern California to transform the property into a bed and breakfast, which she operated from August 1988 until June 1995. The manor then was sold to Dr. Robert E. McClelland, once again becoming a private residence for a brief period.

In the winter of 1997, the manor underwent extensive renovation and was reborn on July 1 of that year as the Inn on Crescent Lake.