When a vernacular farmhouse on the High Plains of western Kansas was abandoned in favor of a sleek new ranch-style house in the mid 1950’s, it was emptied and forgotten about. It had received minimal (if any) maintenance in the following sixty-odd years and is today termite-riddled in some areas. Its simple plan (two rooms up and two rooms down with a kitchen wing at the rear) was typical of many late nineteenth-century homesteads in the region, few of which survive.
The house appears to have been updated twice in the past century-and-a-half. In the gable ends, three-over-one windows replaced the original four-over-fours sometime around 1920. Later, it received wide replacement siding on the exterior — probably in the 1940’s or ’50’s — coinciding with a garage addition, rear porch enclosure, and some minor interior changes which appear to have been made at roughly the same time.
trying to spring here, and it felt good to get outside for a day and explore. With the permission of the owners, I was able to spend a few minutes in the house this weekend. Photographs were hurried, and I was not able to capture all that I wanted to. I apologize for the lack of expansive room images; the photos I took are somewhat more detail-oriented. The simplicity of the place — and the numerous original materials which have survived — are a good reminder that life for many people in rural areas remained quite primitive well into the mid-twentieth century.
The modest attempts at modernization of the interior now look incredibly dated themselves. Though void of furniture, the house retains a strong time-capsule presence:
The house is partially obscured by numerous cedar trees. The lawn of buffalo grass has yet to spring to life.
Five chamfered porch posts span the modest façade. Each has been bolstered in some manner with later stabilization efforts. Wide clapboards, the product of a mid-century attempt at modernization, do little to disguise the 1880’s character of the vernacular farmhouse. A second door — to the right of the remaining door — is now hidden by the siding but once connected the parlor and porch prior to the mid-century updates. The barn at left, still functional, has been given more attention and care in recent decades.
A four-over-four double-hung window survived the modernization efforts. Note that the vertical (center) muntin is much wider than the thin horizontal muntins. This is typical of Italianate window sash and done in order to emphasize verticality.
The exterior of the front door. The knob and rim lock have clearly been relocated; “ghosts” of a previous installation remain beneath layers of paint. The upper panels of the door are original and reveal a raised panel. The lower panels are later replacements and are perfectly flush. A kattywampus keyhole escutcheon was painted-over without regard to orientation; this casual effort at painting was likely the last the house had seen in decades.
As seen from the interior, a simple patch of tin covers the scars of the original rim lock location.
The original parlor door is still in place but is obscured by wallpaper and paint. Note the small shelf attached to the door… it appears to have been added to accommodate a telephone (as evidenced by the telephone jack seen on an adjacent wainscot slightly below the door’s rim lock). The wall perpendicular to the door was itself modified with open shelving in a somewhat tragic effort at modernization c. 1945.
A pair of Craftsman-era windows replace what was likely a single four-over-four window originally. Note the ceiling of wide beaded board (wider than the beaded wainscot).
The kitchen was likely originally in the rear wing. This front room, possibly once a dining room, served as a kitchen when updated in the 1940’s. A medicine cabinet remains above the sink — the most logical place for it given that the house never had a bathroom. Note that the sink has no faucet. Where did the water come from?
. The water for the house came from this pump. A row of trees was planted in an attempt to subdue the seemingly never-ending prairie wind. An outhouse once stood a similar distance from the other side of the house. Here
The stair to the second floor starts in the kitchen. A pantry is below the stairs. Yellow linoleum covers the beadboard wainscot in an effort at modernization. At the upper right may be seen the flue hole which served a former cook stove.
Cheerful wallpaper and tile-emulating linoleum tried valiantly to erase the plain, late-nineteenth century, reality of the house.
Wallpaper covers the glass panes of the back door which leads to the rear wing (likely the original kitchen). Linoluem covers the wainscot while gray paint makes an arbitrary attempt at disguising the door.
A folding door above the stairwell helped to retain heat on the ground floor during the winter months. This arrangement was typical of many early and modest houses in the region (in absence of an enclosed stairwell with a door).
A simple balustrade gives the folding door a place to rest when open.
An awkward and inaccessible bit of floor above the stairs. Note that the baseboard was installed prior to plastering… the plaster is flush with the face of the baseboard.
At the top of the stairs, a board-and-batten door leads to the other room. It is made of wide beaded boards and fitted with a rim lock and fancy cast iron steeple hinges. The red stripes on the ceiling are remnants of a former decor centered around a circus theme… the red stripes were meant to suggest being under the “ big top“.
The other side of the door. A block of wood was added behind the rim lock to give thickness to the door so that the lock would meet up with the jamb-mounted catch. Circus-themed wallpaper sets the tone for what had obviously once been a child’s room.
Many circus attractions are here… (even if not politically correct by today’s standards): The fat lady, the thin man, the magician with requisite rabbit-in-a-hat, the strong man, the ferris wheel, the roller coaster, a balloon and cotton candy…
To complement the decor, someone painted a closet door of plywood with a depiction of a ballerina on a swing.
Within the closet, remnants of an earlier decor remain.
Outside, short and squat Craftsman-era windows contrast with the original tall and narrow Italianate window which survives beneath the porch roof. To the left of the corner may be seen a short pipe — this drained the waste water from the kitchen sink directly to the outside. To the right of the corner is a cable which connects the lightning rod to the ground.
A clumsy porch enclosure.
Inside the enclosed porch, original clapboards reveal the intended look of the exterior. This wing, possibly an early addition, sports two-over-two windows. Note that the lower sash was glazed with four pieces of glass (presumably because larger pieces were not available at the time the window was installed or repaired).
The rear wing with adjacent appendages.
The garage addition is awkward at best.
The house, in its locale, is a rare survivor from the late nineteenth century yet is soon destined for destruction. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana