Houses built of sod were once plentiful across the Great Plains where trees were scarce.  Built of blocks of earth cut from the ground, the later and more refined versions also incorporated many purchased materials such as windows, doors and dimensioned lumber for the roof structure.  There were many ways to frame the roof structure; the method seen below was common in western Kansas and Nebraska:


Dimensioned lumber was used to support the roof of this sod school house. Photo credit: Glenn R. Fulton.


Recently I had the opportunity to explore a one-room house built around 1900.  I was told that the house, now freestanding, was originally built as an addition to a sod house built around 1880.  Intrigued, I explored it, hoping to find evidence of the former sod house which was torn down in the 1950’s.  I was immediately rewarded!


The front of the long-vacant house. A lean-to garage had been added in the middle of the last century.


The back side is where things get interesting. The door seen here was once an interior door connecting with the original sod house portion. Look above the door – those rectangles are what’s left of the roof of the sod house!  Prior to tearing down the sod house, the roof beams were sawn off to separate the two structures.  The tail ends remain embedded in the wall of the frame addition.


It appears that the center beam (likely a 2 x 8) was flanked by two smaller beams on each side. The original house was not very wide. Given that sod houses had very thick walls, the interior space in the house must have been minimal. It’s fascinating that this “ghost” of the roof survives to this day to mark the location of the former soddy.


I stuck my camera in the door of the surviving addition; it was too crowded with stuff to enter. Original wall paper still clings to the walls in places.

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