Set in Stone: ‘Down at Minersville’

French chateau reminder of one-time active county industry

By Cynthia Scheer Special to The Telescope

A large French chateau built into the famed hills of Minersville sits dark and empty about 100 yards off Old 81. The inscription “C 1882 M” is chiseled in the dressed rock above the north front door. Another chiselled stone farther above the inscription depicts five small items: A cross, a pick, a heart, a gearwheel and a pair of pliers.

Owner Tana Trost said her family refers to the property as “Ann Whan’s” or “down at Minersville.”

Doris Dewey-Smith referred to the property as “The Chateau of Charles Murray” in her 1975 article “Homeland Horizons,” The house appears nearly unchanged today from its earliest photographs.

According to Dewey-Smith, the house was built for Charles Murrayin 1882 by two Frenchmen from Jamestown – James and John Pourie. It was built to look like a French castle or chateau. It’s located along old U.S. 81 along the southeast edge of Minersville.

According to Agnes Tolbert’s 1963 book, “The Rock Houses of Minersville,” the stone house, which is built on a side hill and features a bay window on the east side, had along the driveway of crushed red sandstone. From the stone home, people could view “Montgomery Hollow” to the northeast where Dewey-Smith said many miners lived in dugouts.

Minersville elite

ccording to Tolbert, Charles Murray was born in New York. His wife, Jane Provost, was born in Canada. The couple lived in a dugout several yards east of the house when they first came to Minersville, Tolbert wrote.

They farmed and mined and were among the Minersville elite, Tolbert wrote. According to Cloud County land records, the land where the Stonehouse sits was originally deeded to James M. Murray as a land patent. On June 18, 1881, the land was deeded in two parts: July Curtis received one part, and Charles Murray received the other part for $100.

The Murrays’ daughter, Ann (Murray) Whan, who was born in the family’s Minersville dugout, received her parents’ chateau property.

The land was transferred from John Murray to William Whan –Ann Murray Whan’s husband – on July 24, 1920, according to land records. William Whan deeded the land to his wife on Feb. 23, 1939.

The couple modernized the home in the 1940s, according to Dewy Smith. Plumbing, electricity and gas heating and cooking were added.

William Whan died in 1949, but his wife continued to live there. Ann Whan was still living in the home when Tana Trost, who grew up nearby, graduated from high school in 1964. Whan was gone by the time Trost returned to the area from college in 1969, she said.

Rettie (Murray) Henderson then inherited the French chateau property. She was Anne Whan’s sister and married the son of another prominent mining couple who lived a section away.

Eldon and Tana Trust bought the property from Henderson in the mid-1970s, Tana Trost said. RettieHenderson soon died in Oklahoma, she added. She was in her 90s.

“This farm was Eldon’s dream,” Trost said of the Murray/Whan chateau property. “When we had the opportunity to buy it we did everything we could to get the money together.”

The couple bought two 80-acre pieces and quarter section of land that encompassed the chateau property and Minersville.

“I had somewhat of an emotional attachment to the land,” Trost said, adding that she grew up a few miles from the chateau. “I grew up roaming the hills there, and my father would take me to climb the mine piles. I grew up hearing about Ann Whan.”

Leo Boutz had been renting the chateau when the Trust bought the property, and he and his family continued to live in the house until the early 1990s, Trost said.

“I remember he put an old outhouse down by the road for his kids when they waited for the bus,” Trost said. “And when the balcony on the eastside of the house collapsed, and part of the wall collapsed, he had it repaired.”

The house bullsnakes in empty for a few years after the Boutzes moved out until the Trosts’son, Justin, and his wife moved in in 1998.“

I had always wanted to fix it up,” Trost said. “When you stand on that patio, the view is just terrific.”

The Trost family did a lot of work on the home’s interior including repairing cracks in walls, installing new flooring and adding a bathroom. Justin and his wife lived there for about two years.

“There had always been a problem with bullsnakes in the basement,” Trost saidof the home’s faults. “Andby 1998 water had gotten underneath the patio area from the hill behind the house, and the walls on the south side started to crumble again. We got to the point where we were all in agreement that we wouldhave to do a new foundation and rebuild the south side of the house to save it.”

The house has been empty since.