Set in Stone: Ericson House – Jamestown Wildlife Area

 

Families raised pigs, Brown Swiss dairy cows on remote southern Republic County farmstead

By Cynthia Scheer Telescope News
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

Dan Kuhn and his friend, Robert Nutsch, set off on foot through a deer hunter’s paradise on a warm, sunny February afternoon. They climbed over downed trees here and ducked under low hanging branches there. After about a quarter of a mile they came to a small clearing on the right. There stood a stone barn.

The pair walked around the building, looking closely at the markings made in the stone. They looked inside the barn and pondered its age based on the type of nails used. Nutsch climbed up into the barn’s second story and took in the view from the window.

The pair then explored the remaining buildings on the abandoned, house-less farmstead: an almost- collapsed wooden tool shed a short distance to the east of the barn as well as a tipped-over brooder house that was used in its final years to house copies of newspapers and magazines. Dozens of still-readable publications, including a May 22, 1943, edition of The Belleville Telescope, now lay exposed on the open ground near the tipped building.

Kuhn, who lives several miles from the property, has explored many times this State of Kansas-owned land located at the corner of the Cloud, Republic and Jewell county lines. He said he thought a tornado a few years ago went through the area, knocking over trees and tipping over the brooder house. There is a lot more damage to the area on this trip than the last time he was there, he said.

After looking through the old publications exposed to the elements and lamenting about the shame of them rotting away now after 70 years of careful storage, the men continued deeper into the overgrown section toward the crown jewel: A farmstead located near the middle of the section that features a stone house and several stone buildings.

The stone house was last lived in by Victor Vollan, who bought the land in January 1944. According to his daughter, Carolyn Winters, of Wakefi eld, he owned 320 acres there and raised pigs and Brown Swiss dairy cows in addition to farming. Vollan was a single father to three young girls during his fi rst few years on that farm; he re-married in 1950. He and wife Ruth (Sallman) moved to Jamestown in the mid-1960s but kept the farm for a few years in the hopes that the state would buy it for a wildlife area, according to Winters.. The state of Kansas purchased the farm in August 1966, and the farmstead has been unused since then.

Winters said her father moved to town and sold the farm because he no longer had any help: The girls did a lot of the farming, and they had all graduated from high school. Ruth couldn’t drive the tractor.

The farm is now a walk-in hunting area and open to people who want to hike in and explore. Jamestown Wildlife area manager Rob Unruh said the area badly needs to be burned because of the heavy overgrowth of trees.

“The goal is to protect the area, otherwise we would have had a fi re going through there already,” he said.

Living remotely

Vollan, who died in 1993 at age 86, lost his first wife when his youngest of three daughters – Winters – was a baby. He remarried when Winters was eight years old, she said.

The family had no electricity or plumbing in the house for the fi rst decade they lived there. In 1956 the family got electricity.

“Up until then Daddy rigged up some battery power,” Winters said, adding that heating and cooking were done with coal oil.

With the addition of plumbing and electricity the family built a wooden addition onto the southeast side of the stone house. That addition housed the kitchen and bathroom. Before that there were only three rooms downstairs. The top story of the house was an attic.

Winters said her father had only a seventh-grade education, but he was a perfectionist and a hard worker.

Winters said her father would go into Jamestown to fi nd people to work on his farm, and “hobos” would sometimes jump off the trains from the railroad nearby and come walking to the house looking for work. Her father always put them to work until they were ready to move on.

Richard Anderson, who has lived in the section to the north of the stone house farmstead for about 80 years, said the long, half-mile driveway leading from the road to Vollan’s farmstead looked like a road with ditches on both side, but it was simply a driveway. The road grader maintained the driveway, which extended all the way to the northwest side of the house. The driveway remained until about 20 years ago when the state closed it, Anderson said. Cars can pull off at the site where the driveway once started, but barricades and signs force visitors to go on foot from there. There are so many fallen trees that people have no choice but to travel by foot, but the long row of utility poles sticking up between overgrown trees shows the path the driveway once took.

Abandoned stone

The farmstead has been empty for more than 50 years, yet many of the buildings remain. Rob Unruh said there is a 12×16-foot ice house on the property that is insulated with cork. Ice was cut from the nearby marsh and stored there. The ice house is now missing its roof.

The first level of the barn was built of stone, and the second level was wood. The wood is now all gone, but milking stanchions and old metal buckets can still be seen in the roof less barn.

West of the barn was a granary, and north of the granary was a chicken house. There was also a wood shop and more chicken houses.

South of the barn is a large area resembling a dried-up pond, and the south wall of that driedup pond is a large dam.

Unruh said Vollan put the pond in in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Water was pumped into the cistern, and when that was full, the water was pumped into the stock pond. Game and Parks put in the dam, Winters said.

The date of construction for the stone buildings, including the house, is unknown, but Mary Anne Stoskopf, whose family lived in that section in the late 1800s, said George Peterson lived in the section in 1885 and built many stone buildings in the Jamestown area. He was listed as a stonemason in the 1885 census.

The Tebow place

The Vollan place is located about a half mile into the section, but the Tebow place, which included the stone barn and wooden brooder house that Kuhn and Nutsch explored on their way deeper into the section, was once its own farmstead. The State of Kansas owns it now, and Vollan purchased it from the Tebows in about 1958.

The Tebows’ house is gone; remnants of concrete front steps as well as steps leading down into the hole that was once the basement are all that remain. Anderson said he thinks Vollan likely tore the wooden house down when the Tebows moved out, although Vollan built several houses in Scandia and moved others after he sold his stone farmstead and bought the Jamestown lumber yard.

According to Winters, Winnie and Mary (Maxine) Tebow were the last to live on that 15-acre farmstead. They had a mentally disabled daughter, Alexine, who lived with them.

They were an elderly couple who had only goats at the time Winters knew them.

“I used to see them milk,” Winters said. “They sold a quart of milk for 15 cents every day.”

Click below to view other ‘Set in Stone’ features.


Stone houses take detective work

Other Voices – The Telescope occasionally runs columns that offer a point of view on a subject of local,
state or national interest.

I have done 25-plus stone house stories for the Telescope by now, and I have a lot of fond memories of my quests to get those stories. But the one I’m probably most proud of is the stone house story that is running this week, which I call the Victor Vollan place. Or sometime’s ‘Dan Kuhn’s stone house’ since he led me to it.

The reason this story means so much to me is because it was single-handedly the hardest I have ever worked to get a story. It may not look like it, but this was true investigative journalism.

I was several months pregnant back in the summer of 2015 when Dan told me he had a great stone house for me to photograph out in the middle of a section, and he would take me to it sometime in the fall when the snakes were gone. I had a baby that October, so our adventure was put on hold until February 2016 when Dan and I, along with his friend Robert Nutsch, toured that place. I had such a good time. There is nothing better than touring old places with a guide who knows where he or she is going. That was the easy part, though.

Nobody knew much about the farmstead, and I called neighbors and got only snippets of information. I spent about two hours in the Cloud County Courthouse digging through land records trying to find names. But I kept getting dead ends.

A year went by and I was continuing to work on the story as I had time, but I just couldn’t find a lead. And then, Dan Kuhn called and said he was sitting at a school function and had a conversation with Paula Carlson I believe (It’s been a while now) and by golly, a relative of hers was born in that house. That was my big break.

I was soon put in contact with Mary Anne Stoskopf who has amazing family history information on that section of land where the stone house is.

We never could figure out who built it and when, but we had a little more information.

I wanted to flesh out the portion of Victor Vollan and the Tebow family though, and nobody seemed to know much about it. I even searched obituaries. I made dozens and dozens of phone calls over many months, and somehow – I don’t even remember how – I was told by somebody that Victor Vollan may have grandchildren or step-children in the Concordia area. More and more phone calls led me to a nice woman at a Concordia business, who gave me the golden egg: the name of Victor Vollan’s living daughter who lives at Wakefield. I had to dig up a phone number, but I found it, and I had a great conversation with her.

But our conversation took place during one of my final weeks at the Telescope back last July, and I knew that if I was going to finish this story, I would have to finish it on my own after I left the paper.

I’m sure Dan Kuhn has long given up on seeing this story. There were many times I didn’t think this story would be fi nished either, because nobody seemed to know much of anything about the place or who to contact. I don’t have as much information as I’d like, but I’ve spent dozens of hours by now on this story – far more than any other story – and it’s time to be done.

I still suspect, though, that somebody knows something more than what I’ve found, and I’d love to continue fi ling in the blanks. E-mail me at cynthiasue@huskers. unl.edu, or call me at 785-541-0100.

Cynthia Scheer is managing editor of the Washington County News and formerly a writer for The Belleville Telescope. She continues to write stone house series for both newspapers.