Herrman House a tribute to Swedish immigrant’s success
Set in Stone is a periodic Telescope feature recording the history of limestone landmarks in Republic County.
The Belleville Telescope
Claes Herrman came to the United States in the 1860s as a poor man. He didn’t even know how to farm. But he learned how and eventually became wealthy enough to hire stone masons to build his family – he had five daughters and a son – a 14-room, four-level stone house. The Herrman House, as it’s called, is located south of Scandia in Norway Township and remained in the Herrman family for generations before finding new purpose as a bed and breakfast.
Herrman came to the United States with only blacksmith skills. He carried mail and chopped wood to supplement his farming income while his family lived in a dugout and then a frame house. Herrman eventually accumulated enough land and wealth for the large stone house, which was built in 1900.
The Herrman’s stone house was built by stone masons that the Herrmans brought over from Sweden. The Herrmans paid the stone masons’ passage to America as well as their salaries for two years. Construction lasted two years, according to family history, and the cost of the home and furnishings was $4,000.
Once finished, the native dressed stone house had more than 50 windows, a basement and “was one of the finest and most modern country homes in the state,” according to family history information. “He built it as a statement,” Eric Herrman said of the stone house. “If you had money, you built to show some of it off, I guess.”
Stones used in the east and north walls were quaried from the hill to the east while the rest of the stone was brought to the farm by rail from Greensburg. The first floor had a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, parlor and a small room used for a small dining room. The second floor had three large bedrooms, a sewing room and a bathroom. The third floor had three more large bedrooms and two small ones. A wood-framed summer kitchen was added on later. The Herrmans got their telephone in 1902 and the Delco light system in 1916. The walls are more than 18 inches thick.
Herrman was a member of the Concordia Elks Lodge and once hosted the men at his stone home. A train brought members to a railroad crossing near the house where Herrman met the group with hay wagons to take the passengers the remaining threefourths of a mile to his stone home. The train waited at the crossing for the men to return. Guests arrived at the home on a circular driveway that directed them to the home’s west entrance.
Trained as blacksmith But Herrman lived a lessglamorous lifestyle in his early years in America. He was born in Sweden in 1841 and came to the United States in 1867 as a trained blacksmith. He was 26. He worked as a buggy
driver in New York to get enough money to travel west with the Scandinavian Agricultural Society. The ag society came to Kansas in 1868. Herrman was one of the earliest settlers in this area, and when he arrived here, he was poor.
“Upon his arrival in Kansas he did anything and everything to make a living,” said Vickie Hall, who is a great-granddaughter of Herrman. Herrman made a living in his early Kansas years by carrying the mail on foot from Scandia to Nebraska. He also had a job driving wagons of government supplies for soldiers.
“He worked hard to supplement his blacksmith skills to support his family and purchase land,” Hall said. “Claes chopped a lot of wood and always had monsterous wood piles.” Herrman and his wife, Hilda, originally lived north of Scandia before moving to the Norway area. They lived for about a year and a half in a one-room dugout located on the Mike Thompson farm, located about a mile from the stone house, until their wood frame house was finished in 1880 on an adjoining farm they had purchased. The wooden house was southeast of the stone house. A two-story rock house was soon built on the property for hired men to live in. The house started as a one-story home, but a second story was later added, Hall said.
In 1884 the rock barn was built. Herrman was a progressive farmer for his time, according to family history. His farm produced corn, wheat, alfalfa and a herd of “superior grade cattle.” An undated newspaper article in the Herrman family history said Herrman threshed the first wheat in the community with his own equipment, and he was planning to build a new elevator and double corn crib on the farm.
Eric and Debra Herrman purchased the house in 1991 from Eric Herrman’s father, Eugene Herrman. “There were several things I wanted to save when we bought this, but I finally came to the conclusion that if I could save the house, that would be the biggest thing,” Eric Herrman said.
“This is not a poor man’s house.” Jerry and Marilyn Sorensons purchased the Herrman house “for under $100,000” in 1997 and spent two years rennovating the home before opening their bed and breakfast. Renovations included adding a bathroom to each of the third-floor bedrooms for bed and breakfast guests. Marilyn Sorenson said the bed and breakfast was “very full and busy” after opening, but her bad knees combined with her busy schedule as the secretary of the Kansas Lions Site Foundation has forced her to turn away most bed and breakfast inquiries now.
“I would love nothing more than for someone younger than us to take it over,” Marilyn Sorenson said of the difficulty of keeping up the large house. She and her husband briefly put the home up for sale eight years ago, but her husband’s cancer diagnosis changed the couple’s plans. But Sorenson said she would still like to sell the property to the right buyer.
“There are challenges living in a stone house,” she said. “There’s plaster on top of stone, and it always pops the wallpaper. And we have to drill into stone to hang a picture.” But Sorenson is content, for now, to keep the 115-year-old house until the right buyer comes along, she said. “We love it here,” she said.