on January 10, 2003
The main house is not a typical Kansas farmhouse from the 1800s. It was made from limestone, as was the barn and other out-buildings, and the construction of the house and barn cost $40,000 in 1881, which would be more like millions of dollars today.
An excellent tour is given of the house by the National Park Service rangers hourly from 9:30am-3:30pm; although with fewer visitors in the winter, you can basically get a personal tour when you show up. The tour begins with a 15-minute video off the back porch in a large room that originally would have been Jones' office. It has a large, floor-length window that can open to allow access to a small balcony from which the rancher could have a commanding view of his property. Since taxes then were done by the number of doors, he made it a long window instead. The video covers the history of the ranch and gives some geological and ecological background on the tallgrass prairie and the different peoples that have lived on the plains. The ranger told us that in another few months they will have a second video available as well. The video will probably not win any documentary awards but it is short enough to keep your attenion and has nice pictures of the park in different seasons.
The house has three stories plus the basement. The ground floor from the entrance at the front of the house has sitting rooms. They are furnished with period furniture and have limestone fireplaces that were painted to look like marble, a popular style at the time. The next floor up is actually at the same level, as the back porch--the house was built on a hill--has the office and the dining room (where the gift shop/bookstore is now). The highest floor had the original living quarters but is now used for the park offices and is not open to the public. The bannister on the main staircase is all of wood and has intricate carvings of sundflowers. There is also a back staircase for the servants that leads to the basement.
The basement is very interesting for the storm cellar which is in the shape of a half cylinder and has a skylight made with thick, tiny, colored circles of glass. This is an unusual feature but according to the stories, the rancher's wife was afraid of tornadoes and also of the dark. The basement also has large room that would have acted as a summer fridge. Water from the spring was piped into the room where it circulates on an inventive trough around the perimeter that eventually drains into the flowerbed in the front lawn. The water kept the room cool so food could be stored there. Some of the basement has not been restored to its original condition. The kitchen, for example, was made into a bathroom and wash-up area and the floor was raised 2 feet with cement sometime during the house's history.
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