The test of an adventure is that when you are in the middle of it, you say to yourself, "Oh, now I've got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home." And the sign that something is wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure. -Thornton Wilder

The nice thing about being confused is you get a chance to notice things a lot better than if you knew where you were going.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sod House - Aline, Oklahoma


In planning our venture to the Great Plains, seeing a sod house was one of the most important things for me to accomplish.  I had to wait until towards the end of our journey when we reached Oklahoma before I could see my sod house.

It stood within this building, rescued and preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1964.  Marshall McCully homestead the land in 1893 and first lived in a one room "dugout" hollowed out of a ravine bank.  In 1894 he built his sod house.

I came to learn that most sod houses were torn down or merely dissolved, be absorbed back into the landscape over time.  Only about 10 of the many thousands of sod houses that once dotted the Great Plains remain today.  Most likely why McCully's sod house lived is that he continued to use it for storage and for his chickens long after he built his frame home.

Inside the building/museum stands McCully's sod house.  Only the grass roof is not original.

The Oklahoma Historical Society restored the interior to how it once was when the McCullys lived in it.

His was one of the better constructed and maintained sod houses.  There was an interior dividing wall with wallpaper.

He found an alkali clay deposit a few miles west and used the mud to plaster the inside outer walls.  This was an uncommon improvement among soddys. It kept out insects, snakes and the elements and no doubt was another factor in the house's long life.

In time Marshall offered his wife Sadie either a tin roof or a wood floor for the home.  She chose the floor probably as it was muddy when wet and dusty the rest of the time.

Sadie gave birth to a daughter and died 5 years later in 1902.  It is believed she died from tuberculosis.  In 1907 Marshall married Pearle Bowen, a girl from the city.  Imagine the adjustment she had to make living in a sod house on the Oklahoma plains.

In 1909 McCully built his two story frame house west of the soddy, probably under increasing pressure from his new city-bred wife.  Pearle gave birth to a daughter also.

Marshall was asked why he didn't tear down the sod house.  "That'll cost me too much!" he'd reply.  His meaning was he'd have to build a replacement for it.

Sod houses were cool in the summer and easy to heat in the winter.  They were highly susceptible to the elements but cheap rebuilding material was always close at hand.

Ceiling covers were needed to keep debris from raining down upon the occupants, not to mention the insects and the rain itself.  One daughter who later visited the museum recalled with horror upon seeing the ceiling cover, her vision as a child lying in bed seeing snakes slither across the coverings.

Detailed studies of the construction methods used have been done by nearby universities.  Marshall hitched his team to a sod plow and cut long rows in the Buffalo Grass.  Then with a flat shovel he'd cut the strip into 18 inch lengths.  The sod blocks would be laid in an overlapping fashion like bricks.  From trees in the area he cut long poles for rafters and laid sod for a roof.  It wasn't uncommon to have a soddy become waterlogged and cave in upon it's occupants.  A family of five perished nearby in such a scenario.

The soddy is in the middle background of this period photograph.

Here is Marshall McCully

Some interesting facts

A typical root cellar constructed in the museum but not the original used by McCully.

Now if only Home Depot prices were like this.

This was one of my highlights on our Great Plains Tour.  I had the place all to myself and when I first walked in the soddy I thought "This is so cool.  I could live like this."   That is of course before I learned about all the insects, snakes, dust, rain, constant maintenance and cave-ins.
I'll stick to my Little House on the Highway. 




13 comments:

  1. Remarkable looking building - Id give good odds that modern ones wont last as long!

    I would have thought the only way you could clean the chandelier would have been with an air blower!!

    Stewart M - Australia

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  2. Sssnakesss...need I say more!! It would remind me of living in an open grave..YIKES!

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  3. very interesting John. I guess the closest to that one would be the wattle and daub adobes over here.

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  4. It's much nicer than I thought a sod house would be. However, I'd be out after the first snake.

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  5. It is so nice to see people built houses with the materials they found around them in nature. Here it was the same, they made it of turf? peat-moor? don't know the right word.

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  6. yeah, the critters living with me inside and the idea of a cave-in would certainly put me off that route. also, i think my floors are sandy, muddy now...

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  7. Must have been hard to keep the mice out. Must have had a cat!

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  8. what an excellent post. this reminds me of a book I read not so long ago (Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America). Helga lives in a sod house for a time with her family; I think it was on the northern plains somewhere. It must have smelled musty 12 months out of the year. love that photo of Marshall McCully. they did try to brighten up the interiors - one can see why. we're living in the lap of luxury are we not? happy week to you and Sinbad.

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  9. Where did people learn the skills to build such things? The interior shots make it seem so cozy. Until you mention bugs and snakes. If it were me I would have said, "What do you mean I have to chose between floors and a roof? It better be both, buster."

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  10. Great post! You take me to such interesting places, and here I thought the plains have nothing to offer. I may have to slow down and look around a bit more. All the different ways to build a home and what is really "necessary" is a subject I've always found interesting.

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  11. This would have been the highlight of any trip for me.

    Do you ever visit the The American Memory from the Library of Congress and then look at the American Expansion section...can find a lot of old photos there. I get in moods where I can spend hours there just looking at photos.

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