Emporia

Favorite Houses: 831 Constitution

At the corner of Ninth and Constitution, in Emporia, is a remarkable house: the Keebler House. One cannot drive by without craning a neck to admire.

The house has a dollhouse-like appearance. It is charming to an extreme, and looks like something a giant would eat in a children’s fairy tale — a delicious cookie.

When I discovered that it was designed by Charles W. Squires (the architect of the Cross House), I could not have been happier, and not too surprised. I mean, who else might have come up with such exuberance?

As I walked around the house recently I was immediately struck by a thought: there were two houses before me. One seems much much simpler, and perhaps from the 1870s. The other house appears to engulf the earlier house, and seems from the 1890s.

The older house was, surely, just one story, with an attic, and a flat center to the roof surrounded by iron cresting (extant).

In the 1890s did Squires renovate an 1870s home?

Checking through old Sanborn Maps (a favored pastime) helps support this suspicion. An 1893 Sanborn map does not show the carriage house, which is shown in 1899. Certainly the carriage house could have been added, but I suspect that during these years (1893 to 1899) the house went through a significant update.

I may be wrong.

 

831 Constitution, by Charles W. Squires. Date unknown.
831 Constitution (NRHP 1992), by Charles W. Squires. Date unknown. To the far right is the carriage house.

 

How cool is this? The north facade.
How cool is this? The north facade.

 

This image really supports my suspicion that the Keebler House is two houses. You can see how the second floor section to the left rests oddly on the roof. The dormers all seemed tacked-on. The chimney to the left is of a later date than the 1870s house.
Southeast corner.

 

 

A wonderful front porch, looking south.
A wonderful front porch, looking south.

 

Looking west, on the same L-shaped porch.
Looking west, on the same L-shaped porch.

 

The front bay. Delicious.
The front bay. Delicious.

 

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Front door. The glass is textured.
Front door. The glass is textured.

 

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You come through the single front door, and into a vestibule. Double doors (with striking beveled glass leaded windows) open into the foyer.
You come through the single front door, and into a vestibule. Double doors (with striking beveled glass leaded windows) open into the foyer.

 

The double doors have ASTONISHING spring-loaded hinges. I gasp.
The double doors have ASTONISHING spring-loaded hinges. I gasp.

 

The vestibule has incredible tiles.
The vestibule has incredible tiles…

 

gbn
…by the American Encaustic Tiling Company of New York. Wayyyyy cool.

 

To each side of the vestibule are a pair of typically Squires-like stained-glass windows.
To each side of the vestibule are a pair of typically Squires-like stained-glass windows. You know, I have not even stepped out of the vestibule and I am agog.

 

The glass (wow) in the vestibule doors.
The glass (wow) in the vestibule doors.

 

Fro the vestibule, one walks into the foyer and stair hall.
From the vestibule, one walks into the foyer and stair hall.

 

The foyer mantle.
The foyer mantle.

 

To the left of the mantle is a sweet built-in settee.
To the left of the mantle is a sweet built-in settee.

 

Above the settee.
Above the settee.

 

The ceilings and cornices are stamped tin.
The stair.

 

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The main stair window. Geez.
The main stair window. Gee willikers.

 

An incredible window tucked under the stair. Note the detailing.
Another incredible window tucked under the stair. Note the detailing.

 

Looking from the stair to the living room (parlor). The vestibule is to the right. The wide arch between the rooms seems original to the 1890s renovation, but it seems quite odd to me. Normally, the semi-public hall would not have been so wide open to the private living spaces. Were a double set of pocket doors originally in this location?
Looking from the stair to the living room (parlor). The vestibule is to the right. The wide arch between the rooms appears original, but seems quite odd to me. Normally, the semi-public hall would not have been wide open to the private living spaces. Were a double set of pocket doors originally in this location? Another curiosity is the stamped ceilings and cornices. At first I assumed they were 19th-century. But they may have been installed relatively recently. They are certainly from the WF Norman Company.

 

Looking from the foyer into the living room (parlor). Note how the cornice stops to accept the TALL mirror.
Looking from the foyer into the living room (parlor). Note how the cornice stops to accept the TALL mirror.

 

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Stained-glass window in the front bay.
Stained-glass window in the front bay, facing east.

 

You step from the living room (parlor) into another, well, living room. There are three main rooms in a east/west line: Living room, second living room, and dining room.
You step from the living room (parlor) into another, well, living room. There are three main rooms in a east/west line: Living room, second living room, and dining room. The kitchen continues this line. We are looking to the north window.

 

We have turned around, and are now looking to the south.
We have turned around, and are now looking to the south.

 

This fireplace is certainly 1879s, and is older than most of what we have been looking at.
This mantle is older than most of what we have been looking at. The tiles are later than the mantle.

 

I believe that the doors are 1870s, and the trim is 1890s. I also suspect that all the first-floor trim was painted originally; its is not high quality wood. The painted finish may have imitated a better grade of wood. This was not uncommon to the period.
I believe that the doors are 1870s, and the trim is 1890s. I also suspect that some of the first-floor trim was painted originally; it is not high quality wood. The painted finish may have imitated a better grade of wood. This was not uncommon to the period. It is also possible that much of the trim is new-ish.

 

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The way cool ceiling of the second living room.

 

The way cool floor of the second living room.
The way cool floor of the second living room.

 

The chandeliers of the three main rooms match. I do not think the shades are vintage.
The chandeliers of the three main rooms match. I do not think the shades are vintage.

 

Second living room.
Second living room.

 

The dining room. Plaster ceiling.
We have left the second living room, and walked west into the dining room. Plaster ceiling.

 

Dining room. North window.
Dining room. North window.

 

All three upper windows are like this.
All three upper windows are like this.

 

Dining room floor.
Dining room floor.

 

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Same room (kitchen) looking south.
Same room (kitchen) looking south. A second stair is to the left.

 

Off the kitchen to the north is a pantry with nice original cabinets.
Off the kitchen to the north is a pantry with nice original cabinets.

 

Just off the second living room, to the north, is a bedroom, and with a south-facing bay.
Just off the second living room, to the north, is a bedroom, and with a south-facing bay.

 

This is the outside of the bedroom bay. Note the beveled leaded glass windows. The small window to the right is under the stair; the arched window is the main stair window.
This is the outside of the bedroom bay. Note the beveled leaded glass windows. The small window to the right is under the stair; the arched window is the main stair window.

 

The bedroom ceiling is, inexplicably, of a recent date and plywood.
The bedroom ceiling is, inexplicably, of a recent date and plywood.

 

We are in the first-floor bedroom, and looking at the upper portion of the west-facing door to a bathroom. This is a REALLY interesting image, and for several reasons. 1) I love transom windows. 2)  Transom hardware in situ! 3) The door trim, unlike most of the other first-floor trim, is very nice. THIS trim was not meant to be painted. 4) Note the second door to the right. That opens into the dining room. But note how the secondary stair cuts across it. Very odd. As I suspect that the stair is from the 1890s renovation, the door to the right, likely 1870s, would not have had this intrusion upon its transom window. Why, mysterious abound!!!!!
We are in the first-floor bedroom, and looking at the upper portion of the west-facing door to a bathroom.

 

A piece of thin plywood is covering the transom window. Sacrilege!
A piece of thin plywood is covering the transom window. Sacrilege!

 

Turning to the north, we find...
Turning to the north, we find…

 

Simple. Nice.
Simple. Nice. Next, we will be returning to the main stair, and will go upstairs. Whoee!

 

As we ascend the main stair, we come across an EXTRAORDINARY feature: an elaborate fretwork panel between the stair and adjacent room. The back of the panel has  recent piece of this plywood covering it, and it was all I could do to NOT tear it out so that daylight could, once again, stream through the delicate spindles. Wow.Wow. WOW!
As we ascend the main stair, we come across an EXTRAORDINARY feature: an elaborate fretwork panel between the stair and adjacent room. The back of the panel has a recent piece of plywood covering it, and it was all I could do to NOT tear it out so that daylight could, once again, stream through the delicate spindles. Wow. Wow. WOW!

 

You would have seen THROUGH the fretwork originally. But why??????
You would have seen THROUGH the fretwork originally.

 

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There are four bedrooms upstairs, and a full bath. All are tucked under the sloping roof and, as such, all are charming to the extreme. This is the EAST bedroom. It has three dormer windows, and each -- amplifying the charm -- are of a different width, height, and window sash.
There are four bedrooms upstairs, and a full bath. Most are tucked under the sloping roof and, as such, are charming to the extreme. This is the EAST bedroom. It has three dormer windows, and each — amplifying the charm — are of a different width, height, and with different window sashes.

 

The  NORTH bedroom. Sorry for the lousy image.
The NORTH bedroom. Sorry for the lousy image, but you get the idea.

 

The WEST bedroom, obviously converted into a kitchen when the house was (one assumes) converted into a two-family at some point.
The WEST bedroom, obviously converted into a kitchen when the house was (one assumes) converted into a two-family at some point.

 

More WEST bedroom.
More WEST bedroom. NOTE: I did not take an image of the NORTH bedroom. This room is the only “normal” room upstairs, in that it has no sloping walls. Also, this is the room on the other side of the staircase fretwork. Obviously, if the NORTH room were used as a bedroom, the fretwork could not be reopened. But if the room were an office or media room I would tear off the plywood STAT from the fretwork.

 

The upstairs bath. The image looks distorted; it is not. The white breadboard is set at an angle to create more room for the tub.
The upstairs bath. The image looks distorted; it is not. The white beadboard is set at an angle to create more room for the tub.

 

The bathroom was fully redone not too long ago.
The bathroom was fully redone not too long ago. Note how the lighting does not line up with the sinks. This begs two questions. Was the electrician drunk? Or the plumber?

 

We are now leaving the house, out the back door. Nice cabinets on the back porch.
We are now leaving the house, out the back door. Nice cabinets on the back porch.

 

To the west of the house sits the 1890s carriage house. Ok, I am feakin' out, man.
To the west of the house sits the 1890s carriage house. Ok, I am freakin’ out, man.

 

Nothing can convey the actual experience of being inside the carriage house. Certainly to these poor images. The inside is AMAZING. The first floor is stunningly original, and the walls retain their original breadboard. The wainscoting is vertical boarding; the upper walls are horizontal.
Nothing can convey the actual experience of being inside the carriage house. Certainly not these poor images. The inside is AMAZING. The first floor is stunningly original, and the walls retain their original beadboard. The wainscoting is vertical boarding; the upper walls are horizontal.

 

The window trim, and everything, is original, and in good shape. This interior is a TREASURE.
The window trim, and everything, is original, and in good shape. This interior is a TREASURE.

 

There is a huge sliding door separating the front portion of the carriage house from the rear.
There is a huge sliding door separating the front portion of the carriage house from the rear.

 

I hope you can see through the clutter, but the black U is one of the original sliding door hardware bits.
I hope you can see through the clutter, but the black U is one of the original sliding door hardware bits.

 

Incredibly, the original stair to the second level is in situ. If I were five punds heavier I would not have, perhaps, made it up the stairs. No image can convey how petite and narrow the stairs are. I find this delightful to an extreme.
Incredibly, the original stair to the second level is in situ. If I were five pounds heavier I would not have, perhaps, made it up the stairs. No image can convey how petite and narrow the stairs are. I find this delightful to an extreme.

 

When you get (squeeze) upstairs, you find a single room, and all recently sheetrocked. Does the original wall surface remain hidden under????? The windows are all original.
When you get (squeezed) upstairs, you find a single large room, and all recently sheetrocked. Does the original wall surface remain hidden under????? The windows are all original.

 

The octagon vaults up to for a fabulous spatial experience.
The octagon vaults up to for a fabulous spatial experience.

 

I know! Incredible! The exterior base of the 180s foyer fireplace.
I know! Incredible!

 

This beauty is two doors to the south. I suspect it is also a Charles W. Squires design.
This beauty is two doors to the south. It is also a Charles W. Squires design, 1898.

 

An attractive apartment block to the north.
An attractive apartment block to the north.

 

An attractive church on the north east corner.
An attractive church on the north east corner (kiddy-corner from the house). And — drum roll please — ALSO designed by Charles. W. Squires

 

Sigh. A church parking lot to the east.
Sigh. A church parking lot to the east.

 

To me, 831 Constitution is a rare and valuable treasure. I think a house like this should have energy and money lavished upon it to make it SHINE SHINE SHINE. I would love to see it owned by somebody who was unconcerned about resale value and just wanted to make the house as spectacular as it should be. The house, not too long ago, DID have money and attention lavished up it, but it has since declined a bit.

I would love to see first-class bathrooms, and a first-class kitchen. I would love to see the magical, wondrous carriage house RESTORED rather than RENOVATED. I would love to see the few not-quite-right aspects of the house made right.

I love this house.

28 Responses to Favorite Houses: 831 Constitution

  1. Hi Ross, I almost sent you a message about this house last week. I had been doing one of my usual real estate (old house) searches and found this one. I was completely awestruck by this house. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. As I have seen your posts on Old House Dreams about The Cross House, I had added Emporia to my house searches (plus, since I just live in Missouri, it’s not too far away) and couldn’t believe my eyes with this one. Thank you for adding such wonderful photos. This house is everything I’ve ever dreamed of and I could be quite happy here for the rest of my days. If only. So many wonderful little quirks and historic features…this is the reason I love Victorian homes so very much. Thank you for your wonderful post!

  2. Hello Ross, Thank you for such an informative post with 831 W. Constitution. And all the additional information. I will be retiring soon and have been looking at all of Kelly’s posts looking for a place to go. I had no idea there was a Flint Hills type area in Kansas. If you have the time, I have questions. Is this house livable as is? Having restored/renovated 4 very large historic homes and a historic commerical building, I need time to think and decide what to do and get the “ducks lined up” on any new project. The only negative I I have concerning your area, is the tornados. I have researched the area, but nothing beats a locals perspective. I know some areas are in protective pockets so to speak and some are in line in tornados path. What is your opinion on this. Is there any local contractors that would be sensitive to renovate this property correctly? I am serious about my query. Also, I have enjoyed your comments on OHD. Cliff

    • Hi Cliff! Thanks for the kind words!

      831 Constitution is wholly livable; indeed, it is in great shape.

      One could live in the house As Is with no problem; the house does not need much. If it were my house though, I would redecorate, and upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms. One nice aspect is that the house has two kitchens! So, I could renovate the main kitchen downstairs, while using the upstairs kitchen (which I would later remove)!

      There are some areas with a LOT of tornadoes, and others without much, such as Emporia. The last tornado to hit Emporia was in 1974 when an F4 tornado struck the city and killed six people.

      I never give a thought to tornadoes in the city.

      In my experience, a home OWNER with knowledge and experience is more important than a CONTRACTOR with the same. Does that make sense? I often work with inexperienced people, but if they have the right mindset, they quickly pick up on the right way to do things with regards to an old house.

      If you visit Emporia please let me know!

      • Hello again Ross,

        Thank you for your reply of Sept. 12. Much appreciated.

        As of last Friday, I was able to make arrangements to come to your fair city.

        A friend and I will be driving in from southern New Mexico. We anticipate arriving early afternoon on Thursday the 2nd and have a full day on Friday the 3rd in Emporia.

        If you are available at any time, it would mean a lot to me to meet you. I have other questions concerning 831 Constitution and would like to see the fantastic Cross House, at least on the outside. Your blog site has really been fantastic.

        On Sept. the 24th I believe I spoke to Lacie and e-mailed her the next day with a query. She has not responded so I will call her in the morning. I do need an appointment to see the house and get more information.

        Two important questions I have, which possibly you could be of help in answering. Do you know the situation with the house next door. Is it multi family? Rental? Also, I have two vehicles that I need protected. I fear the carriage house only has room for one. Is that correct in your estimate. I am open to suggestions.

        My cell number is (575) 639-2031. If you want to contact me. Text is fine. Or I can have Lacie contact you.

        Thank you,

        Cliff

        • My daughter and her family live in the house next door and are restoring it. The exterior painting/repair work was supposed to start in August. They are hoping their painter will get to the house before the cold delays completion until spring. They are holding off landscape work until the exterior is done.
          831 is rich in history. It was built for the mistress of military officer who lived a few blocks west. His house was grand enough he was able to go to his 3rd floor and look down on his mistress.
          On a sadder note, the gentleman who restored it originally put so much money into the place his wife considered it his mistress and left him.
          It would be great to have it passed on to someone who would appreciate the home.

          • Hi Leisa!

            I have met your lovely daughter and her husband. They were kind enough to spend some time with me. They have a beautiful home and it will be exciting to see the new paint colors!

            Their home is one of many which I call the Curvaceous Trim Houses, as seen in another post of mine.

            I am also praying that the new owner of 831 is somebody who truly loves and values this remarkable home. And its amazing carriage house!

  3. I can’t wait to see the change in the exterior! But I am afraid unless our guy starts very soon (this week), they will have to wait. Terry Brownback is going to do the work. He was recommended for his work on old homes. Do you know of anyone else in town that can paint/repair exteriors? My daughter thinks he may not want to do their house since he has delayed the start time repeatedly.

    • Hi Leisa,

      I would give John Peters a call. He has worked on the Cross House. His number is: 620 803-8674. Let me know what happens!

  4. Hi Ross!! I was just making one of my many visits to your site to look at this house again. I have never been able to get this house out of my thoughts and dreams. Any word as to new owners? I see the listing for it has been removed. I will forever regret not trying to make the move to this house and hopefully give it the love it so richly deserves. Thank you, too, for your wonderful website and love of these marvelous old homes.
    Shawn

  5. Ross, thank you for your invitation to visit the Cross house. I would love to see it. I will be at the house on 831 Constitution over the weekend of 4/10/15. If it would be possible to meet with you sometime over the weekend please either stop by or give me a call. 620-794-64**. Still trying to decide what avenue will be the most productive in finding a new owner for 831 Constitution. Your blogs have encouraged me that there is someone out there who will want to take care of her.

  6. Hi Ross,
    The date for the auction of 831 Constitution has been set for Sunday, June 7th, 2015, at 3:00 pm. Hancock Auction & Real Estate, 620-340-5692, will be handling the sale. There will be a minimum starting bid of $62,000. I look forward to meeting you this weekend.

  7. Just wanted to let anyone interested know that Hancock Auction & Real Estate will hold an open house on Thursday, May 14 from 5-7pm and on Sunday, May 17 from 2-4pm.

  8. Unfortunately, as much as I love this house, love alone can’t restore or maintain it. And love is all I have. Every time I see the house I am literally in pain that I can’t do anything… I am losing the house. The future of the house is uncertain. Just wanted to let those who have and do care about it know.

  9. Ross, Thanks so very much for all the effort you went to into researching this house. It must truly be a labor of love. My wife and I came across this house last night and fell in love with it. It’s all I can do to keep my wife from calling Sharol up and buying it just from the pictures.

    The dilemma we’re facing is that we are still ~4 years from retirement, otherwise we’d be on the phone right now arranging for a visit. I’m pondering some way I can justify buying it now and moving in when we retire. We’ve always wanted an old Victorian away from the hubbub of Houston where we live now, and Emporia seems like such a nice town.

    • Hi Clark!

      If you purchased the house, you could easily rent it until you are ready to move. Sharol had it rented for $950 a month.

      Fabulous house.

      Ross

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