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 (NRHP 1992), by Charles W. Squires. Date unknown. To the far right is the carriage house.
How cool is this? The north facade.
A wonderful front porch, looking south.
Looking west, on the same L-shaped porch.
The front bay. Delicious.
Front door. The glass is textured.
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 vestibule has incredible tiles…
…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. You know, I have not even stepped out of the vestibule and I am agog.
The glass (wow) in the vestibule doors.
From the vestibule, one walks into the foyer and stair hall.
The foyer mantle.
To the left of the mantle is a sweet built-in settee.
Above the settee.
The main stair window. Gee willikers.
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 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.
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. The kitchen continues this line. We are looking to the north window.
We have turned around, and are now looking to the south.
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 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.
The way cool ceiling 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.
Second living room.
We have left the second living room, and walked west into the dining room. Plaster ceiling.
Dining room. North window.
All three upper windows are like this.
Dining room floor.
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.
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.
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.
A piece of thin plywood is covering the transom window. Sacrilege!
Turning to the north, we find…
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 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.
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, 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.
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 beadboard is set at an angle to create more room for the tub.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 (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.
I know! Incredible!
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 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.
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.