The Cross House

The Staircase

This is an 1894 blueprint of the second-floor stair hall. The top of the image is north, and the exterior wall has three arched stained-glass windows (extant). In the middle you see a large rectangle. That is an opening to the main level. The stair was built as drawn, except for the few steps hugging the north wall. These steps were actually built around the corner a bit, hugging the east wall.


In 1929 alterations converted the house into apartments. The drawing shows how the original expansive stair opening was significantly reduced so two kitchens could be created. I suspect that these alterations were designed by the original architect, Charles Squires.


The very first thing I did after buying the house was to demolish the 1929 wall. This did wonders in returning light into the long dark upper hall.


With the wall gone, I then started removing the 1929 flooring so the 1894 expansive opening could be recreated.


The 1894 expansive opening…expansive once again. This was SUCH a thrill!


I then put the north balustrade back in its original position, and installed 2×4 railings elsewhere.


And this is how things have remained for almost four years. See the angled 2×4 rail? That mimics how the 1894 railing was.


Yesterday, I did something fabulous! I started work on restoring the staircase! WHOEE!!!!!!!! The arrow points to the lower portion of a sawed-off newel post. And…


…thank God that I have the upper portion! How fun it will be to reunite them after 88-years!!!!!!!!


I also have three sections of balustrade which were stored in the house after being removed in 1929. This section is in good shape.


This section was scorched in a 1999 fire while stored in the attic.


And this section was also scorched. It is just tacked in place.


A light sanding revealed that the wood is NOT scorched. It is just soot covered although the soot is almost like a varnish finish.


With the soot removed, no charring is evident. I was quite surprised.




The missing section of angled rail for the east side.


I have enough pieces to recreate the east side although I will likely order a new handrail so it is contiguous (rather than being three pieces).


The west side. Everything where the 2×4 railing is will need to be recreated, including the flat oak trim below the balustrade.


This is the bottom “shoe”. The spindles sit in this. So, I need some new shoe.


I need 16 spindles. Between the spindles are fillet pieces. I need these, too.


The handrail is fabulous. Large, as well. I need more.


So, I need:

  • Handrail for the east and west balustrades.
  • Length of shoe.
  • Length of fillet.
  • 16 spindels.
  • Oak trim for under balustrade.

All of this will have to be custom made. Knifes will have to created and this is $$$$. Luckily, I do not need much of anything so the material costs will, I hope, be reasonable. The BIG trick will be matching the 1894 wood, which looks like straight-grain oak but somebody told me it is…something else. I don’t remember!

Luckily, I have all the newel posts.

Recently, I contacted a high-end millwork shop about 90-minutes to the west. I am hoping they can come by to see the stair and help with all the missing bits.

I don’t anticipate that all this will be done quickly but am hoping that the 2018 Year End Report will include — drum roll, please — images of a wholly restored staircase.

And oh what a glory it will be.



26 Responses to The Staircase

  1. How awesome that so many of the original pieces are still there, so many years after they were removed!! The staircase was always a grand space in these old homes, and yours is going to be spectacular! I am fortunate that my staircase was never mutilated or painted during the decades that my home was a boarding house, although much of the rest of the house is currently (and temporarily) in the “Did a bomb go off in here?” stage, LOL. We are living in the house as we renovate, which is a two-edged sword; yes, I can turn off the light and go to bed, but on the other hand, it’s right there in my face every waking minute. I hope that you are able to restore that grand staircase in 2018, and that next Christmas you are living there. Thank you for all of the ideas and inspiration this year Ross,and Happy New Year to you!

    • My house, as well, has a beautiful “grand” staircase. How it survived the many transitions the house went through the last 80 years or so is a miracle. These staircases were the ‘Jewels in the crown” of old Victorian homes. Glad to see Ross is restoring this beauty and he is so lucky to have most of the parts! Staircases are dealbreakers for me in old homes!

  2. What a great staircase! I love all the light, the turns, and being able to look down to the first floor from so many locations on the second floor. It’s going to be beautiful.

  3. In the 4th picture down you can really see how badly that one wall was sagging. Wow! I bet it feels amazing to have that fixed.

    The staircase is going to be breathtaking. Can’t wait!

  4. I can’t wait to see the progress! I drove through Emporia a few weeks back and took a detour by the house. The photos online do not do justice to the scale of the thing. I now know why it took so long to paint the north wall! You really are a miracle worker and I’m looking forward to 2018 and seeing all that you complete!

  5. There are three things I hold so dearly about the Winter season..

    One, I get to wear more layers of clothes.
    Two, It’s not so bloody hot.
    Three, Ross works on the beautiful interiors of Cross House.

  6. I love seeing what has been hidden in the house for all those years, and find it incredible that so much survived.The staircase is going to look fantastic when you’re done with it.

    If this had been the UK during the same period, you’d have had nothing left. As a child I remember my parents and grandparents tearing fireplaces; Art Nouveau door handles; cast iron bath tubs and panelled doors out of their houses. At the time (mid 70s ) it was the fashion.
    Happy New Year when it arrives and onward & upward for 2018.

  7. If that is oak, and you need more oak. There is a way to get a good amount of antique oak, that is big enough and people don’t think of it!

    Look at getting barn wood, but the “gray” crap everyone is going nuts on but the beams. Around here Missouri and sure Kansas too….a ton of barns were built out of local oak and the wood is is long, straight and period appropriate…

  8. I can’t get over how the previous owners saved all the house bits they removed or were broken. This is truly incredible. In any other old house, the bits would be long gone and the restorer would search through antique stores for parts and pay $$$ to have some pieces remade to match the original. I wonder if the Cross house is so fortunate due to its huge basement and attic. Plenty of storage, so why throw it away?

  9. Dear Ross,

    The wood is likely to be quarter-sawn oak. This is wood which has been cut from a section of a log which aims towards the center of the former tree. Not only does the grain run in parallel lines, but there are these wonderful wavy cross grain rays. Quarter-sawn wood is the most stable of the woods having little if any tendency to cup or twist. The alternative, plain sawn oak, has a much coarser look to the grain, which sort of swirls as it cuts through the tree rings nearer the edge of the log. There is no appearance of parallel lines to the grain and their are no rays.

    Although you did not post this, I assume that there are fillets between the balusters on the underside of the railing as well. They may or may not have the same profile as the lower fillets. I would love it if you would post a picture that shows these too.

    R Thomas Frock is a Baltimore company that specializes in making all but the turned parts on their molding machine. They make the custom knives for the moldings in house. They also sell wood. Ted Frock, the owner, can tell you more if you call him. I have used his company to match moldings, wood siding and flooring with good results. It might be worthwhile to get a bid from them. Here is the link to their site.

  10. As a professional woodworker and antique furniture restorer, retired, I suspect that your newel post is hollow. I can assure you that aligning dowels can be a nightmare with limited success. If so you could have a piece of oak that is as long as the repaired post and would fit snugly inside both parts of the old post.The part that was not removed should be sufficiently secure that sliding a post inside it followed by sliding the top part over such a post might be sufficiently strong structurally.
    The construction of the hollow post could have lots of corner block to make it stronger along its length. The piece of wood I am suggesting would need to have its corners removed to allow it to fit if such blocks exist, but the advantage would be that it might not need glue. The piece that you are putting inside the post should be in situ for several months before it is milled because it should have the same amount of moisture in it as the original when it is installed. The old barn posts would be ideal for all parts needing replacement as long as they are kept inside for a while. You should certainly not use nails to secure it because they will split the wood and tear it causing even more damage as it expands and contracts with normal changes in temperature and humidity. With my furniture restoration clients, I have used the analogy of a surgeon using stainless steel thread to sew a patient up. It would be fine as long as the patient didn’t move even to breathe. Nails tear wood up. They can be used to secure wood in place, but they never add to its structural strength.

    • Thanks, Stewart!

      My handrails were originally attached to the newel post via two screws at the bottom. I had planned on recreating this attachment.

      • Ah yes, but the screws do not serve (much of) a structural purpose. They will still weaken the wood. I can’t say if it will be weakened enough to be unsafe at any time.

        The way I look at the pictures, all of the weight is borne by the beam below via the shoe and balusters. Ideally there would be some wood joinery, such as a tenon going into a mortise in the post to hold the weight.

        I had a house with a similar banister, balusters with fillets between, and shoe sitting on shoe that sat on a joist with face molding. It needed to have the rail at the bottom landing removed every time a large piece of furniture needed to be up or down from the second floor. I cut a dovetailed slot vertically at each end of the rail. I made a male dovetail counterpart from a separate piece of wood with enough of a square cut rectangular end that I could attach it to the post by installing it in a mortise that I cut in the post. I could then install and remove it at will. Its weight made it unnecessary to keep it from moving anywhere but up when I wanted the clearance, otherwise I would have used a screw on each side to hold it in place. In reality I turned the entire rail to shoe arrangement into a single piece so that I wasn’t having to reassemble balusters etc each time I made a furniture change.

        I thought about that one for years before figuring out how to do it so it would be structurally sound with invisible joinery. It may sound difficult to those who don’t work with wood and woodworking tools, but any really skilled woodworker could do it.

  11. While it’s a shame the middle stained glass window was inside a cabinet, it delights me to no end to think of how lucky the occupant of the round bedroom apartment was to see it every time they opened their cabinet door.

      • In the 1929 conversion, it appears the round bedroom apartment’s kitchen layout resulted in the middle stair window hidden away by what looks like a cabinet, so the window would be to one’s left after opening the cabinet door. It would have been a delight anytime they opened the cabinet door!

  12. Aside from the stained glass, the stair hall is my favorite part of the house. Not sure why, but I have always been fascinated by beautiful stairways. I can’t wait to hear the tales of this project and certainly to see the stair hall returned to it’s original glory. That might just require me to host a reception for the stair hall!!!!!

  13. I have often wondered how the Restorer Extraordinaire aka Ross keeps it going & fresh??? I think the answer lies in the minutiae & artisanal details!! The amazing detailed & extraordinary Cross House never ceases to cause awe & wonder even when a wreck most horrific & of biblical proportions!!!

  14. In the picture captioned “The missing section of angled rail for the east side,” has the spindle on the left been removed and replaced upside down? The balls on the other spindles spiral up to the right but that one spirals up to the left.

    So wonderful that you have so many of the missing bits stashed away!

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