The Cross House

Year Five Begins!

I took possession of the Cross House in March, 2014. So, I now begin year #5!

In 2014, the house was a huge and somewhat terrifying mystery. I knew nothing about its architect, Charles Squires, and little about Victorian-era architecture. The house clearly had numerous structural issues but I had no idea what had caused them or how to repair the damage. In the basement was a large room filled with bits pulled from the house for over a century. My brain would go numb looking at hundreds and hundreds of bits. How could I possibly ever figure out where everything had originally been? All the systems (heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical) were in such a state that I wanted to run screaming from the house.

Today? I smile at recalling all this. Today, I know the Cross House intimately. Charles Squires now feels like an old friend, and as I drive around town I can pick out his work. While I am knowledgeable about architecture, I was largely ignorant of Victorian-era architecture. Today, this knowledge gap has been erased and I smile knowing that the Cross House isn’t just a fine example of the Queen Anne style but is rather a fine example of the Queen Anne Free Classic style. Today, all the structural issues have been identified and all, save one, repaired. The Aladdin’s Cave in the basement is no more for I did manage, bit by bit, to find where all the pieces went. Today, less than a handful remain unidentified. Sadly, I still want to run screaming from the house because of the plumbing and electrical but the heating and cooling is now beloved by me.

In 2014, the exterior of the house was…overwhelming. It was so huge and in such poor repair that my brain would seize up trying to figure out where to even start. It seemed impossible that I could ever manage to make the exterior the beauty it surely had been in 1894. Today though the west and north facades are beautiful again. Gloriously so. The east facade looks a lot better than it did in 2014, but the poor south facade has remained untouched. But…but…2018 will change that!

In 2014, the main porch was a sad remnant of what it had once been. There were no railings and 6×6 posts had replaced many of the original columns. Today, all the columns are back in place, either having been restored or recreated. Railings have reappeared. And the porch ceiling? It is now a shocking coral color! I know! But, this was a popular color for porch ceilings in the 1890s.

In 2014, I was vaguely aware that the house originally had gas lighting. Only later did I realize that the house has gas/electric lighting, which would have been advanced for 1894, and stunningly so for a small town in Kansas. I also learned that the house originally had no electrical outlets. For, no electrical devices yet existed! And nor did the house have light switches in every room. Rather, each chandelier socket was individually controlled.

In 2014, I had zero idea of what a kitchen in 1894 would have looked like. If I tried to imagine I would have conjured up something from the 1920s. Today, I feel a bit like a Victorian-era kitchen expert! I now know that kitchens have evolved from “island” kitchens (where there were no built-ins and everything revolved around a center table) to “fitted” kitchens (where everything is built-in, a shift which really got its start in the 1920s). In 1894, the kitchen of the Cross House would have contained a cast-iron stove, a sink, and a large table in the center. That is it. There would have almost certainly been no built-ins. However, the adjacent butler’s pantry and main pantry were fully built-in (and the former contains a built-in ice chest). In short, Victorian-era kitchens were all about preparation not storage. But I did not know that in 2014.

In 2014, I had zero idea what an early 1890s bathroom looked like. Was this the era of high tank toilets? Well, I now know that it was! And I also now know just what sinks and faucets and tubs and tile of the era looked like. In the first-floor bathroom, I was able to “reconstruct” how it was originally laid out due to micro clues left behind. In the second-floor full bath, more micro clues showed that the room originally had very tall wood wainscoting. As it will again.

In 2014, I had not a clue that the house had a largely intact speaking tube system, missing only four mouthpieces. Today, I have acquired four mouthpieces. Wow. I also had no clue in 2014 that the house originally had a dumbwaiter but remnants of this was discovered and plans are underway to recreate this wondrous lost feature.

In 2014, the pocket doors in the house worked. Sorta kinda. They did open/close but only by doing battle with them and I had no idea of how to restore them to proper working order. Indeed, I fretted over this. Fretted! Today, thanks to the brilliant Stephen, all the doors slide back/forth happily and I smile in recalling their ever acting otherwise.

In 2014 I had crossed my fingers that the house would receive a Heritage Trust Fund grant. Please, please, let this grant come though. It did, in 2015. And then a second such grant in 2017. This was unimaginable in 2014, for while I have long been used to getting kinda beat up by life, I am soooooooo not familiar with having gifts fall from the sky.

When I purchased the house I had a vague idea about creating a blog to document this great adventure and was told that such a blog would likely attract about 500 views a month. Wow, I thought. But how to create a blog? This just seemed overwhelming. Today, blogging has become an integral part of my life and the blog gets about 135,000 views a month. And this number is growing. So, you crazy readers, thank you.

These past four years have gone by both quickly and glacially, if that makes sense. The two best years of my life centered on the house, 2014 and 2017. Indeed, the house really saved me in 2017, as I wrote about in my year-end post.

And there are, too, times of great stress and financial anxiety, but not a moment has passed where I felt that buying the house was a mistake. Indeed, buying this huge old insane wreck is the best thing I have ever done.

I look forward to many more years.


Shortly after I purchased the house.





19 Responses to Year Five Begins!

  1. Congratulations to you and a successful 5 years! Maybe you can start a new Aladdin’s cave, of bits and pieces you’ve bought to install in the house. What is the one structural issue you still have to resolve?

    • The servant’s stair tower in the NE corner is being pushed away from the body of the house by the thrust of the massive roof. I need to fix this issue.

  2. Congratulations!

    I admire what you’re doing. It’s an understatement to say it’s a lot of work! Most people would run screaming from a project like this.

  3. Congratulations, Cross house just looks so much happier and warmer now. It’s incredible the amount of restoration you have achieved. I can’t wait for the restoration of the south side and for the the East and South side to be as beautiful as the West and north side has become. Internally it is amazing the transformation you have made. And you’ll work out how to fix the servants stair tower I have no doubt. You found Cross house in the absolute nick of time. I’m not sure she would have survived too many more storms. But now she will survive for at least another 100 years and hopefully more. That’s an incredible achievement. Well done

  4. Happy 5th Anniversary Ross. You have made such a change to this wonderful house, ensuring the place can stand proudly for another Century.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of your progress throughout the year, and hopefully some of it in person!
    Happy weekend in Kansas from a rather hot Dubai.

  5. Dang, you have come a long ways in the four years. I’m sure the ‘to do’ list still seems awfully long but the important work to protect the integrity of the structure is mostly done. Also the exterior aesthetics is coming along nicely. Sounds like the grant for this years work will pretty well take care of the rest of the critical items. We have little doubt there will be great progress again this year. And you are having some fun along the way! This fabulous house is in good hands! Good work, sir! Carry on, McDuff – er, MacTaggart!

  6. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments these past four years — not the least of which is this amazing blog. The dedication you have to sharing your work on Cross House, your lighting business, and your feline adventures and personal musings — in itself, would be a full time job for most. Thank you, Ross!

  7. Ross, my grandfather and father are looking down from heaven and smiling at what you have done. I so wish they could be here to personally witness the marvelous transformation you have made to this beautiful house

  8. Year 5 began for us in our Free Classic Queen Anne last month. We were just marveling over supper tonight about how our intentions for the house have changed. We had even contemplated new windows (horror). In part thanks to your blog, our eyes were opened to the world of restoration and now one of our very favorite things we have done/are doing to the house is restoring the windows. You have inspired us so, and the effects of your work are reaching far beyond the Cross House! Cheers!

  9. Congratulations on 4 Years of uncovering and polishing the many facets of this grand jewel of a home. I wish for you, fair weather & smooth sailing in this 5th year. 🌞

    🎉 Cheers, Ross! 🍷

  10. The house needs a pop of color. Right now it is too monochromatic. Something is missing. Just my humble opinion.

  11. Ross, you have learned so much in the past four years. You knew nothing about Victorian architecture or the way Victorians decorated. Now you are practically an expert. You do your own thing, never copy what has been done in the past. You have done an amazing job on the restoration of the Cross House. Can’t wait to see each new room that you tackle. When you say I have restored the parlor, these few words can’t begin to tell how much work went into that room. This is a massive project, but what better man to do it than you. Best of luck this coming year, I know it will be a productive and fun one.

  12. Congratulations Ross, on a huge job well done. I wish I could remember the Cross House from my college days in Emporia so many years ago, but I’m so happy I was able to visit this year and see it in person. Pictures are nice, but they just simply do not do justice to the beauty of the Cross House. Thank you for sharing the details of your adventure with those of us who have neither the patience nor the ability to do what you are so bravely attacking. I am anxiously waiting to see the South facade completed. It has such interesting architectural detail that I’m sure it will be just as beautiful as the West and North are today.

  13. I don’t have much time to write, because I lost an hour last night somewhere, and I’m already behind today 🙂 But I did want to say: Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your belief in the Cross House, and for sharing your adventures on your blog. You’ve inspired me. Maybe not to take on a restoration, but I think I can tackle making my own home more beautiful. Here’s to the oasis of beauty you’re creating on the Kansas prairie, and the ripples of beauty you’re inspiring in Nebraska, and around the world. Love you.

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