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Housing in Kansas History

People who lived in the area we now call Kansas often used materials available to them to create their dwellings. American Indians were the first residents in Kansas, and used entirely natural products to build their homes. The ancestors of the Pawnee lived in earth lodges in the central and northern part of Kansas. These lodges were partially or completely subterranean. The ancestors of the Wichita lived in grass lodges in the southern part of the state. These lodges were built above ground out of branches and prairie grass. Plains tribes lived in tipis made of leather supported by wooden poles since their housing needed to be more portable, such as following the herds on buffalo hunts.

The most basic dwelling on the frontier in western Kansas was the dugout. These were simple dwellings, usually dug into a dirt bank and with a sod roof. While some contained wooden boards, most had rough poles to hold the sod. The dugout was generally comfortable and functional during dry weather but often flooded during rainy periods. The early settlers to this area built these lodgings as temporary measures.

Sod houses required little expenditure because they usually were built of local materials. Native grasses and their roots that held the dirt together were cut into rectangles to be used as building blocks in the house. The labor expended was relatively moderate, but sod houses had to be rebuilt or abandoned periodically because of water damage and infestation by vermin. Attempts to keep a sod house clean were usually frustrated by dirt and insects falling down from the walls and ceiling. Most settlers lived in sod houses only long enough to gather the resources to build more livable frame dwellings.

European American settlers created more durable structures. Stone was the most durable material for early buildings in Kansas. However, it demanded much skill from the builder, and its use was dependent upon the availability of mortar. Stone houses covered a wide range of styles, from the humblest cabin to multi-storied residences.

Lumber became the most common type of building material for houses in Kansas. Sawmills were established in eastern Kansas in the earliest days of the territorial period. They quickly began to supply lumber to fuel the building boom. Some settlers ordered prefabricated frame houses from factories in the East. Thousands of frame houses dotted the Kansas landscape during the late 19th century.

As Kansas became more settled, residents built a variety of home styles. The date of a city's founding can often be determined by the style of the houses.

Entry: Housing in Kansas History

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.