House linked to Roesler family of Roesler Opera House
CLAFLIN -- Barton County Historical Society Museum research expert Karen Neuforth helped the Tribune track down some of the history of Chris McCord’s newly renovated house in Claflin. After searching the U.S. Census archives, as well as archived issues of The Claflin Clarion, that city’s newspaper, now defunct, the following profile emerged.
The house once belonged to the son of Frank Roesler, one of the original homesteading families in the area, and one of the original town founders. It remained in that family for the past 75 years.
From modest beginnings, Frank Roesler became a prominent businessman Claflin.
According to a 50th wedding anniversary notice in the July 6, 1916 edition of the Clarion, Frank and his wife, Caroline, were married at LaCrosse, Wis. on July 3, 1966, and had lived in Claflin for the past 38 years. Roesler had served during the Civil War in Co. C., Ninth Wisconsin. They had five children living: Alfred and Emanuel of Claflin, a married daughter and son Frank Roesler, Jr. of Hoisington, and a married daughter in Stillwater, Okla.
Mr. Roesler early on had a hand in several businesses in the surrounding area. He and his daughter, Effie, signed the petition for the town to be incorporated as a city in 1901.
Frank was also on the Board of Directors for the Farmer’s Bank and Trust in 1902, and had the Roesler Opera House built in 1909. That building today houses First Kansas Bank.
McCord’s house was built by Walter Schumacher after he purchased the land from Ida Campbell in 1911. Schumacher mortgaged it in 1928, but it was taken back by the bank in 1931. Joseph E. Roesler and his wife Pauline bought it in 1940. Joseph was the son of Frank Jr.
Joseph E. Roesler Sr. died in 1949. He and Pauline had one son, Joseph Jr. The house was finally bequeathed to Pauline by her brother-in-law, the executor of her husband’s estate, in 1964. At some point after that, Pauline and son moved out of the house. Pauline bequeathed it to her son in 1992, and died in 1996. McCord purchased it from the conservator of Joseph Jr.’s estate in 2015. The house had sat untouched for 30-40 years. It was like a time capsule, McCord said.
BY VERONICA COONS | firstname.lastname@example.org
CLAFLIN — Chris McCord has a thing for old structures. Especially those in Ellinwood. But one August day in 2015, as fate would have it, an index card on a gas station in Bushton caught his eye. Someone was advertising, “early 1900s house for sale in Claflin,” and, as McCord remembers, it was as if the house was calling out to him, pleading for help. He simply couldn’t turn away.
This was not the first time he felt that pull. In the past five years, he has purchased and transformed Ellinwood’s Historic Wolf Hotel into a landmark business. Room by room, floor by floor, he has unearthed history from layers of dust and long-forgotten items stored away for a “sometime” that never arrived. More recently, he purchased another Ellinwood commercial building for the benefit of the Ellinwood Historical Society, so a museum could once again be opened to display the town’s treasures. Ellinwood’s Underground tour has been enhanced by his hand, and there are plans in the works to renovate an old Valentine Diner on Santa Fe Ave.
The first look
Back to that August day. With miles to drive before reaching home, he contacted the phone number listed on the card. It belonged to a real estate agent, a friend of his from Larned. He asked her to tell him about the house, but she was puzzled. The house, she said, was not even officially listed yet. She couldn’t think of who could have posted the card.
She gave him directions to the house, and told him how to gain entry if he wanted to look at it. He admitted, he was merely curious at that point, with no real intention of buying the property.
“I walked in the back door, and was blown away,” he said. “I bought it the next day.”
Curiosity draws in help
Now, for most homebuyers, the collapsed ceilings, the belongings apparently ransacked by wildlife, and outdated, shabby carpet would have been enough to send them running. But not Chris. He described the American Foursquare style house as strong and sound. Certainly, there was a good deal wrong cosmetically, with all the deferred maintenance. Original woodwork, fixtures, hardware mirrors and more were the things that sang out to him.
After arranging to buy the house, McCord brought in friends and colleagues who had helped him time and again with the Historic Wolf Hotel and other projects. Beth Brummer and Kelli Penner. He also brought in Megan Farmer of Claflin.
He pitched them on his vision for the house, and soon, they were preparing for the necessary work to clear out all the stuff -- rotten and faded furnishings, curtains, books, papers, debris, etc. They sorted and sifted through the mess, room by room, ensuring first that nothing of historical value was disposed of.
Farmer grew up in Claflin. She remembers as a child, the yard and landscaping was always overgrown, making the old house appear spooky, maybe even haunted.
“None of us ever really knew what was in here,” she said. “Once I learned he bought it, I jumped on board. It’s just the mystery of the place. I wanted to see what was in it.”
This was her first time working on a project with McCord. She enjoyed it, despite the fact it was a lot of work. It’s something she’s always had an interest in, but never the right opportunity. There are a lot of little things she never even thought of that would go into renovating a house, things that McCord knows because of the projects he’s completed.
“I enjoyed being part of transforming it, breathing some life back into it,” she said. “It’s really what it needed.”
Beth spends about 40 hours a week at the Historic Wolf Hotel. Volunteering.
“We always have a project,” she said. “I’m sure, after this, there will be another house waiting.”
House is once again ready to be a home
Today the house, sided in cheery yellow with white trim, no longer looks out of place amongst its equally attractive neighbors on Fourth Street between W. Hamilton and W. Williamson streets. Less than two years ago, trees, vines and weeds had grown up around the house, giving it the atmosphere of a haunted house. McCord and his helpers cut down, ripped back, and disposed of the overgrowth.
He had a mission-style door custom made for the house. The original door came with sidelights, which Chris was not aware were still in place. When he pulled away siding, they were revealed. Still, he had ordered a mission-style door with bevelled and leaded glass and sidelights, and opted to use it as planned. The original door along with other architectural pieces, like the french pocket doors from between the dining room and living room, leaded glass cabinet doors, and sconcesare all neatly tucked away in the basement.
“I have every single piece to this house. I didn’t throw a single thing away,” he said. “Down to the keys, I have it all.”
Original light fixtures, and hardware in the house have “japanned” finish which, according to historical renovation sites, is an old technique in which brass and lacquer are combined for an effect that would be difficult to reproduce today.
Original bevelled mirrors remain, as do glass doorknobs, built in benches, wood paneling along the stairway and trim throughout the house.
On the west side of the second floor is a sleeping porch. These were popular early in the 1900s, for a few reasons. First, there was no air conditioning, and a sleeping porch provided access to the cool morning air without worry of insects. Second, it was touted as beneficial for those suffering with tuberculosis, one of the main causes of death at the time. It was also considered beneficial to health in general.
When McCord opened the home up to The Tribune in late May, the floors were gleaming, workers were completing the installation of a modern HVAC system, and McCord’s friends were busy putting the finishing touches on the furnishings and fixtures in the living room. Earlier in the process, he updated the bathrooms and thoroughly insulated the house for increased energy efficiency. Gas and water lines and modern wiring and ceilings were installed. His goal was to make the house comfortable and mechanically sound.
The kitchen renovation was last. Now, interaction between spaces is possible, something that wasn’t as important nearly 100 years ago. To help maintain the period feel, he framed it in moulding custom made to match that around the doors and windows throughout the home. It’s a matter of understanding the needs of people.
Work is therapy
“In small towns, we justify tearing things down so easily,” McCord said. “I think there is something therapeutic about renovation.”
He also points to the fact he gets to work with people he likes. It’s not a big money maker, he admits, but he has been able to provide employment, and in the end, there is a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction felt, having saved yet another piece of the area’s heritage.
The house also includes a four-car detached garage, plus two additional sheds. These, McCord said, will be a project for the next owner. While he hoped to make the house his own originally, he has since decided the daily drive to Ellinwood is too much. The hotel, he admits, is his heart and soul, but this project has been very rewarding. Currently, he has let the house short-term to two scientists from Fort Hays State University. Soon, he will list it for sale.