With the signing of the Homestead Act and thousands of settlers coming to the prairie, the Soddy became the most efficient and affordable dwelling. Needing very little cash outlay, a soddy could be built in a day with the help of neighbors.
Due to the heavy root system in prairie grass, the sod cut from it was strong and made excellent “bricks”. The sod was cut in strips and then cut into individual blocks which were stacked to create the walls.
A downside of this building material was the infestation of bugs, snakes and mice, and the fact it was very susceptible to heavy rains. The upside, though, was the insulating factor of the dirt blocks – cool in the summer, warm in the winter – and that it provided safety from prairie fires.
The basic size of a sod house was 10 x 20 feet, one large room that accommodated all the family activities. With the bare dirt floor, keeping the house clean was difficult and water was put on the floor on a regular basis to pack down the dirt.
The sod blocks are well-seen in this picture of the dining area. I found particular charm in the tin can with a geranium growing on the windowsill, thinking of the prairie women who would pick a small bunch of wildflowers to brighten their otherwise drab environs.
The floor of this soddy had a braided rag rug, commonly made from worn out clothes and textiles. These braided rugs were fairly commonplace in the prairie home.
You will note the sparseness of furnishings in the sod house, with only the barest necessities evident. A wall in this soddy held a few pegs for clothing and a cabinet with a few dishes. Material possessions were sparse.
I have heartfelt admiration for the pioneers in America. While owning little but the land, they created a home out of the very earth they homesteaded, worked, raised families,with many eventually leaving their sod home when they had the means to build with lumbar.
In some instances the soddy became a storage building or shed, but for those abandoned when the family moved on, they eventually disintegrated and became once again part of the land from whence they came.Books of Interest
Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-78.
Home on the Plains: Quilts and the Sod House Experience
To visit this sod house, go to the Santa Fe Trail Center, 1349 K-156 Hwy, Larned, KS. Call for hours of operation.
My grandfather was born in a Soddy in Reno County, Kansas in 1888. The home was built in around 1880. While it did feature a hard packed floor, the interior walls were whitewashed with Lime. This was a good defense from bugs and mice and such! I remember the remnants of the old Soddy when I was a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s. The home had been used for a storage building for years and as such it had been maintained! My great-grandparents were all gone by the 1920’s, but they lived in the Soddy from 1880 until the early 20’s! It was cheap, easy to maintain and warm by winter and cool by summer! Our family sold the home-quarter in the 1970’s. The old Soddy was then bulldozed and farmed over. My granddad and six siblings were born in that old Soddy during the go forty some years it was a home.
My Paternal Grandfather grew up in a soddy, He found it warm in the winter, cool in the summer and the best home he knew. Growing up on the plains of Kansas, the timber frame houses were cold in comparison. My dad often told me of going to bed with a hot bottle and waking with a bottle of solid ice in the morning.