Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Warren/Cocks/Romig/Kitchen/Clark/Willet Farmhouse at Maple Hill, Kansas

Greetings to all!    I'm back from my trip to Europe.   Unfortunately, I caught some kind of viral infection while on the river cruise and it really knocked me out for a couple of weeks.   I missed some of the planned excursions on the trip and just sort of "languished" for a week or so when returned home.    I'm feeling better now and I want to get back to writing.

During mid-June, I attended the 50th reunion of my Maple Hill High School graduating class of 1962.    Eight of the ten members of my class were present (there were 41 students in MHHS at the time I graduated) and we enjoyed talking about old times and getting caught up with each other, as well as talking about our grandchildren and those kinds of things.   All ten of my classmates are living and well, but for one reason or another, two were not able to attend.   The Alumni Association invites those who may have attended but didn't graduate from MHHS.   Among those present were Brent and Douglas Kitchen.   They went thought the first eight grades at MHHS, but then transferred to Rossville High School.   It was good to see them again.  Brent now lives in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri and Doug lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

In February 1973, I bought 10 acres and what was then known as the Kitchen House, from their parents Oliver and Shirley Kitchen.    I owned the property from 1973 until 2005, when I sold it to Jeff and Annette Willett.   Doug and I were talking about the old house and how much we both enjoyed living there and he asked me about it's history.   I told him about the blog and promised to write what I knew after returning home.    Here's the fulfillment of that promise.

This is a 1975 photograph of the ashlar stone house built in 1890 by Senator William Willets Cocks on 600 acres located three miles west of Maple Hill, Kansas.  The house was built with a gambrel roof line, which is common to Long Island, New York, where Senator Cocks was born and raised, but is one of the only gambrel roof line homes in Wabaunsee County, Kansas. 

The land on which the house is located, was a part of the Potawatomi Indian Reservation until becoming a part of those sections of land granted to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad by the United States Government.   When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad sold the land, the funds were to be used to cover construction and operation costs of building their railroad across Kansas.    To obtain land from the Indians to be used for the grants, the United States Government negotiated a treaty with the Potawatomi Indian Nation which provided for the present reservation north of Topeka, Kansas in Jackson County and also provided lands in southcentral Oklahoma for the removal of a majority of tribal families.  Nearly 3,000,000 acres was sold by the Potawatomi.

I became interested in the history of Maple Hill Township while a high school student and after purchasing the Kitchen property, I visited many times with William Sprague "Bill" Warren and his brother John Dura "Jack" Warren about how their family, native to Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York came to own Kansas lands.  I wrote the story of their family for "New Branches from Old Trees: A New History of Wabaunsee County, Kansas," published by the Wabaunsee County Historical Socity in 1976.

It was a tragic financial loss that brought the Warren and other related famlies to Maple Hill Township.   The Warren Family was an old, distinguished and wealthy New England Family that traced its heritage to the Mayflower Colonists.  The family lived in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York States from the 1600s until moving to Maple Hill Township in 1873.

Bill Warren told me that various members of the family had invested heavily in banks and railroads following the Civil War.  Banks loaned money to the railroads to build lines to the growing Midwest and West.   Credit in the form of loans and bonds was extended to railroads when there was no more collateral than the paper on which bonds were printed.    As a result, some of the nation's largest financial institutions failed in what became known as The Railroad Panic of 1873.   As a result, many families, the brokers, banks and construction companies failed and went into foreclosure.   Among those who lost their family fortunes were the Warren and Cheney Families.

Bill and Jack Warren told me that their grandfather, William Henry Warren, was a successful banker and stock broker in New York City.   His father, Dura Warren and his wife Meletiah (Childs) Warren lived in Connecticut and owned a successful inn and horse breeding farm.   They had invested money in stocks and bonds with their son, William Henry Warren.   When the companies failed, the stocks and bonds became worthless.

Their salvation came in the form of three Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway bonds which had been purchased at $1,000 face value by William Henry Warren for his wife Meletiah (Childs) Warren.   There were coupons attached to the bonds which entitled the holder of each bond to purchase up to 600 acres of Kansas land at no more than $2.50 per acre.   Ruined by the financial panic which occurred in August 1873, the families decided to sell their properties in the East, taking what they could get, rent a railroad boxcar for their possessions, cash in their bonds, and move to Kansas where they could start over.

Bill Warren said they were not able to sell the bonds for the full $3,000 face value, but had to take a discount of $1,000.   Their total cash capital was $2,000 plus an additional $1,000 raised from property sales for a total of $3,000.  The decision having been made, the family bravely boarded a passenger train bound for St. Marys, Kansas.   They arrived there the second week in November, 1873 just as winter approached.   Those in the party were: Dura anad Meletiah (Childs) Warren and two unmarried children, Charles and Annie Warren.  A third child, William Henry Warren and his wife Maria Joy (Cheney) Warren and their son, William Warren, Jr., and Mrs. Warren's parents Samuel and Julia Cheney, and Mrs. Warren's sister Ellen Cheney Thayer and her husband Albert F. Thayer.  There were eleven in all.

I took this photograph of the William Henry Warren home west of Maple Hill in 1975.  The house was built in 1874.  In 1975, the house was occupied by William Henry Warren's grandsons, William Sprague "Bill" and John Dura "Jack" Warren.  Since their deaths, the house has been sold to Bud and Catherine Hund of Paxico, who have done extensive restoration work there.   This house and the Dura and Meletiah Warren House were built from the same floor plan.   The bay-window conservatory which was built in front of the downstairs left windows has been been removed, as has the pantry on the first-floor rear of the house.   There was also a front porch over the front steps, which has been replaced by the Hunds.  Imagine building this house for $200 today???

The families rented rooms at St. Marys and settled in for the winter.  They rented livery buggies and wagons and visited lands in the Mill Creek Valley, where Frederick Raymond and William Pierce had already purchased ranches.   Mr. Raymond and Mr. Pierce were the bachelor nephews of men who were on the board of directors of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad which was mostly controlled by Boston merchants and businessmen.  They advised the Warrens, Cheneys and Thayers to purchase Sectoins 15, 16, 21 and 22 at $1.25 per acre for a total of $3,000.   They purchased all of the land and then sold the north half of Section 16 to the Clothier family for $2.50 per acre netting them $800.

These sums seem minuscule today, when we think of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 600 acre section of pasture land, but to these families who had been wealthy and were suddenly at poverty's door, they were equally significant.

With the remaining $800, the families contracted to have 400 acres of prairie broken and planted to wheat the next spring.   In addition, there was an entire colony of Swedish immigrants living in St. Marys, Kansas.   These families included many talented stone masons.   The Warren and Thayer families contracted with the colony to have stone quarried from their pastures used for the construction of three very large dwellings and two barns.

Two-story identical homes were built for William Henry Warren and Maria Joy Warren and for his parents, Dura and Meletiah (Childs) Warren.   Each of these houses was to have a large parlor, a central hallway, a sitting room with bay window conservatory, a dining room, a large eat-in kitchen, a pantry, and six bedrooms on the second floor.  The third floor was to be finished as two large rooms for storage and dormitory sleeping area for hired help.  The second floor was also to have a "toilet" room which was configured the same as an outhouse, but had chamber pots under the two-hole seats.  Each house was to also have a partial basement with a tornado shelter.   Since stone house collapse into basements when hit by tornadoes, the houses had small "rooms" built in the basements.   The rooms had stone walls with large walnut logs overhead substantial enough to prevent collapse.   The Swedish masons were to quarry the stone and provide construction of stone walls, wooden framing and plastering.    The windows, doors, cabinetry and millwork came from Kansas City, Missouri.

They Thayers also had a stone house built which was slightly smaller and included only four bedrooms but also had a finished attic and a large living room, dining room and eat-in kitchen.   There were porches across both the north and south exteriors.  Albert F. Thayer and William Henry Warren had both received an excellent education which included degrees from the Massachusetts College of Agriculture.   Albert F. Thayer was also hired as a construction engineer for several Midwestern railroads.   Bill Warren said that he recalled his father saying that the houses and barns were designed by William Henry Warren and Albert F. Thayer.

With their hopes soaring, the families awaited the harvest of their 400-acre wheat crop in the late summer, 1874.   Wheat was at an all-time high price and they thought that they would gain enough funds from the sale of their crop to fence in their properties, break more cropland from native pasture ground, and purchase additional seed wheat for 1875.    However, just as the crop was ready to harvest, The Great Grasshopper Plague of 1874 descended upon their fields and those of farmers in the entire Midwest.   Not a single stalk of wheat was harvested.

Bill Warren used to shake his head when I'd ask him about where they got money to survive the winter and plant crops the next year.   He would simply said, "I don't know.   They never said where it came from."   His guess is that other relatives in the East or wealthy friends in Boston and New York lent the money to them, but he said his father never said where the money came from.

Bumper crops were harvested in the next two years, with yields of 30 to 38 bushels per acre.   In 1877, the Maple Hill news reporter for the Wabaunsee Signal Enterprise reported that William H. Warren had purchased a new wheat harvester and binder and would be using it on his own farm as well as contracting to harvest grain on other farms.  The families were doing well.

In 1885, disaster again visited the new settlers.   The following article was included in the Maple Hill News items:  December 9 – A serious fire occurred in Maple Hill on Thursday morning when the beautiful stone residence of Mr. and Mrs. Dura Warren with the contents was destroyed.   Mrs. Warren was first made aware of the fire when her maid came into her chamber screaming fire.   They barely got out from upstairs when parts began to collapse.  The men were husking in the field and Rev. Crouch and family, who live opposite their former home, were there almost as quickly as the women got out, but the fire was too hot and all was lost.  Mr. Isaac Stephenson was nearly killed while trying to retrieve winter provisions from the basement when the walls caved in on him but miraculously escaped.  The source of the fire was a faulty flue.  Neighbors who saw the smoke came from three or four miles.   They will make their temporary home with their daughter-in-law, Mrs. William H. (Maria Joy Cheney) Warren."

Since Mrs. Meletiah Warren was advanced in age, the home was not rebuilt.   The charred basement foundation remained.

In 1890, an acquaintance of William Dura Warren, by the name of Senator William Willets Cocks, purchased 400 acres of land from the Warren family which included the former residence site of Dura and Meletiah (Childs) Warren.   On the old foundation, he built a new eight-room stone house, using the same stone quary on the north side of Old Highway 10, that had been used to provide stone for the earlier stone house.

During the early years of my ownership of this house, I did not know that it had been built on the old Warren House foundation, and I often wondered why all of the basement stone showed signs of being burned.   Much of the stone was red and white, which indicates that it has been exposed to high heat.  Senator Cocks simply cleared out the debris from the fire and used the foundation for his new home.

William Willets Cocks was born at Old Westbury, Nassau County, Long Island on July 24, 1861 and was a contemporary of William Dura Warren.   He was from a wealthy and influencial family and was the son of Isaac Hicks Cocks and his wife Mary Titus (Willets) Cocks.   The Cocks were Quakers and attended meetings weekly near Old Westbury.

Senator William Willets Cocks, Old Westbury, Nassau County, Long Island, New York

William Cocks served as Road Commissioner for Nassau County, during the 1890s and was in office when automobiles began to traverse Long Island.   He served as a State Senator from Nassau County and as a New York Assemblyman from 1903 to 1904.   He was elected to Congress in 1905 and served until 1911.

He was the author and sponsor of the first speed limit and automobile laws for New York State and became quite well-known both in New York and nationally for his advocacy of auto safety.  He was know as the "Quaker Congressman.  He had attended school with President Theodore Roosevelt and was one of his close advisers.  Both men graduated form Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Cocks owned extensive agricultural interests in "the West" including the property at Maple Hill.   His purpose in buying the ranch in Maple Hill Township, was to raise thoroughbred racing horses, which were shipped East to be trained to race.   After purchasing the land, he hired Walter and David Hamilton to staff the operation, which he called "Long Island Farm."   One of the sires on the farm was the grandson of racing legend "Diomed Wilkes," famous both in Europe and America.  The Hamilton's maiden sister, Janet Hamilton, moved into the new stone house with them.   Although Senator Cocks reserved an upstairs room in the house, he usually stayed at the home of his friend, William Dura Warren, one mile to the east.

Senator Cocks lived on the Cocks Estate at Old Westbury all of his life.  He was elected mayor of Old Westbury in 1924 and served in that role until his death on May 24, 1932.  

The Cocks House, Old Westbury, Nassau County, Long Island, New York, is now registered on the National Register of Historic Plaaces.

His death occurred when he was injured while riding one of his horses on his estate.   There is a coincidence in that William Dura Warren also died as the result of a fall from his horse while riding on his ranch west of Maple Hill---but thirty years later.

Senator Cocks sold Long Island Farm to Ulysses Grant Romig in 1907.  Romig and his father, Henry Joseph Romig, moved from near Manhattan, Geary County, Kansas to adjoining farms three miles west of Maple Hill.   Grant Romig was married to Flora Millie Hulse and they raised seven children in the Cocks farmhouse:  Olive May, Margaret Ann, Wendell Grant, Ulysses Reed, Clifford Willis, Mildred Flora and Kenneth Roy Romig.

Ulysses Grant Romig died in 1948 and the farm and home were sold to Oliver and Shirley Kitchen who lifed there until the early 1960s, when they moved to the South living in Florida and Tennessee.
The farm and home were rented to various families until I bought it in February 1973.

The stone home was in pretty bad shape in 1973.   It had old electrical wiring.   It had never had running water or indoor plumbing.   Raccoons had torn fascia boards off and were living in the attic.  The roof leaked buckets of rain.  We moved into the house on Easter weekend in 1973 and lived in one room until work could be completed in other rooms.

When we bought the house, it had four large bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, dining room, living room and parlor downstairs.   The house had a full basement.   We first put on a new roof and then tore out a window which went from the kitchen to the enclosed back porch.   We replaced the window with a door and built a new downstairs bath and laundry room in the enclosed back porch.   Then we took out wall partitions for an upstairs bedroom and built a full bath and office area.  That left three large bedrooms upstairs.  We took out all the windows, replaced some of the sash and reglazed all windows.  Plywood flooring was laidd in the attic and two furnaces and air-conditioning systems were installed in the house, one in the attic and the other in the basement.

The house had a central fireplace and chimney which had not been properly supported in the basement, so the entire fireplace was torn out of the house and rebuilt brick by brick.  The old plaster had been loosened over the years and finally the plaster was torn off, new sheetrock was applied and taped and then the walls were papered or painted.    Most of the work was completed during the seven years my family lived in the house, although some was done after we converted it to rental property and moved out-of-state.    We sold the house to Jeff and Annette Willett and their family in 2005.

While we lived there, we called the property Moundview Farm because when you look out the south windows of the house, you see Buffalo Mound in the distance.   Both children, Nicholas and Amelia were born while we lived at Moundview Farm.  We loved the property and enjoyed having large gardens and raising calves while we lived there.    We were sorry to leave but decided that if we wanted to take advantage of our educations, we had to live elsewhere.

Anyhow---that's as much as I know about the stone house west of Maple Hill built in 1890 by Senator William Willets Cocks. 

Happy Trails!


  1. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.
    Self Storage Quaker Hill CT

    1. I'm glad you liked it. I put a lot of time into doing the research for my blogs and seldom hear from anyone. Hope all is well with you. Nick

  2. This is a great history, Nick! Our office, Flint Hills Real Estate, has the Warren house listed for sale, and it's great to have this history. It's fascinating. Thank you for compiling and recording it - Chris Wilson

  3. Enjoyed reading this post. My paternal great-grandmother, Mina (Florence Almina) Childs, married Dura Warren in 1889. She later married my great-grandfather, Charles William Rice. I remember visiting this stone house as a kid in the 70's or early 80's. Thanks! -Matthew Rice

  4. Thanks for reading and enjoying this article. I'm happy to "meet" you. I'm actually writing a centennial-type novel now about the Warren Family and their transition from city life to the prairies of Kansas. I would like to visit with you more aabout the Childs family, so I'll be contacting you. I'm interested in knowing the correct spelling for Meletiah as well---and wondering if any old family photos survive. Jack and Bill Warren were beloved by most of the youth in Maple Hill, as they were the youth fellowship sponsors at the Maple Hill Community Congregational Church from the 50s through the 70s. They were extraordinary gents. Have a great day Matthew! Nick Clark