On July Fourth, one of the most iconic cabins in America will turn 140 years old.
And, on that day on the banks of Beaver Creek in Smith County, there will be a party — complete with music, food and plenty of people to celebrate one of the world’s most beloved folk songs, “Home on the Range.”
The cabin and surrounding land inspired Brewster Higley in the fall of 1873 to write a six-verse poem he called "My Western Home.”
It was later set to music and became the words to “Home on the Range,” the Kansas state song.
The celebration on July 4 is a fitting tribute to the support Kansans have shown in recent years to help restore the cabin, said El Dean Holthus, whose aunt and uncle, Ellen and Pete Rust, owned the property for nearly 75 years. He is now helping coordinate efforts to restore the cabin.
The July event also will give Kansans a chance to see the cabin before major restoration efforts begin.
“Finally we can tell the people in Wichita and all over the state who have supported us that something is finally going to happen,” Holthus said.
Contract bids will be let this summer.
“Our hope is that the work can be completed by July 4, 2014, which would allow us to rededicate with a two-day celebration,” he said.
The cabin, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, needs $80,000 to $100,000 in repairs to restore it to its original integrity.
Work needed includes removing dirt on the north side of the cabin that is pushing on the wall, landscaping the 15 acres surrounding the cabin, and building nature walks, foot bridges and a handicap-accessible entry walk to the cabin.
The Ellen Rust Living Trust has money to maintain the property but not for the improvements, Holthus said.
So far $60,000 has been raised, including $6,000 from the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund. More than $20,000 came from the Wichita area. An additional $2,000 was raised by Kansas schoolchildren in a “Coins for the Cabin” fundraiser. The money raised will allow much of the restoration work to proceed, Holthus said.
“We felt that because of the tremendous financial support from Wichita and the surrounding area those donors were entitled to have a positive report,” Holthus said.
If money is available, future projects will include providing a security system and purchasing historically appropriate items for the cabin.