‘Home on the Range’ cabin wins grant, but needs more funds

05/05/2014 9:25 AM

08/06/2014 9:37 AM

The 140-year-old cabin where Brewster Higley wrote the words to what is now the Kansas state song, “Home on the Range,” received a $24,600 grant this past month to help in the cabin’s restoration efforts.

The grant awarded by the Kansas State Historical Society will help, landowners say, but it won’t completely restore the national landmark.

The cabin is in critical need of repairs.

The inspiration for “Home on the Range” still stands in its original condition and on its original location along Beaver Creek in Smith County, in north-central Kansas.

The area around the cabin still boasts wildlife and a sky that often overtakes and overwhelms the bowl-shaped horizon.

In the fall of 1872 in Smith County, Higley, a frontier doctor, penned a six-verse poem he called "My Western Home" at the cabin. It was later set to music and became the words to "Home on the Range." The song is known throughout the world.

That’s one reason Kansas Sens. Bob Marshall, R-Fort Scott, and Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, recently co-sponsored Senate Resolution 1822, which recognizes the historical significance of the cabin and encourages Kansas students and others to help raise money for the cabin’s restoration.

Fundraising efforts

The effort to raise an additional $50,000 offers three ways for Kansans to help save the cabin:

“Coins for the Cabin,” asks Kansas students, their teachers and families to donate just a few cents or dollars to the restoration fund.

“If each student in Kansas collected $1 in this effort, there would be adequate funds to begin restoration of the cabin,” said El Dean Holthus, whose aunt and uncle, Ellen and Pete Rust, owned the property for nearly 75 years. This past week, letters were sent to each of Kansas’ 293 school districts encouraging administrators to get their schools involved.

Another option is purchasing a limited edition print of the cabin from Gary Hawk, an award-winning Western watercolor artist who lives in Iola. His paintings have been on display in Cedar Crest and in the Kansas Senate chambers. To order a limited edition print, send a check for $75 made payable to “Hawk Designs” to Gary Hawk, 1415 N. Kentucky, Iola, KS 66749. Proceeds from the prints will benefit the Higley Cabin restoration project.

The third option is to simply make a donation. People wanting to donate may send a check to Ellen Rust Living Trust, 9082 130th Road, Smith Center, KS 66967. Donors who contribute $500 or more will receive a collector’s handmade model of the cabin.

“Schools that collect the most will get a painting,” Holthus said. Those that can raise more than $500 will get a model “Home on the Cabin.”

Last spring, Orin Friesen at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton began a grassroots effort to help raise money for the cabin. More than $25,000 was raised, the majority coming from the Wichita area.

In August, Marshall contacted Holthus with the idea of creating a more statewide approach to the campaign.

If the school campaign succeeds, it won’t be the first time students in Kansas have championed a cause. The ornate box turtle was named the state reptile in 1986 after a campaign by sixth-grade students from Caldwell. The barred tiger salamander was adopted as the state amphibian in 1994 after it was proposed by Alice Potts’ second-grade students at OK Elementary in Wichita.

What needs to be done

Holthus said the money raised so far will go toward removing dirt on the north side of the cabin that is pushing on the wall.

“It is a major amount of soil that has to be moved,” Holthus said “and that’s not funded by any grant.”

The money also will be used in landscaping the 15 acres immediately surrounding the cabin, including building nature walks, foot bridges and a handicapped-accessible entry walk to the cabin. Additional funds would be used to provide a security system and purchase historically appropriate items for the cabin.

Most of the improvements are expected to be made by July 4, in time for a 140th celebration of the cabin, Holthus said.

The Ellen Rust Living Trust has money to maintain the property but not for the improvements, Holthus said.

“If we sold the property, within three to four years we would no longer have the income to maintain the cabin,” Holthus said. “By 2018 we want to be able to transfer the property to a permanent entity.” That entity, Holthus said would be the equivalent of a Friends of the Home on the Range cabin that could someday support other privately owned historic properties.

It also allows access to the cabin to continue being free to the public.

“There has never been an admission charge on the cabin and we intend to operate it that same way,” he said. “The trust may have title to the property, but it belongs to everybody.”

A benefit concert by the Prairie Rose Rangers is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 24 at the Smith Center High School auditorium in Smith Center.

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