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Get the dirt on the Sod House


Renee Trindle, Sod House Museum director, says the museum draws international visitors. Photo by Cathey Heddlesten


By Cathey Heddlesten


Sod museum shows present-day Oklahomans the life of pre-statehood pioneer families.


Marshal McCully stands in front of his sod house built in 1894. Courtesy photo A


119-year-old home constructed with blocks of Oklahoma soil is the main attraction at the Sod House Museum, located near the small community of Aline and served by Alfalfa Electric Cooperative. Though thousands of sod houses were once lo- cated across the plains, the Alfalfa County home built in 1894 by home- steader Marshal McCully is the only one still standing today. Located in its original location, McCully’s two-room, 12-by-24-foot “soddy” was built on land he obtained during the Cherokee Outlet land run on Sept. 16, 1893. McCully used buffalo grass sod to build his home. The pioneer hitched his team to an 18-inch sod plow and split the grass into long rows, using a flat shovel to chop those rows into 18-inch lengths. The sod blocks were laid like bricks to form the walls. The roof of the soddy was formed using split poles from trees growing in the area. The poles were laid across the top of the walls for rafters. The rafters were then topped with up to 12 inches of sod to complete the roof. “It took 96 tons of sod to build this home,” says Renee Trindle, director


of the Sod House Museum. “In its day, this was a big house because it had two rooms instead of just one. The soddy’s interior walls were plastered with alkaline clay and there has been no interior deterioration because the clay sealed off the walls. Mrs. McCully added bluing to the clay to give color to the walls for decorative purposes.” The alkali clay also provided extra insulation for the home’s 36-inch interior walls, which helped keep the soddy warm in the winter and cool during the summer months. Sheets and other fabrics like flour sacks were used to cover the ceilings in an effort to prevent dirt, debris, insects (and sometimes even snakes) from dropping down into the home. The soddy was originally built with a dirt floor, though McCully added a wooden floor one year later. Other luxurious additions to the two-room prairie home were four windows, which cost $1.25 each. Records show McCully spent 50 cents for lumber to build a door, another 50 cents for hardware and 20 cents for 3 pounds of nails, bringing the grand total cost of the construction to $6.20. McCully and his first wife, Sadie, lived in the home from 1894 until


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1902 when the couple moved with their young daughter, Letha, to Colorado. Because the young wife and mother suffered from tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was known during the early 1900s), the doctor ad- vised that the mountain air would improve her health. But Sadie died shortly after the family’s relocation, prompting McCully and his daughter to move back to Indian Territory and into their prairie soddy. The homesteader and his second wife, Pearl, also lived in the sod home for several years before McCully built a large frame house in 1909 for his family. After the family moved out, the sod house was used for storage of fruit, vegetables and meat for many years and also had an incubator to hatch chickens and turkeys. The couple’s daughter, Louvisa Elliott, sold the sod house and one acre of land to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1963—exactly 60 years after McCully was issued a patent for the land on which he staked claim in 1893. The McCully soddy remains in the exact location where it was first built in 1894. In 1967 the Oklahoma Historical Society erected a museum build- ing around the home to help preserve it from the elements, as well as to create a place where visitors could tour the sod house and view the many other exhibits, artifacts, photographs and relics from one of Oklahoma’s pioneer families. The museum is loaded with relics from the pioneer days, including


McCully’s original saddle. Visitors can walk down into the family’s root cellar where food was stored for use during the winter months. An addi- tional building on the grounds displays horse-drawn equipment and early farm implements. Trindle says visitors will enjoy several new improvements completed in recent months at the Sod House Museum. “In the front gallery of the museum is a sod plow, known as a steel beam rod breaking plow, which gradually turned over a furrow slice of sod with- out crumbling it,” she says. “Visitors can now learn how the sod plow worked in plowing strips of sod to be cut into blocks for building a home.” Trindle says the museum now has a display detailing the history of


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