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Stove Tools from Sod House

Coal stove tools used in a Kansas sod house.This set of fireplace tools kept the home fires burning in a sod house near Hays, Kansas. 

Traditional building materials could be scarce and expensive in western Kansas during the 19th century. Instead, early settlers turned to something the prairie offered in abundance--sod.

Sod is the top layer of earth that includes grass, roots, and dirt clinging to the roots.  Settlers cut and stacked sod bricks to build structures. Most sod houses measured about 16 by 20 feet and had only one room.  The floor was packed dirt and the walls often were plastered or wallpapered to brighten the space and keep out pests.  Roofs usually were dirt and leaked badly, making the houses difficult to keep clean.   

But sod homes had advantages, too.  They were fireproof, a distinct advantage in a region where grassfires raged.  Also, houses made of dirt stayed cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than those constructed with traditional building materials.  Most stoves in sod homes burned wood or other fuels such as cow chips (dung) or hay.  Although coal burned more efficiently and retained heat longer, its expense made it cost-prohibitive for all but the most financially secure families.

Interior of sod house in Rooks County, Kansas.Anna and Franklin Joy fell into the latter category. The couple burned coal in their home, using these tools to tend the stove. The set includes a scuttle for storing coal lumps next to the stove, a shovel to transfer coal into the stove, and a poker to arrange the burning embers.

Sod homes needed regular maintenance to survive the prairie's harsh climate.  Many families either replaced the soddie with a traditional building after a few years, or built stone or wood additions.  The Joys improved their sod home by plastering the walls, shingling the roof, and building a wooden addition that doubled its size.  Their coal burning stove—along with these tools—was located in the sod part of the house.

This set of stove tools is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Stove Tools from Sod House

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2012

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.