Kansas’ oldest building receives facelift
Leavenworth It’s Kansas’ oldest residence and the myths, legends, ghost stories and speculations that surround it are just a few elements that make Fort Leavenworth’s Rookery special.
From the people and their families who lived there, to the explorations that were discussed and embarked on during their stay, the building’s historical significance can still be felt in its walls.
“There’s lots of threads of those individuals here and the things they did here that make Kansas and the United States what it is today,” said Kelvin Crow, assistant command historian on post. “Those strands reach out from here to all elements of history.”
The Rookery, which was built between 1827 and 1834, recently underwent a facelift that updated the home with modern conveniences and restored much of the charm of the180-year-old house.
Among the restored features are refinished hardwood floors, newly painted interior and exterior surfaces and the preservation of old hardware and door hinges. After years of re-painting as residents moved in and out, many of the building’s windows were painted shut. During the restoration, many of those windows were restored to functionality, some of which still contain the original lead-glass panes.
In the kitchen, new cabinets, granite countertops and energy-efficient appliances were installed, giving the old duplex an updated feel.
But even with the new kitchen, modern bathroom fixtures and bedroom ceiling fans, many parts of the home and its 17-inch thick walls went untouched during the renovation.
In the basement, large timbers, 10 inches thick, make up the floor joists that continue to hold up the home. The basement room that was originally the kitchen and helped heat the house during the winter is a step back in time as ax marks that cut down the trees in 1827 can still be seen. At many of the joints, rings in the tree bark can be counted, which Crow said dates them to the American Revolution.
“When you reach up and touch these, it’s like going back to the Revolution,” Crow said.
Among the home’s most famous occupants was Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Riley, who is the namesake of Fort Riley and Riley County in Kansas, Nathan Boone, Daniel Boone’s son, William Clark’s stepdaughter, and Andrew Reeder, the first territorial governor of Kansas.
“This place goes all the way back in history to the people who took their lives, their future and their families’ lives in hand and moved to this place and made what we have today,” Crow said.
Crow’s favorite houseguest, however, was then-Capt. Douglas MacArthur, who 30 years before serving as the commander of Allied forces in the southwest Pacific in World War II was the Officer-in-Charge of the Engineering Depot at Fort Leavenworth. He lived in the Rookery with his mother, Pinkie. Crow, who referred to the great Army officer as a “mama’s boy,” said that when he walks around the old home, he can picture MacArthur being bossed around by his old mother.
“You can read the history books and get the facts, opinions and analysis,” Crow said, “but when you walk around here and go upstairs and see where these people sat, that’s where history really comes from.”
Now that the restoration is complete, Fort Leavenworth is offering an open house to the public, which will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today and Friday. Those entering Fort Leavenworth will be asked to show identification at the front gate.