November 24, 2017

Preservation Personals: Kansas Foursquare Seeks Mystery-Loving Owner

  • By: Nicholas Som

There is an air of mystery that surrounds me in the public imagination of the Paola, Kansas, community, though no curious happenings took place on my grounds. I became an enigma simply by existing, spending several decades completely unoccupied. I’m back on the market again now, though, and I’m looking forward to having some company.

No one knows exactly when I was built (I don’t either; we houses have terrible memories), but my construction likely began sometime around the turn of the 20th century. At any rate, my owner in 1908 was E.J. Sheldon, a well-known attorney and investor in the Big Lake Oil Company. Sheldon furnished me extravagantly, decorating my interior with glass-enclosed bookshelves and floor-length chair mirrors.

When Sheldon died in 1931, he left half of his estate to his wife and half to his daughter, Ruth Sheldon Vander Vries. Through the combination of Sheldon’s wife’s death in 1939 and a series of legal gymnastics (which we needn’t get into now), Ruth became my full owner.

However, Ruth and her husband lived in Arizona and disliked the idea of uprooting their lives and moving back to Kansas simply to take care of me. At the same time, Ruth didn’t want to sell or lease me because of her closeness with her mother, nor did she want me to slowly grow decrepit and uninhabitable.

Ruth’s solution was to hire a man named Jess Shepherd to maintain me, with the goal of leaving me exactly as her mother left it. Shepherd dusted and vacuumed once a month, washed the windows once a year, and made repairs as necessary. Little did Shepherd know that he would be tending to me for 34 years! He began in 1939, and it wasn’t until 1973 that Ruth relented. One of Sheldon’s descendants and his family moved in that year, and I finally had tenants who called me their home.

The exterior of a Kansas home.

photo by: Roderick Pittman

102 East Chippewa Street, Paola, KS 66071

The main staircase of a Kansas home.

photo by: Roderick Pittman

My main staircase looks almost exactly the same as it did in the early 1900s.

The front yard of a Kansas home.

photo by: Roderick Pittman

The view of my front yard from the street, with my original porch visible in the background.

Over that time, many rumors about me circulated the town, and children claimed I was haunted. I can assure you that I’m not, but to this day, I cannot speak to Ruth’s true reasons going to such lengths to perfectly preserve me. My original staircase and hardwood floors remain, along with my gorgeous front porch. I also come with a walk-in attic, perfect for storage.

If my story intrigues you, perhaps you’d like to be my newest owner. Learn more about me here.

Nicholas Som is an editorial assistant at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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