“I Learned It By Watching You!” — Felicite Follows in Father’s Footsteps

Seems Felicite may be genetically predisposed towards historic homes…

Her dad’s “Hall and Parlor” house in Edmond, Oklahoma was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2006, as a rare surviving example of 19th century folk architecture once prevalent in the South- and Mid-West.

cartmill farmstead photo PM

His spare, one-and-a-half story home is a far cry from the ample, romantic design of Hohenadel House, but it’s just as significant culturally and architecturally. While lush villas like the Indian Queen Lane mansion reflected wealthy urbanites with European tastes, Stan Moorman’s “Cartmill Farmstead” is a simple, sturdy testament to hardscrabble life on the American frontier.

Hall-and-parlor houses were basic rectangles with horizontally-oriented gabled roofs, often divided into two rooms. The larger room included the kitchen and daily living areas (the “hall”) and usually there was a smaller side room used as a formal receiving area or bedroom (the “parlor”).

1886 photo of hall and parlor with females pm

These plain structures dominated in remote locations where comfort & survival depended on conservative, utilitarian dwellings. Pioneers built their homes to stand up to whatever challenges their natural surroundings inflicted. Which was quite a lot, really.

The Sandstone Hills of Oklahoma lie in the heart of Tornado Alley — communities here were not only vulnerable to regular twisters but also to severe storms, scorching summer heat, drought, dust storms and other extreme conditions. Homes needed to be short and squat, with few rooms and thick walls. Many, like the Cartmill Farmhouse, had tin roofs to protect against intense rain and hail.

1890 photo of hall and parlor with plaster on exterior walls PM

Hall-and-parlor houses were efficient, tough, and practical — much like their inhabitants. Ada Cartmill and her family were the longest residents of the Farmstead, leasing it and the property’s 1.8 surrounding acres for more than 50 years. Not much has changed since it was built in 1895 — if you’re picturing “Little House on the Prairie,” you are not far off at all.  

bonnet girl with cows

Big fan? A couple hundred miles away in Fishers, Indiana, you can connect with your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder on a real-life “Prairie Pioneer Vacation” where you and the whole family get to try out late 19th-century agrarian life, including such exciting thrills as mucking stables, splitting wood and learning how to use a chamber pot (hint: aim is crucial throughout the entire process).

While staff members remain in character the whole time — and urge their charges to, as well — their “reality experience” does not appear to include the blatant gender biases and the unfair lot of women in pioneer households. A farmer’s wife writes in 1900:

I was an apt student at school and before I was eighteen I had earned a teacher’s certificate… I would gladly have remained in school, but I had, unwittingly, agreed to marry the man who is now my husband, and though I begged to be released, his will was so much stronger that I was unable to free myself …

Later, when I was married, I borrowed everything I could find in the line of novels and stories, and read them by stealth still, for my husband thought it a willful waste of time to read anything and that it showed a lack of love for him.

pioneer woman wheelbarrow pm

She cooks, feeds, cleans. She bathes babies, waters livestock, launders mounds of material… She hoes, harvests, wrangles chickens, churns butter… She’s up at 4 am and in bed by 9 pm and to hear her tell it she’s not exactly delighted with her lot in life. Men didn’t have it much better — more freedom, more independence, but frontier life was still for the most part family-based, subsistence living.

Ada Cartmill was a typical prairie woman, raising eight children while tending her land.  She grew wheat, oats, corn, cotton, and alfalfa. Raised horses, dairy and beef cattle, pigs and poultry.  Gardened her own veggies, and canned them too. She did this all own her own, after moving to the farmstead around 1922 following her husband’s death.

She added to the property over the years — a chicken coop, a clay-tiled milk house, a sheet metal granary and a machine shed, as well. They eventually got indoor plumbing, but not until the 1930’s.

In 2008, PBS released “Frontier House,” a documentary/reality show where several modern families attempt to recreate an authentic 19th century experience, down to clothing, chores and even government. The clip above highlights how much these settlers relied on sacrifice and ingenuity to carve a worthwhile existence.

We’ll find out more about how Stan Moorman came to live in Cartmill House in an upcoming post, but it’s clear from the sign in front, he’s proud to preserve an important part of American history:

cartmill farmstead plaque

And he should be. The Cartmill Farmstead is a fine example of the sort of permanent dwellings that developed from the settlers’ original sod houses. Reminds us of our own early colonists, who first occupied Philadelphia’s riverbank caves, and from this basis created wood & brick structures that would eventually populate our city’s streets.

From holes to hovels to houses — the surprising path to building a new nation,  one scrappy survivor at a time.

sod house with wagon wheel PM

two story frame dwelling added to initial sod house 1888 PM

one of these old sod houses today PM

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