Historical Leoti house restored as part of museum

1/3/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

LEOTI — Leoti residents and visitors to the small western Kansas town have marveled at the Victorian House that sits at the corner of J and Third streets, to the north of Kansas Highway 96.

The Wichita County Historical Society has repaired, painted and developed the house after it was donated to the historical society by Norman and Yvonne Ames, and Dean and the late Lorna Wiegers, all of Leoti.

Although some rooms still are being updated, the majority of the house has been completed, according to Karen Walk, museum curator for the Museum of the Great Plains in Leoti. The house is now one of the exhibits of the museum.

Highlights of the home feature a Victorian-style tea room, dining room, parlor, kitchen and closed-in back porch on the main level and a master bedroom, baby's room and study.

The front of the house features a small porch with three large pillars supporting a roof. The front of the gable roof has geometric fish scale shingles, painted in two shades of green. A railing surrounds the porch, three steps, and four newel posts, each with a deep red finial on top. The second floor triple bay window also has the same gable trim of fish scale shingles.

There are a total of seven gables on the house, of which five have the Victorian gingerbread trim. The interior of the parlor room is octagon-shaped, which gives a unique architectural detail to the exterior. As with many Victorian homes, the rooms are not square and have many little nooks and crannies. The house is painted with seven historic colors. The body color of the house is a caramel color, with a medium soft green trim. A lighter shade green alternates with the fish scale shingles, dark red on the gable drops, finials, molding trim on newel posts and door, and black window trim. The porch pillars, railing and gingerbread, and a Victorian screen/storm door are all a creamy white color. A seventh color, a little lighter shade of the carmel color, but darker than the porch color, is under the eaves.

Descendents of the Washington-Ames house inhabitants are proud the home is restored and will benefit the people of Leoti.

The house has benefited from them, as well.

Wednesday afternoon, Norman Ames, Deana Wiegers-Leverett and Dean Wiegers sat down at the dining room table and read articles and history collected on the house.

Wiegers-Leverett is the granddaughter of Margie Ames, and daughter of the late Lorna Wiegers.

"I think I can speak for the family when I say we are overjoyed at everything that has been done to this house. And Karen has done an amazing job. The community support has been wonderful," she said.

The original owners of the house were William B. and Julia Washington, who moved to Leoti from Kentucky in 1886. W.B. Washington was a lawyer who practiced various forms of law, according to the historical society.

Although it isn't known when the house was built, the historical society members think it was before the 1900s.

In 1923, a severe tornado hit Leoti and wiped out much of the town, tearing down buildings near the house. But the house remained unscathed.

After the Washingtons died, the house was rented out for several years and then was purchased by Tom Burch in 1943. In 1947, Burch acquired a hotel and restaurant license. He rented the upstairs bedrooms to teachers and high school students who lived in the country. The tenants would stay at the house during the school week.

The Ames later purchased the house, and Margie Ames lived there until her husband died. She then lived in a smaller house in Leoti until she died in 2004.

The house remained full of collectibles, antiques and furniture. Margie Ames, who was known for her collection of hats, inspired an exhibit in the Museum of the Great Plains, which is called Margie's Boutique and Millinery Shop.

Now the hats are displayed in the walk-in closet of the master bedroom and in cases in the upstairs hallway.

"I think it's something that the family has always wanted passed on," Wiegers said.

And his late wife wanted that. She was a key part in donating the house and making plans to restore it. Supplies and pieces of Lorna's are in the kitchen and closed-in back porch.

"It's what she wanted," Wiegers-Leverett said.

Wiegers-Leverett has fond memories of time with family in the house.

"I remember burning our Christmas paper in the fireplace. We also ate redhots on the stairs because they're red, and if it got on the carpet, it wouldn't matter," she said.

Walk also thanks the community for its continued support of the project.

"I've had people tell me they drive by and admire the Christmas lights and decorations. They tell me, 'It just feels like someone lives here. It feels alive.' And it really is," she said.

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