The Gordon Van Tine company from Davenport, Iowa introduced house plan #143 in 1912 as “Our new tower house, a little gem, something new, something original.”
Much to my surprise there is one in Oklahoma, located on north western prairieland that was an area of the last land to be opened for settlement. The county seat of Harper County in Oklahoma, Buffalo, is home to one of Gordon Van Tine’s “little gems” the #143!
I would like to thank Dale Wolicki for confirming that 1912 date for me! The 1912 catalog is one I am missing.
(All images may be enlarged by clicking)
How in tarnation, hey when you are in the land you speak the language, did I ever find that “gem” you are likely wondering! If you looked closely at that catalog page you see a few testimonials and one of them is from JW Blanchard of Yelton, Oklahoma.
I set out to find that house last week and I couldn’t find a town by the name of “Yelton”! I was able to find GPS coordinates for it so I located where it USED to be. I didn’t see a rail line anywhere! I did eventually learn that Yelton was a cattle stop along the Fort Dodge – Fort Supply Military Trail. But, where was the Tower House on the Prairie I wondered? A genealogy search for JW Blanchard didn’t turn up anything as far as a possible location. I had no clue what-so-ever! I felt like I was out on a wide open prairie on a cloudy day without a compass. I had no idea where to go now. For those of you who know what I mean by wide open Oklahoma prairie you understand where I am coming from LOL. All I could think was I MUST FIND THIS HOUSE!!! I looked in nearby Buffalo thinking just maybe it was on the north side of town because Yelton is, was, just north and west of Buffalo. Then I did an aerial search of the town, laugh but I found the 8th Sears Magnolia that way 😉 . I didn’t even see a rail line! Geeze. I was discouraged and put the project aside and took a power nap. Those power naps work, seriously. I did the same thing for that Magnolia….kid you not! No luck, power nap and when I awakened I found it in no time. So, when I awakened from my power nap I gave it another try. Bingo! I found my little gem in the far south east corner of Buffalo. There it sat looking like a true gem, largely original, other than an addition to the back and the turret roof being replaced, I was extremely happy. I can’t get an exact address but I have a few google screen shots and I am hoping that someone will read my blog and send me a few real, awesome, photos.
How about that? Isn’t that awesome? In OKLAHOMA! An internet image search turns up nothing, not another yet identified. Anywhere. I did look for the other testimonial 143’s mentioned and I found the house in Decorah, Ia.
The RR Martin testimonial house in Litchfield is MIA. I have looked on every street for it, three times. I looked in two nearby towns too. It is either gone or also rural. It also appeared in the Gordon Van Tine 1913 catalog. I would love to find it too!
When was Oklahoma’s Tower House on the Prairie built and by whom? Obviously it was built by JW Blanchard and I would love to see that photo he sent to the Gordon Van Tine Company.
I haven’t been able to find much out about JW Blanchard. I think his name was John and it doesn’t appear he lived in Buffalo very long, he moved east to Garfield county. However, I did find that he, along with three other men, invested $340 in capital stock and incorporated the Hanzel Telephone Exchange in Yelton in early 1914. The date the house was built? Well, the catalog testimonial is 1915/1916. I would say at least by 1914 based on that. I discovered that the rail line didn’t come to Buffalo until 1912. Therefore it was built sometime between 1912 and 1915, I’m going with 1914ish. I did wonder if maybe the house was originally built in Yelton and then moved later but there was no rail line in to Yelton at all. I want to thank Mark Hardin for finding me a map that shows just where the rail line did come in to Buffalo. And, it wasn’t anywhere near Yelton. In fact, it wasn’t too far from Blanchard’s land. I learned that the rail line, the MK&T I believe, was taken out of service and removed around 1970. It’s really strange to see the grain elevators and such and no rail road. Yes, I google drove the town several times looking for other kit homes. You know it!
Buffalo is home to two awesome clay tile elevators however the train depot was torn down recently and all that remains is the outline of where it sat.
I originally posted this on my facebook page a week ago. In a week’s time the post had almost 3,000 views and 30 shares! I dropped what I was planning on sharing next to research Buffalo and feature this house. I want to thank Forgotten Oklahoma for posting my facebook post because I am sure that is how I got all of those views!
I spent several hours reading about Buffalo and the town history, too much to ever share here, but that is what I often do with my discoveries. Every house is an adventure. I don’t want a list of addresses, I want to find them and learn along the way. For me it is about learning. A few things I recall about Buffalo. Buffalo was known as the City of Stone because of a city ordinance requiring all buildings in the business district to be built of stone because of potential prairie fires. As a former firefighter and my experience I can tell you that not much moves as fast as a prairie fire! Many of the buildings in the business district still stand today. They should have built the train depot from stone!
Buffalo is the county seat of Harper County, officially opened in May of 1907. That area of Oklahoma was some of the last land to be opened for settlement. I spent a few hours today looking through old land maps and I’ll share a few.
The next map shows the Buffalo area as well as Yelton in 1911. Notice there is no rail line. The population of Buffalo in 1910 was just under 300 and 100 years later it increased by only 1000. Still very rural. I wonder if there are any other mail ordered kit homes in Harper County? I have found some along the Cherokee Outlet in Garfield County.
Do you know where there is another Gordon Van Tine #143? Do you need help identifying a possible mail order kit home? I have a very large collection of catalogs to reference. You may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to find me on facebook. I post a lot more on my facebook page and more often. Check out my friend Rosemary Thornton’s blog here.
To see the website of Dale Wolicki, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin historian as well as architect and architectural historian click here.
I hope you learned something! I used to tell my kids when I taught school that if you don’t learn at least one new thing everyday you have wasted a day! I know I learned a lot from this discovery. Fell free to leave comments below.
Oklahoma Houses By Mail by Rachel Shoemaker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.