Spring Hill Ranch

Saturday, as part of our visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, we paid a visit to the Spring Hill Ranch which lies on the property owned by the Preserve. The history of the ranch and its buildings is a facinating trip back in time.

In 1878, Stephen & Louise Jones, successful cattle ranchers, moved from Colorado to Strong City, KS to start a cattle ranch on the Kansas prairie. Over the next 2 years, they bought 7000 acres of land north of town, and enclosed the land with 30 miles of 5 foot high stone fence.  In 1881, they built a 3 story 11 room mansion of native limestone at a cost of $25,000.

The wooden front entryway was hand-carved, and the main staircase was hand-carved of walnut.  The front yard was terraced and planted with lilacs and rose bushes, and there was a fountain supplied with spring water.  There was a walk in “refrigerator” room cooled with spring water. The front porch faced east,

and looked out over land across the road planted with an orchard. Sadly, the orchard no longer exists, but the view is still spectacular.

They also built a 3 story stone barn and stable measuring 110 by 60 feet, costing $15,000.

The bottom floor of the barn stabled horses and milk cows, and the upper floors stored hay and grain. Wagons rolled up the ramps on the north side of the barn to the 2nd floor to unload their cargo.

A large double windmill was built onto the barn, the blades of which measured 20 feet in length. It was to be used to power chopping hay and grinding grain, but due to the immense size of the windmill, when it was run, it nearly shook itself and the barn apart, so it was not run, and eventually dismantled. 

In total, the Jones’ spent a modern equivalent of $1.9 million on the buildings and fencing. But after living on the ranch for only five years, they sold the property for $95,000. Through the years, the property was sold numerous times. Part of the ranch land was sold off, and the house, at times, was not occupied. Then in April 1971, the ranch buildings were entered on the National Register of Historic places. In 1994, the ranch buildings, and nearly 11,000 acres of surrounding prairie were purchased by the National Park Trust. In 2005, the majority of the land was sold to the Nature Conservancy. Together with the National Park service, they preserve the prairie and the ranch, as well as the history of the Native Americans, for use and enjoyment by future generations.

The house and barn are available for tour, but unfortunately, we arrived there in the early evening, and they were closing for the day. Ladies in period dress were closing up the barn.

Even though we were not able to tour the buildings, you can take a virtual tour  here.

8 comments to Spring Hill Ranch

  • You must go back sometime when you can tour the buildings. The construction of the barn is amazing to see and the deep window sills in the house show how sturdy the building is. The refigerator room was quite inventive for its time also. Love the photos of the ladies walking. Like being there back in the day!

    • Suzanne

      Hi Gardener,
      I read somewhere that it would be impossible to duplicate the construction of the house today. It’s said that there was such a large crew working there on the barn and house that people passing thru thought that they had reached a town, for all the workers and commotion.
      Thanks for stopping,
      Suzanne

  • The original owners believed in doing everything just right, despite the costs, didn’t they? It is easy to see that it is a beautiful place and I am glad that it is being preserved. I have never visited the plains, but it is definitely on my list of places that I would love to see someday.

    • Suzanne

      Hi Noelle,
      I sometimes think that things back then were built to last forever, and not just for the present owner. Construction quality seemed so much more permanent. Please do visit the plains – you’ll never forget it.
      Suzanne

  • Nice work. I especially love that last photo. One of a kind. You were in the right place for that one!

  • Glenda

    Thanks for sharing your wanderings! I always feel like I’ve been there when I see your photos and descriptions. I took the virtual tours of the buildings.That was interesting as well.

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