|Year(s) Listed: • 2016
|City/Town: • Athol
|Location Class: • Residential
|Built: 1872 | Year Saved: 2015
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places (1973)
|Awards: • Honor Award
|Contributor: Kansas Preservation Alliance
In 1872, Dr. Brewster Higley VI arrived in northern Kansas and built a cabin in which to live. Living in the middle of the plains and surrounded by their splendor, he wrote the poem “My Western Home” that eventually became the well-known cowboy song “Home on the Range.” The cabin passed from owner to owner, with the last residents leaving in 1888. In 1935, the first photo of the cabin shows it being used to house chickens belonging to Pete and Ellen Rust, the last private owners of the cabin. The Rusts defended the cabin from several offers to buy it and move it off site, the first evidence of the cabin’s importance. The song “Home on the Range” became the State Song of Kansas in 1947, but by that time minimal maintenance had left the cabin in poor condition. In 1954, the Smith Center Rotary Club saved the cabin by raising funds and organizing a community effort. In 1973, the Cabin was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but had again fallen into disrepair to the point of collapse. The community once again rallied to renovate the cabin in the 1980s, and while the repairs were not historically correct, the cabin was again saved. Ellen Rust established the Ellen Rust Living Trust in 1992, which received the Cabin and the 240 acres surrounding it. After her death in 2008, the five appointed trustees assumed management of the site and Cabin. The cabin was again in disrepair, with a leaking roof, water seepage, a threatened collapse of the north wall, and major rotting and rodent damage. A plan was made to pursue the renovation of the Cabin and the improvement of the site, including the rebuilding of the north wall and the roof, restoration of the three remaining walls, interior upgrades like replica period furnishings, and the planting of native buffalo grass in the area immediately surrounding the cabin. In 2015, as restoration work was completed, the two remaining trustees transferred the site to the People’s Heartland Foundation, a public charity with the expertise to manage the 240 acres of farm and grassland in order to provide a stable financial base for the continued maintenance of the Cabin, ending its up and down history and preserving the birthplace of the “Cowboy National Anthem” for generations to come.