Awards of Excellence:
Newell-Johnson-Searle Outbuilding

Year(s) Listed:
Location Class:
Built: 1856 | Year Saved: 2021
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (2017)
Contributor: Kansas Preservation Alliance

In 1856, this limestone cabin, known as the Newell-Johnson-Searle Outbuilding, was built and occupied by Jesse Newell and his family in what is now known as Oskaloosa, Kansas. Newell and his brother-in-law Joseph Fitsimmons were co-founders of Oskaloosa. Newell was a free stater from Iowa who came to the territory in 1855 after the Kansas Territory was opened for settlement with Jefferson County among the 33 original counties established by the Territorial Legislature. Newell bought 113 acres consisting of a farm and a cabin from Dr. James Noble, a Missourian, and returned with his wife and family in 1856. This arrival put him in the harshest year of Bleeding Kansas, when pro-slavers and free staters clashed over the entry of Kansas into the Union as a slave or free state. Dr. Noble’s original cabin was reportedly burned by pro-slavery forces in September of 1856 and Newell built the current limestone cabin in order to have shelter for his family prior to winter. Period documents reveal Newell, and his sons were involved in the Underground Railroad and his property was a rendezvous spot for Jayhawkers. Because of this significance to the history of Oskaloosa and the association with the Free State cause, a separate corporation, Free State Hill, Inc. was created to research and plan for restoration of the property which needed many repairs. Concurrently, the property was nominated and received acceptance in the National Register of Historic Places in 2017 with the state adding the property to its register afterward.

Free State Hill later was awarded a 2021 Heritage Trust Fund grant from the State Historic Preservation Office for the restoration of the cabin. WoodWorks Restoration was hired as General Contractor to assist in planning, bid document development for the repair work, and to perform construction administration utilizing the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation to guide the work. The repair work included roof replacement, masonry repointing, window and door restoration, electrical work, and floor and trim repairs.

WoodWorks Restoration was fervent to ensure the least degree of intervention was utilized during the preservation and repair of the cabin. Unfortunately, some materials required replacement. In speaking with those bidding for the work, WoodWorks Restoration was clear in stating all materials would be period-specific and compatible with materials being replaced. Fortunately, no structural alterations or additions were included in the work.

The purpose of the cabin rehabilitation was to preserve it in the original state as a pre-Civil War era cabin. Consistent with this purpose  nothing was removed or altered to change the character of the cabin and the cabin was restored as an 1856 cabin. Historic windows and the door were restored, and period-specific storm windows and doors were obtained to add protection. The original failed composition roof required placement as did some rafters and plates. Period specific wood shingles were installed. Repointing occurred on all the stone and brickwork. Old mortar was removed by hand with Kansas State Historic Preservation Office, Type O mortar as the replacement. This mortar is heavy in lime and better resembles the homemade, breathing mortar that held the cabin together for over 160 years.

WoodWorks Restoration assisted with contract negotiation, as well as performing site visits, and performing the window and door restoration. Stewart Roofing was hired to remove the failed composition roof, replace rafters and plates, and install a period wood roof. GKW Group was hired to repoint all the stone and brickwork with the prescribed mortar. Hawk Electric added a new service of lights and outlets. All three worked closely with the GC and Free State Hill to produce an accurate restoration of the cabin’s original construction.

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