By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
FRONTENAC, Kan. —
The little white mining house that preservationists have attempted to restore on and off for several years will move to its new and final home at the Franklin Miners Hall Museum on Oct. 17, with the goal of having it open for a Smithsonian exhibit next May.
“We’re finally giving her a permanent, forever home. I’ve been wanting to see this through for a long, long time,” said Veda Maxwell, the lead organizer of the project and the granddaughter of an immigrant coal miner who lived in such a house.
The Frontenac house has had at least three known addresses, starting on Depot Street as the three-room home of a mining family named Bickerdike — perhaps German or Austrian immigrants. In 1976, an estimated 90 years after the house was built, it was moved to Pittsburg to be used as headquarters for the city’s bicentennial celebrations. It was dubbed “Camp ’76.”
The house went on to serve as headquarters for a local extermination business. In 2004, its owner donated it to Sacred Heart Parish for use as a museum for historical artifacts, genealogy items and period furnishings. It was moved to its current location north of Sacred Heart Catholic Church on South Cherokee Street. A committee of volunteers, including Maxwell, took up the reins to preserve it many years ago.
But the church leadership changed a few times, and the project never developed like people hoped it would. The house still needs exterior work, heating and cooling upgrades, and a significant amount of interior work.
It is thought to be one of the last known standard issue, three-room miner’s houses in the area.
This summer, Maxwell and volunteers associated with the Franklin Miners Hall Museum again took up the reins to save it, with the thought that it would be a perfect addition to an area behind the museum being developed to look like a small, historical mining town.
Moving the house from Frontenac to Franklin — a distance of about five miles — came with a price tag of $9,500, but Maxwell negotiated with the mover to do all of the advance legwork herself, shaving off $2,500.
“We’ve had to advise numerous entities, from the utilities companies to police departments and the highway patrol, to Girard’s zoning department, Frontenac City Hall, and the Kansas Department of Transportation,” she said, noting that the house must pass under electric and phone lines along the route.
“We spent hours driving different routes to find streets with the least amount of wires crossing over the road.”
The group still is accepting donations toward the final cost.
A few days before the move, workers with Patton Properties and House Moving Inc., of Paola, will break apart the current foundation in four places, slide I-beams underneath the house, jack it up and slide it onto a trailer. The company has moved historical buildings before, Maxwell said.
The route will take the house south on Cherokee Street to Leighton Street, west to U.S. Highway 69, north to Seventh Street in Franklin, and east two blocks to the Miners Hall Museum.
At the museum, local bricklayer John Nepote already has poured footings and laid two courses of rough-hewn foundation blocks. Assisting has been Ray Hamblin, who has been active in Franklin revitalization since the 2003 tornado.
Maxwell said the restoration should begin later this fall, and that the house should be ready for public viewing with the arrival of the Smithsonian exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” in May 2013. Volunteers hope to add a chicken coop, an outhouse, a vegetable and flower garden of the time period, and a clothesline.
“We also will be working on finding donations for furniture, artifacts, pictures for the walls,” Maxwell said. “It’s all about the preservation of the mining industry here in Southeast Kansas and for the historical value of the house.”
Tribute to miners
The Franklin Miners Hall Museum, an homage to the tens of thousands of coal miners who toiled in Crawford and Cherokee counties, was established in a town founded by immigrant miners on the site of their union hall.