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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Grandview Farmhouse Features 140 Years of Grand History


Sometimes I feel like a detective of the past, trying with all my strength, wit and might to peel back the layers of the facts that have emerged and digging for more. There is always more to find. Any historian or genealogist can tell you this.

In my last post, I exposed the little-known story of the Vaughn family, their homestead lying two miles from present-day downtown Grandview and three miles from the now-demolished border town of New Santa Fe. 
Arrington Road as it winds toward the house

When I drove the two lane, windy road of 139th Street from Martin City back in November to get a glimpse of the land the Vaughn's owned, I was astonished at the scenery that had, before this point, eluded me. 

I'd never been down this country road that hasn't changed in over 150 years. With every curve, my anticipation mounted. Just past Prospect Avenue at 139th, the street swerved to a hard left, turning into Arrington Road in Grandview, Mo.

And there it was.

I slowed down to a crawl. Atop one of the numerous rolling hills of Washington Township, on the edge of Grandview at 13811 Arrington Road- on land that once was inundated with the Border Wars, Jayhawker attacks and even birthed a few of the infamous Quantrill Guerrillas- stood a stunning home with a canary yellow door that took me back to a time when pioneers persevered and pushed past some of the horrors of the era.

I knew from the architectural style that it didn't date to the period of Josiah Vaughn's ownership, but I certainly knew it was old.
The Wyatt House- cir. 1879 at 13811 Arrington Road as it appears today

So that means the house has a story. And houses have memories deep within the crevasses of each floorboard, trim piece and original window.  

The earliest history of this very land can be read in my post from January where I covered the birth of hatred that mutated into the hunting of free state Jayhawkers with William Quantrill (to read this, click here! A Quantrill Raider's Revenge on the Border and Beyond)

It should be noted that after the Civil War, these pioneer families persisted and rebuilt what they could, many leaving the wreckage of Missouri.

But others had opted to overcome. Josiah Vaughn was one of these men.

And so was Wyley Wyatt.

When I first laid eyes on this historic home nestled far away from suburban subdivisions, cityscapes and crowded streets, I needed to know more. When I found out it was built by a man named Wyley Wyatt, I was sold.

I mean, come on. This guy's name is awesome! 

Thus I am going to reveal to you the story of a brave dude who started from scraps and built himself a sturdy, beautiful home on land that had already seen so much.
William Wyatt (1782-1856) headstone
at the Blue Ridge Cemetery

Wyley was born in North Carolina on October 12, 1839. He was the youngest son of William and Mary (Landreth) Wyatt. At 12 years old in 1851, Wyley and his family moved by covered wagon to Jackson County, Mo.  The nearest large settlement at this time was Westport, and the birth of New Santa Fe on the border between Missouri and Kansas was in the same year he settled with his family nearby.

He was the youngest of fifteen children. Gulp.

His oldest brother, Solomon Wyatt (the oldest of the fifteen and 30 years older than Wyley) was also a well-known Grandview area settler, deeply impacted by the strife of settlement so close to the border as things over the next fifteen years became extremely shaky.

When Wyley was 16 years old, his father passed away. As the youngest and one of the only still living at home, he took on the tough role of taking care of his mother- right in the heart of the Border Wars.

Simply stated, Wyley was poor. He had no means or financial assistance to help him emerge from what was dealt to him. But during this time period, it was expected- not miraculous- to power through and make your own way.

So he did.

Even with his mother in tow, Wyley picked up the pieces and married Sarah Maxwell, a family friend deeply connected to the southern cause.

His mother, Mary passed away just months before the Civil War began, and Wyley's choices became apparent.... Fight or stay.
The Battle of Lone Jack, one of the events of the Civil War that Wyley was a part of.
From a reenactment for the 150th Anniversary in 2012
Courtesy of Phil Peterson

With everything that Wyley witnessed on the lands where his family had settled in 1851, it should be no surprise that he opted to join the Confederate ranks.

And the first skirmish he witnessed? A battle on his own brother, Solomon's farm off Blue Ridge Blvd. in Washington Township, Jackson County, Mo.

Wyatt knew he was in danger. His brother, Solomon, was a known supporter of Quantrill and his gang. Too old to fight, Solomon participated by offering assistance to these border ruffians.

In an article in the Wichita Daily Times, featuring the nationwide headline of Frank James' death in February 1915, Solomon Wyatt's son named Wiley Wyatt (named after his uncle), described meeting Frank and Jesse James when they were part of Quantrill's Guerrillas. He recalled a battle with federal troops on his father's land and that the men were expert marksman.
Headline in the Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Tx.
February 21, 1915

Quantrill's men would race their horses full tilt and shoot each other's hats off. They were so accurate that according to Wiley "they would practice near our house, sometimes each one running his horse around a tree and firing a pistol in each hand. They were such perfect shots that the balls cut down the tree almost as smooth as if it had been sawed down."

It wasn't safe with all of this activity for Wyley to stick around - especially being a Confederate. His wife, Susan had to hide him in a wagon-box and drive the way out of town.

The war was lost. Wyley and most of all the men from the area had to start fresh. When many today would have checked out from the pressures of pioneer life, he pushed forward.

By 1866, he and his young family moved to Johnson County, Ks. He built a small cabin, only 12x14 feet, where he lived with his wife and four children under the age of seven.

Uh... Seriously?! 

Wyley's 80 acres of land in Johnson County would be between where Roe and Mission Rd. are today and was just south of 127th St. 


Josiah Vaughn's probate record showing record of payments made by Wyley Wyatt for the homestead

By 1879, Wyley, his wife and his eight children opted to move back to the land they knew well. It was time to move closer to family and build a more stable life.
The house as it appeared in 1985. It was constructed by
Wyley Wyatt between approx. 1879-1881.

Josiah Vaughn's death had opened up a unique opportunity to Wyley. Because Josiah's children had mostly moved out of the Jackson County, Mo. area, his land was up for the taking. And in 1879, Wyley began making payments to the estate so he could purchase 351 acres of choice land.

In a biography of Wyley Wyatt published in A Memorial Record of Kansas City in 1896, it states, "His persistent efforts in good management, together with the dawn of better days, have brought about a marvelous change in his financial condition."

Well, comparing his 12x14 shack in Johnson County to his home that still stands today, I'd have to agree.

A Wyatt family member recalled that while he built his home on current-day Arrington Rd., the family of ten lived in the chicken coop.
The entryway staircase, one of two
in the Wyatt House

Danguhhh.

This is just another reminder that we have it soooooo easy compared to these guys. I mean, a chicken coop? With ten people!?

Just another friendly reminder that I would have been dead in no time. Toast.

Time ticked by, and Wyley was the father of ten children: Mary (1860), William (1863), Sarah (1864), Robert (1866) Lorena (1872), Ada (1876), Lettie (1879), George (1881), Joseph (1883) and Stella (1886).

He built onto his home to make room, adding furnishings and necessities to make life comfortable for his children. They held school in the upstairs and learned the benefits of hard work and determination from Wyley firsthand.

As his children grew, they married and moved to start lives of their own. Youngest child, Joe, just as Wyley had done for his own mother, stuck around to ensure his parents were taken care of and were in need of nothing.
The side porch, the site of the original
entrance to the Wyatt House

Joseph (Joe) Wyatt and his wife Emma stayed nearby and built a small home across Arrington Rd. where they raised their son, Bob, born in 1909. Both Joe and his son tilled the land that Wyley had purchased.

On May 21, 1915, Wyley passed away at his home. Susan followed in 1926.

Joe took over the farm and moved into the "big two story house" as it was referred to- the house built up from the earth by his father, Wyley. Bob, his son, married Mildred Deffabaugh and took residence in the small house his father had built across the street.

In 1958, Joe Wyatt passed away.

In Wyley Wyatt-like fashion, Bob continued on and knew part of his job was to take care of his mother after his father passed away. And he did just that.

Emma continued to live in the two story home built by her father-in-law. Even in the 1960s, there was only power in some of the rooms and there was one bathroom on the main level. Bob's house, the original home his father built when helping Wyley take care of the land, was lived in by he and his wife, Mildred, a school teacher at Conn West Elementary.
Bob Wyatt (1909-1983)
Courtesy of the Kansas City Star

They didn't even have a bathroom inside their house.

Reminder: this was the 1960s!

Retired Grandview teacher Cindy Ledbetter Langensand fondly remembers Mrs. Wyatt, her second grade teacher at Conn West Elementary. "She was such a sweet lady. I'd go to their house on Sunday's and she would make us cookies," Cindy recalled. 

Cindy lived just up the hill and would walk down Arrington Rd. to visit in the late 1960s. Before she would leave, her mother gave her a staunch warning.

"She would always remind me, 'Don't ask to use the bathroom!'" Cindy affectionately recalled.

With no indoor plumbing, a nine-year old Cindy would have been lost when directed to the outhouse.

As Bob's mom, Emma aged, it became harder and harder for her to live alone in the old farmhouse. It became time to take some action.
The duplex today, the historic farmhouse in the background

And by my estimation, Bob was probably ready to have some indoor plumbing on those cold winter nights when nature called.

The solution? Bob built a duplex-style home just to the north of the house his grandfather had put his blood, sweat and tears into in the previous century. He and his wife, Mildred lived in the new main residence and his mother, Emma had her own "mother-in-law suite" with all of the comforts of the time period.

The small house Bob had lived in was rented out to a tenant farmer. Bob plugged away even at his advanced age farming the 300 acres- the third generation Wyatt to till the land.

By 1976, although childless, the couple had 36 years of a lovely marriage under their belt.

But then tragedy struck.
A map published in the Kansas City Star showing
 the location of the plane crash
On the morning of February 17, 1976, Bob was unloading the last bale of hay for his cattle. He hoisted himself up on his tractor and began to drive toward the barn, just a short distance from his new home. 

At the top of a small slope less than 150 yards away from where he was, his 66 year-old wife, Mildred was inside knitting in a back room while his 90 year-old mother was resting in her mother-in-law suite.

Bob heard a distant noise of an approaching plane, not uncommon for the area since the Grandview Airport had been replaced by Richards-Gebaur Air Force base in 1945.

This plane's sound was different. 

As Bob climbed the short hill in the fields nearby, the T-38 fighter jet, on descent to land at the base, seemed to fall from the clouds and scraped on his farmland in the distance. 

Panicked, Bob hit full-speed on his tractor, but the 18 mile-an-hour top speed was a turtle-pace compared to the fighter jet's power sliding across the farmland.
The Wyatt duplex on fire, the wreckage shown
Courtesy of the Kansas City Star

Bob recalled in the Kansas City Star, "I didn't think it would hit my house. In that direction there's a sloping gully and a good rise to the house. I felt sure it would be stopped by the hill."

Spitting jet fuel, gouging out chunks of earth and shaving large branches off the trees, the five ton jet scraped at full speed up the incline, barreled up the hill and became airborne again.

Without any ability to stop it, Bob helplessly watched as the T-38 plowed directly into the northwest corner of the house- right where Mildred had been sewing.

She was killed instantly.

The thrust of the plane carried her body all the way out to the front yard, and saved drawings from her years of teaching second grade in Grandview spewed in small, fiery pieces across the yard. 
My father, Lt. Col. Larry Euston in 1971
with a T-38 fighter jet

My father, retired Lt. Col. Larry Euston, flew a T-38 when he trained with the Air Force; I have seen their power in old videos and countless photographs of my father's days in the early 70s training on this very plane. 

Even though the reason for the crash seems to be unknown, it was on descent to land. Something went terribly wrong.

Neighbors gathered in horror at the site. Part of the house was in flames, but 90 year-old Emma Wyatt was able to get out to safety. Mildred, on the other hand, had no chance of survival. 

And neither did the two pilots. They died on impact as well.

Devastated, Bob watched as they located his beloved wife's body. He had tried to enter the home in order to save her, his clothes and hair singed, but it was too late.

Bob passed away in 1983. His mom, Emma followed in 1990.
Mildred Wyatt (1908-1976)

The Wyatt's lived on this homestead for over 100 years when Bob's estate posted the land for sale. And a man named Robert E. Wilson, owner of Wilson's Paint Store in Grandview, was looking for some land in the area.

There it was- that old, abandoned two story white farmhouse next door to the rebuilt duplex that had been the scene of a freak accident. Included in the sale was also the "tenant house" that had once been Joe and Bob Wyatt's primary residence before the brick duplex was built.

The real value of this land wasn't the structures that sat on it; it was the land. 

Abandoned and boarded up for years, the Wyley Wyatt two story house was said to be worthless and held "zero value of any kind." But Robert Wilson had other ideas.

When I first had the opportunity to meet Kathy Wilson Sutoris, Robert's daughter, it didn't take me long to see what true passion and love she has of the Wyatt farmhouse.

It almost feels as if it is part of her.
The side of the house pre-renovation in 1985

In 1986, Robert talked to his daughter, Kathy and her husband, Dave about the possibility of fixing up the old farmhouse so they could move in with their two young children. Kathy was an elementary school teacher in Grandview School District and Dave was a regional manager for General Parts.

Weary of the idea, Kathy's father saw the potential. "We'll fix'r up," Robert Wilson proclaimed.

When he bought 100 acres of the Wyatt farm, his intention was to give his grandchildren the same lifestyle he grew up with, complete with summer days fishing, acreage to explore and the safety of a small, tight community. 

Kathy and her husband were admittedly naive enough to say yes... and they never looked back.
An old JR Watkins medicine bottle
dug up on the land

"We were young!" Kathy exclaimed when recounting what possessed them to tackle such a huge project.

Kathy has always had a keen interest in antiques and history. Dave, on the other hand, didn't seem to care one way or the other. But his viewpoint changed as he put thousands of hours of sweat equity into the old Wyatt farmhouse.

He grew to love it just as much as she did.

She laughed when she recalled painting the trim in each room with an art brush, determined to preserve and highlight as many details as she could of her new old home.

With their two young sons in tow, they gutted- and I mean gutted- the 100 year-old farmhouse. When they went into the attic, they found out just how old farmhouses were "insulated."

Old tin cans and thousands of newspapers were shoved in corners throughout the attic. Headlines covering Al Capone and the Wright Brothers added extra intrigue to the charm this home had in every room.

Kathy Wilson Sutoris and her husband, Dave, proud
owners of the Wyatt House for 31 years
Most of the rooms in the home didn't even have electricity when they moved in- but the bones of the house were solid.

Over the years, Kathy and Dave tackled room after room of the four bedroom home. They added a much-needed bathroom upstairs, rewired the whole home and added central air and heating.

When Kathy was removing old wallpaper in one of the upstairs bedrooms, she was met with a surprise on the crumbled plaster walls underneath.

"There they were- signatures of many of the Wyatt's that lived in this home! I could see 'Wyley Wyatt, Martin City' clear as day. He and his family signed the wall!" Kathy recalled.

She worked desperately to find a way to expose these signatures, but the need for new walls was paramount. They laid sheetrock on top of the signatures, but they are still underneath the new walls.

Her children enjoyed living in the country-like setting, exploring the land and finding buried treasure at every turn.

The land always holds secrets from the past- and boy, this land saw some pretty exciting times!

Civil War era MiniƩ ball and musket ball recovered on the Wyatt land
Under the trees, her sons found marbles that the Wyatt children most likely played with during nice spring and summer days. Near the creek, her son unearthed bullets from the Civil War era.

Are they from Quantrill's Guerrillas? Considering the location, quite possibly.

The Sutoris family savored every paint stroke, refinished floor and careful renovation. They reared their children into adulthood on their 67 acres, including a red wood peg barn and outbuildings. 

They hosted parties, including their famous "Shrimp Fest" celebrated with family, friends and neighbors- a local coveted tradition they started years ago. Countless people have built countless memories with them on this historic land.


The dining room, featuring a trap door underneath the floor
to store valuables
But as time progressed and retirement was on the horizon, they made the decision to sell off 63 of their acres, including the peg barn, in 2010, leaving the original Wyatt farmhouse with 3.5 acres of rolling pasture. 

Reluctantly, it's time for Dave and Kathy to surrender the last piece of the parcel at 13811 Arrington Road.

"It's been one of the toughest decisions we have ever faced. But, it's time," Kathy explained with hesitation in her voice.

Dave and Kathy are ready to pass on the Wyatt farmhouse to the next generation that will love it as much as they have. They have opted to sell their 4 bedroom, 2 bath completely renovated farmhouse with the 3.5 acres left of the land.
The beautiful original floors from the dining
 room into the entryway showcasing 
the addition of the front 

"It's going to take a special person - a special family- to build memories like we have in this home," Kathy concluded. 

The Sutoris family just hopes that they can pass their beautiful home with layers of history to people that will love and cherish it as much as they have for the past 30 years.

The Wyatt house - the Sutoris' house- has many, many more years of love to give. 

This special land saw so much pre-Civil War, including the raising of one of Quantrill's toughest fighters. The land was sold to a Confederate veteran with an unforgettable name. Wyley raised ten children in his home, built with his own hands as he rebuilt his life. The land saw change in the distance and an airplane skid across its fields and into the house next door. 

It was saved by a family that was young, ambitious and content on restoring something back to its glory. Board by board, room by room, they revived Wyley's home into a beautiful country home only minutes away from modern conveniences. They brought it back to life.
An added three car attached garage modernized the home

If this ground could talk, it would tell a rich story.

I think of history as being layers of the earth. This land has seen so much pain, sacrifice, triumph, reconstruction and revitalization. This land- and all its history- will have a new perspective when fresh eyes and minds opt to build their own memories on this historic property.

From the Vaughn's to the Wyatt's to the Sutoris family. . . Over 170 years of history prevails upon this land.

Now the land and house are searching for the next chapter.

:)

*This house is NO LONGER FOR SALE and is a private residence. I wish the new owners happy blessings on their "new" historic home! 


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