This old house full of Lawrence history
Owners restore home, one of first built in city
Steve Scannell was browsing Kansas University’s website one day at work when he came across a historical article about architects at KU. Being an architect himself in design and construction management, he read the article and stumbled across a name he recognized: Ferdinand Fuller.
Fuller was an early architect in Lawrence and designed the first building for Kansas University. Suddenly, Scannell learned he had a much more personal connection with Fuller. Fuller’s was the first name on the deed of the land for the house Scannell had just moved into, dating back to the 1854. Scannell’s house, 1005 Sunset Drive near Hillcrest School, was one of the oldest in Lawrence. In February, the house was added to the Register of Historic Kansas Places.
“When we bought the house, we had no idea how old or historic it was,” Scannell said.
In 2009, Scannell and his wife, Lynn, were in the market for a home with a porch near campus. They toured the 1005 Sunset house one day and made an offer the next. They thought the style of the old farmhouse would fit their tastes and the furniture Lynn had been collecting for years.
“It’s like she’s been buying furnishings for this house since the day we were married, and we didn’t know it,” Steve said.
The Scannells started renovating the house. While working in the kitchen, they found newspapers stuffed in the wall dating to 1863. Those made Steve guess the house itself was built in 1864, at the time more than a mile from the heart of Lawrence. The deed verified that guess, complete with President Abraham Lincoln’s name confirming Fuller had claimed the land under the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Fuller proved an interesting character, and after some research, Scannell found that he had given Mount Oread its nickname and built North College, the first Kansas University building.
“There’s all kinds of connections to the city,” Steve said. “We’re just trying to preserve it for future generations.”
Behind the walls
Work on the house revealed many unique details.
The dining room floor slopes down 3.5 inches from one corner to the other.
The width of a hallway upstairs was decreased during a previous renovation, leaving 17 inches for people to squeeze through to reach the stairs.
The classic doorbell remains, with a chain running to the ceiling to an actual bell.
The wood that forms the walls to the upstairs office was originally from crates used to carry chemistry supplies delivered to KU in the 1800s.
The Scannells used and preserved many materials that were already in the house, at one point moving a historic door to fit a new floor plan upstairs. Keeping these materials meant supplies weren’t hard to find, and the Scannells paid for the project by reinvesting money they got from selling their previous house in Topeka.
The home’s historical designation also meant that historically significant elements of the house couldn’t be changed, such as the form of the house, the authentic windows or the original wood floors.
Builders during the renovation would suggest they throw out original trim, but the Scannells kept it, for style and history’s sake. They carried on that style when decorating after the renovation, leaving walls painted white and passing on wallpaper.
“The simplicity of it seems to make sense,” Lynn said.
Much of the renovation work that went into the house can’t be seen now, Lynn said. The wiring, plumbing and other nuts and bolts of the house had to be updated.
“We wanted to really save the house because it’s a neat old house. There’s a pretty good chance if a developer bought it they would have torn it down,” Steve said.
Steve said he was surprised that the house was in the condition it was, because many houses from the time were stone or brick.
“This is unusual because it’s a wood frame structure,” he said. “People don’t realize how old it is.”
Much of the updating has included closing areas that could let in drafts and installing a new roof over the family room.
“Living in a house like this makes you think of ways to be more efficient,” Lynn said.
And the Scannells seem made for this house. Because Steve is an architect, he can do much of the renovation work and research himself. Lynn has been collecting historical pottery and housewares, and now it finally has a place to shine.
“When we walked into the house, we just said, ‘OK, everything’s going to work here,'” Lynn said. “It allows me to pretend I’m living in that time period.”
Still on the restoration list is repainting the exterior, replacing the nonhistorical windows in the house, filling in any chinks in the foundation and updating the kitchen.
“We’re trying to get the major stuff done early so we can enjoy it,” Steve said.
Farther out is installing a circular driveway in front of the detached garage, more landscaping, and Lynn wants some egg-laying chickens. Steve said if he was ever lucky enough to win the lottery, he would take off the siding that has been added to expose the original siding, which would make the house eligible for the national register.
But for now, they’re going at a steady pace to create the perfect home while preserving a piece of Lawrence’s history.
“We’re not in too big a hurry. We enjoy the process of doing something over time,” Lynn said. “It’s not a project, it’s a work of art.”