Krull House is a 2-story limestone structure located along Salt
Creek between Sprague and Roca. The Krull House is one of the
oldest houses in Lancaster County (about 150 years old). The following is my story about the house
and my involvement in its preservation
In January of 2001 my grandfather
Mark Steinhausen loaned me his grandfather’s copy of the “1903 Plat Book of
Lancaster County Nebraska” by Brown and Scoville to read and research. The plat book mapped every precinct,
section, farm and farmstead in the county as well as displaying
photographs of prominent farms, buildings and people. In one section of the book were written histories / remembrances
by early Lancaster County settlers. One
of these histories was by William Krull, son of pioneer Frederick Krull. William Krull’s history titled “Development
of Centerville” was a fascinating read.
He described the various creatures that roamed our area such as antelope
and catamount, the hardships faced by the earliest settlers, and stories about
the limestone house where he was born, which he claimed took seven years to
After reading the history I was
consumed with curiosity and awe at how a family could survive in such
conditions, and in the Krull family’s case, persevere and prosper. I also wondered “what type of house takes
seven years to construct?”. Obviously,
I thought to myself, a 135 year-old house was long gone so I didn’t give any
thought into researching it further - the house and the Frederick Krull family
legacy would remain just a curiosity, and nothing more….
On March 26, 2001, Denton
Community Historical Society member Luana Sullivan gave a presentation on
the History of Centerville at the monthly DCHS Meeting. Luana read aloud the same history by William
Krull that had fascinated me only months earlier. After she read about the construction of the limestone house,
Luana dropped the figurative bombshell that would change my life: ‘Yes I believe that old stone house is still
standing.’ I raced to Luana after the
presentation to introduce myself and ask more about the house. She knew very little about the house itself,
except she did know its approximate location, which was all I needed.
Camera in hand, I went to the
house the next day, but it was unfortunately on private property and the
driveway was gated. Out of pure chance
and luck, area farmer Russ Robertson stopped by my house the next day and I
asked him about the stone house.
Ironically his family had farmed the place for many years. Russ had
spent a lot of time working around the house and putting hay in the barn. Russ couldn’t give me permission to explore
the house but he did give me the names of the owners - the Batie
family. I contacted the Baties who did
graciously give me permission to explore the property. In exchange for allowing me to explore and
photograph the house, I told the Baties I would put together a brief history of
the property based on what little bit I had learned at that point in time. Krull House co-owner Mary Helen Batie was
born a Mitchell, daughter of Charlton Mitchell and granddaughter of Clinton
“Clint” Mitchell, both well known in the Sprague-Centerville community in years
past. Though the Mitchell - Batie
family had owned the Krull House for many years, they had not lived in it, nor
were the Mitchells any relation to the Frederick Krull Family.
On April 7, 2001 I first explored
the Krull House in detail. It was a
very warm day for early April, and very windy, however the wind was not
noticeable near the house because the area was so overgrown with trees. The house was a two-story structure whose
floor plan was shaped like a short, fat letter “T”, with three rooms down and
three rooms up, and a basement under the south half of the house. The exterior walls were built of limestone,
18” thick. There was a wood-frame
kitchen on the rear of the house that was an addition. When I inspected the house all of the
windows and doors were broken or missing as a result of vandals. The floors were rotted and covered with an
inch or more of a mixture of animal feces and dissolved plaster that had fallen
from the walls and ceilings. There were
large holes in the roof, and trees were literally growing out of the limestone
walls where the roof was missing. It
was definitely the most beautiful house in the world!
Frederick Krull was born in
Germany in about 1828 and trained as a blacksmith. He came to the U.S. at 22 years of age after completing his
German military service. He landed in
NY and then moved to a German community in Indiana where he met his wife to be,
Dorathea Marie Haase. Later, Frederick
moved to St. Joseph MO. The Krulls then
moved on to near Nebraska City and eventually to Lancaster County.
Based on various sources of
information in context of my research I have determined that Frederick Krull
came to Lancaster County Nebraska in 1862 as a result of the Homestead Act of
the same year. He built a “dugout” (an
earthen home) on a sloping bank of a hill about 200 yards above the Salt
Creek. Unfortunately runoff from a
Christmas 1862 rainstorm filled the dugout with water and frigid temperatures
soon afterwards made the floor a thick layer of ice. Frederick and the family moved into the yet unfinished dugout on
January 7, 1863, which William Krull described as “a night never to be
forgotten”. It wasn’t until the next
day that Frederick was able to construct a fireplace that would warm the
dugout. Apparently the family spent the
remainder of that winter in an unfinished dugout, but that was better than the
other option of living in the wagon as they had done while the dugout was being
constructed. The Krull family lived in
a dugout for 6 or 7 years while the limestone house was being built.
William Krull wrote that it took
his father 2 years to accumulate the limestone for the construction of the
house, the stone quarried from near Roca.
It took another 4 or 5 years to construct the house while the family
lived in the dugout. William Krull
wrote the following in regards to his father and the house:
“He (Frederick Krull) had no thought of buying anything which
he could make himself, as money was scarce, and all other building material
must be hauled from Nebraska City, nearly sixty miles distant. There were only two loads of lumber used in
the entire building, and that was the only material that required a cash
expenditure. The poorest grade of
lumber cost at that time from $75 to $90 per thousand. The building looks to-day as it did at its
completion thirty-five years ago.” (excerpt from the 1903 Plat Book of
Lancaster County published by Brown and Scoville)
Krull family descendents Ilene
Vorhies and her sister Marilyn Carstens had learned of my attempts to
research and preserve the Krull House and both have provided me with
information that has been very helpful.
Their mother Dorothy (Frohn) Hoffman wrote down the remembrances of the
Krull and Frohn families. The
handwritten remembrances were copied and forwarded to me by Ilene. My wife Kim and I have since transcribed them
on the computer for easy reading and reproduction. According to the stories told by Caroline “Lena” (Krull) Frohn as
remembered and written by her daughter, Dorothy (Frohn) Hoffman, there were
four children born in the dugout during the six-plus years that they lived in
it. These stories also told of Indian
encounters, hardships, migration and early Nebraska life.
Leona (Frohn) Wittstruck, another granddaughter of Frederick and
Dora Krull gave her remembrances of the “stone house” in an interview for the
Sprague Centennial Book written in 1988.
Mrs. Wittstruck said the Indians would come visit the Krull House:
“Mama’s mother was afraid of them. Her mother told about a big chief who came and sat down with his
blanket around him. Grandma Krull was
baking bread so she shared the bread and gave him a chicken prepared ready to
fix and they went off again. I don’t
remember how many there were. That
happened down near the old rock house.
That was on the Krull place.”
Krull House In The 21st Century
and researching the Krull House for a couple of years I believed that it
was worthy of preservation. I
approached the property owners, the Batie family, regarding its
future. We talked about my research, discussed the history of the
property, and I proposed that it be preserved. The Batie family encouraged me to continue my efforts on their
behalf, and research the feasibility and means to preserve such a
structure. In 2004 I visited with Mike
DeKalb and Ed Zimmer of the Lancaster County Planning Department. The men explained to me that the most
reasonable way to begin the preservation process was re-zone the Krull
Farmstead with a “Special Landmark Status Permit”. The landmark permit is a way for the county to recognize special
situations where established zoning standards are not applicable. After going through the application process,
the proposed zoning change passed through both the Lancaster County Planning
Commission and the Lancaster County Board unanimously.
After being recognized by the
county as a historic property, I was ready to move forward on the preservation
of the house. Upon discussing the
various options with the Batie family, they decided to sell it to me. My wife Kim and I agreed to purchase the
property, and on July 13, 2005 we closed.
Since closing, we have removed undesirable trees that were growing
around (and in) the house, and I have covered the roof with steel paneling to
prevent further leaking.
Fortunately for me, my new
neighbor Marvin Bice had some time to assist in my efforts. We have become good friends and excellent
co-workers while preserving the Krull House.
His efforts are a tribute to the pioneer spirit, when neighbors helped
Since our purchase, there have been
numerous visitors to the house, averaging between 5 and 10 people each day that
we are there. Most people are pleased
to see the house being restored. Many
folks have told me that I’m crazy for taking on such a project, while most
think it is a worthy task. I’ve been
very pleased to meet and share stories with the visitors to the house.
While I haven’t found a time
capsule or anything of monetary value, I have found some interesting items that
help put together the pieces of the Krull House puzzle. Probably the oldest and most interesting
piece was discovered at the top of the south wall of the house: While repairing a portion of the roof, a small
piece of metal exposed itself where the roof framing and limestone wall are connected. I brushed the dirt off the 1” x 2” metal tab
and discovered that it was a nametag stamped “Caroline Krull”. Of course I knew that Caroline was a
daughter of Frederick and Dora Krull.
Actually they had 2 daughters named Caroline (or Carolina), but the
first died while the family was living in the dugout, and she was actually
buried just south of the stone house.
Subsequently her grave was moved to Centerville Cemetery. The second Carolina Krull would become Lena
Frohn, or “Grandma Frohn” as those in the community respectively referred to
While removing the wood frame
kitchen from the stone house I discovered a piece of roof decking carved
“Charles W Kurtzer”. Charles Kurtzer
grew up and lived in the Centerville area for many years. I have found some documentation that Mr.
Kurtzer worked as a hired hand, later as a tenant farmer, and eventually a land
owner and farmer. It is likely that he
was hired by the Krulls as a general laborer when he was young and probably did
some carpentry and other work for them, perhaps he even occupied the home for
awhile. I also found the name J.H.
Koehler with the date June 1, 1912 written on some framing in the house where
the kitchen was attached. I believe Mr.
Koehler was probably the carpenter that added the kitchen to the house.
Grace (Krull) Damrow who grew up about 3/4 of a mile from the Frederick
Krull House said she remembered a Julius Koehler as a hired hand at their
farm. She said she remembers Julius played banjo at the
dances they'd have along Wittstruck Creek in the evenings. In researching
Julius Koehler I learned that his father was in fact a carpenter who came to
the U.S. from Germany, and I am assuming that he taught his skill to
son Julius who probably worked as a carpenter when he wasn't working as a
farm-hand (or playing banjo).
An ornate staircase was added
at the same time as the kitchen addition and it was a feature of the
house. Many people have asked me “Is
the staircase still there?” Unfortunately,
vandals destroyed the balustrade and the steps are deteriorated, however, Dr.
Harley Batie salvaged the top rail and he gave it to me to install back into
the home. The underside of the railing
is written in blue wax “Martell Lumber Co Martell Nebr”.
Locals knew William Krull as
“Banker Bill”. He operated the bank in
Sprague until the Great Depression. I
assume Bill Krull lived in the stone house until he moved into Sprague,
and later to Hallam. My father, like
many folks in the Sprague-Hallam area, took piano lessons from Blanche
After the Krulls left the stone
house some different families occupied it.
I was told the Recklings may have been one family that lived
in the house. We know the Ed
Moormeier family occupied the house for many years, until 1949. I found a piece of plaster in an upstairs
bedroom penciled with the name “Eddie Moormeier”.
The house never had plumbing or
electricity. The farm's water
was supplied by a windmill that sat above the hand-dug well just to
the north and east of the house. The well was about 4' in diameter
and the walls were lined with limestone.
My plan is to restore the house to
original, or at least as similar as is reasonable. First and foremost is preserving the structure so that it doesn’t
deteriorate further. I am currently
working on covering the roof, doors and windows. After the house is “preserved” I hope to save the lumber from the
collapsed 100 year-old barn that sat west of the house. I will re-use the salvaged barn wood to
replace floor joists and other areas of framing. The next step to the process is restoring the framing, floors,
windows, doors, stairs, trim and walls of the house. Later, the addition of a kitchen and bathroom would be the next
reasonable step if the house is ever to be occupied. Ultimately, I think that our family may live in the Krull
House. It is my belief (fear) that the
growth and development of Lincoln will eventually push us out of our existing
rural home. The Krull House would make
a good future home. I have set up what
I call a “20 year-goal” for completion of the Krull House. To loosely paraphrase what Lancaster County
Historic Preservation Planner Ed Zimmer told me, ‘A house doesn’t live unless
it is lived in’. I want to make the
Krull House live again.
Since originally writing this
story I have subsequently made some new discoveries, including the
location of the dugout where the Frederick Krull Family spent their first years
at the farm. I have also done more work on the Krull Family genealogy and
believe I have definitively connected the lineage of the various
Krull families that settled in the Centerville area in the 1860s and
I would like to take this
opportunity to ask area residents for permission to inspect other
limestone structures for the sake of documentation, comparison and ideas
for the Krull House project. Also, I need to collect period
materials for the house's restoration, namely I need Roca limestone for
the exterior footing / walls and a couple of old / authentic wood
burning stoves (the house was originally set up for 6 stoves,
one in each room!). If you own or know of historic limestone
structures or barns that I might photograph, or if you have any 1860s
period materials or furnishings that might assist me in the
preservation of the Krull House, or if you just want to visit and tour the
Krull House, please call me at 402-421-9258 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks! Matt Steinhausen