Sandhills town takes pride in authentic sod house

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 9:50 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 11:36 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - During a trip to the Custer County community of Anselmo, we learned about a sod house and jail you can see right on main street.

“The pioneer jail was used in the early years of the state,” area resident Barbara Pellor said. “They moved it to main street when they built the sod house. In 1966, the Anselmo alumni wanted to have a celebration for the state’s centennial in 1967. So, in addition to showcasing the old jail, they built the sod house. And, they built it as authentic as possible. They had a sod plow, they did it with horses, they didn’t use tractors, and it was all manual labor. It took them two weeks to build it.”

The jail is original. There has been some repair on it over the years, and foundation work continues. “In my memory, other than playing in it when we were kids, I don’t remember it being used,” Pellor said.

As for the sod house, the work on it took time. “It took residents a while to find the right kind of sod,” Pellor said. “You can’t just go dig up sod anywhere. The first place they tried didn’t work. The sod wasn’t thick enough. So, they had to do some scouting. It also takes some skill to be able to run the sod plow. Some of the younger people learned it wasn’t as easy as they thought it might be. The blocks have to be heavy, and it took two people to carry them. They put them on a horse-drawn wagon to bring them into town. Our ‘Big Sky Jubilee’ is the last weekend in June, and that’s when they had it done back in ’67. That was the beginning of our ‘Big Sky’ celebration, and it marked the state’s 100th birthday.”

Pellor says maintaining buildings like this is important. “I was told once we are basically just one generation away from not having any memories of our history,” Pellor said. “People don’t realize what a sod house entailed, how much it took to build it, and how long they lasted. They are also weather efficient. In the summer, it’s cool in there. I’m sure it was easy to keep warm in the winter. Homesteaders didn’t have the trees then, so they relied on the sod to help them through. History is important.”

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