January 06, 2010
Anna Carr Sod House in Bison
View of Anna Carr House shows Two-Feet Thick Walls
After showing me around Earl's Museum in Bison on July 17th, Jan asked if I wanted to see the Anna Carr Sod House. I had never heard of the Anna Car Soddy. I didn't want to put Jan to any more trouble after she had gone out of her way to open the museum just for me, but she insisted on showing me the old sod house. She led me to another large steel shed nearby that has been erected to help preserve the old house, fiddled with a lock, and swung the door open. What greeted me has got to be one of the best preserved old time sod houses from the pioneer days on the northwest South Dakota plains.
The Anna Carr Sod House was the first building erected in Bison and also served as an early post office for the area. In fact, there was no town of Bison yet when Mrs. Carr and her two sons built the sod house in 1907. Housed today under a modern steel structure for protection from the elements, this building is one of a small handful of surviving examples of the type of dwellings many early pioneers erected on Midwestern plains. I was especially interested since my Dad was born in a sod house near Thunder Butte in 1921.
Modern Steel Shed Protects the Old Sod House
The Anna Carr Soddy has walls that are about two feet thick or more. The thickness of the walls and the sod made for good insulation from both the winter and summertime elements for early settlers. In the summertime, the temperature inside the house would stay fairly cool. In the winter, you were protected from the wind and snow, and a small stove combined with the thick walls would keep you pretty cozy.
What is sod? Basically, it is just mud mixed with hay or prairie grass and laid out to dry in the shape of bricks. Sometimes settlers just carved out “bricks” from shallow cuts in the ground, so that the grass and its roots would already be mixed with the soil. You would stack them to create a wall, which might be topped off by a tar paper roof and sometimes just sod piled on top of boards or branches. Sod houses were fairly sturdy in the short run, but would tend to dissolve or melt away after a long period of exposure to the elements unless it was constantly tended to and repaired. Most of the pioneers who constructed such buildings abandoned them as soon as they could afford more permanent dwellings constructed from wood. So, it is quite rare to find one of these sod houses still preserved.
Extra care over the years clearly has been taken with this soddy. For one thing, the exterior walls were all surfaced with what looks like stucco and quick lime. Also, the walls on the inside have been covered in siding to give the house the feel of a real home. Care also has been taken by Bison's residents to show how this house might have looked when it was lived in. Tour the house, and you can see an array of period furniture and household implements.
Old Organ and Furniture On Display in the Sod House*
Front View of the Anna Carr Sod House*
The Anna Carr Sod House, operated by the Perkins County Historical Society, is a must see attraction for those interested in the area's history.
*Note that these two photos are not mine, but are located on the web site for Bison tourist attractions, including the Anna Carr Sod House.