NSGS Ancestree Vol. 5 No. 4

NSGS Ancestree

- 124 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

Submitted by: Mr. Eugene C. Titus, Ashton, MD.


Washington County, NE

You ask why a lament for a house? Well, this is an account about a house built in the late 1860s or early 1870s that overlooked the town of Blair in Washington County, NE. All right, you may ask, but what is so special about this old house! I would agree it is not an unusual house nor does it fall into the class of those large and famous homes of the East, but it was the home of an early pioneer and developer of what was then Cuming City, Nebraska Territory, and maybe more importantly, depicted a way of life in early Nebraska history that is being lost to us through the use of the wrecking companies ball!

The house was built for Lewis Mines Kline who was born in Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia in January 1815. He was one of eleven children of Lewis and Elizabeth Conrad Klein. Lewis Kline, for some unknown reason, changed the spelling of his name from Klein to Kline. However, all of his brothers and sisters retained the original family spelling. Lewis left Waterford and moved to Cumberland, Maryland prior to his fathers death in 1837. Here he met and married Emily Elizabeth Rittenhouse of Uniontown, Pennsylvania in February 1849. Emily's father, Colonel Abner Rittenhouse, was a noted flutist and a member of General George Washington's staff during the Revolutionary War.

After their first child, John Crawford Wright Kline who was born in March of 1850 in Cumberland, the Kline's and their infant son left by covered wagon for the California gold fields. Due to Emily's illness during the early part of their journey, they decided to remain behind in Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Iowa. Here they remained for approximately nine years and raised four of their eleven children, Sumantha Elizabeth - born September 1851, Doddridge Henderson - born July 1853; Emma Virginia - born September 1854; and George Washington - born February 1856.

Lewis Kline was reported to have been an early Mayor of Kanesville, in addition to having operated a tavern and a fruit tree nursery. In 1856, the Klines moved to and established a farm in Washington County, Nebraska Territory, which was to become part of the short-lived town of Cuming City. Here, Louis Rittenhouse Kline was born in August 1858. All of their remaining children, Frank Rogers - born July 1860; Abner - born September 1862; Maud - born September 1866; and Louise - born February 1873, where born in Blair with the exception of Nellie Grant who was born in Omaha in June 1864.

Lewis Mines Kline died of a heatstroke which was brought on while working in his Sorghum Mill in September 1872. His wife, Emily died at home at the age of 77 in June 1903. Lewis, Emily and all of their children, with the exception of Maud Kline Peterson, are buried in the Kline Family Plot in the old Cuming City Cemetery. The land for the cemetery was donated by Lewis and Emily Kline in 1857. It is located approximately three miles north of Blair and overlooks the Missouri River Valley. This eleven acre tract of never-cultivated tall grass prairie, has been deeded to Dana College on the condition that it remains forever in its natural state.

A picture of the house, taken sometime in the 1880's showed it to be a two story affair, constructed of yellow brick with red brick designs at the corners , while the second story was covered with ornate wooden shingles. In a book written in 1903 by Daniel H. Carr entitled, “Men and Women in Nebraska, Washington County Edition," he stated, "Lewis Kline's home was the first brick home to be erected in Cuming City." I think this statement is in error, as Cuming City as an official town had already disappeared by the time this house was built. The majority of the homes and buildings in Cuming City had been moved to Blair by the late 1860's. The shape of the house was in the form of a cross, with two porches on the front, one off the sitting room and the other off the diming room. During the 1880's the first floor included a parlor, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and upstairs were four bedrooms, each quipped with a "thunder mug. The front lawn was outlined with beds of peonies, roses, and irises. In the picture, one can see fruit trees growin near the carriage house. Mr. Carr in his book, mentions that, "Lewis Kline had operated the first fruit tree nursery in Kanesville, Iowa and was the first man to supply Nebraska settlers with fruit trees." Lewis was one of the early developers and land owners of Cuming City; Mayor of the town in 1857; Editor and Publisher of the Cuming City "Nebraska Pioneer;" a representative to the Nebraska Territorial Legislature from Washington County; a lawyer; and a farmer.

Up until a year ago, I would have agreed with you that it was just another old home that had met the fate of thousands of homes that have stood in the pathway of progress. However, my thinking was rudely changed, after being given a small hadwritten journal or better yet a series of vignettes with pen and ink drawings that described the house; some of its occupants; how the rooms were furnished; the "outhouse"; the sorghum mill; and flowers that grew in and around the house. From the journal, one is able to get a small glimpse of life as it was in

- 125 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

A LAMENT FOR A HOUSE, continued:

the 1880s and 1890s for a moderately well-to-do family living in Blair.

The journal was written in 1941 by Rena Belle Kline Farr, a granddaughter to Lewis and Emily Rittenhouse Kline. Rena was born in Washington County in 1879 and after her father, Doddridge Henderson Kline, died in 1886 she was sent by her mother, Caroline Ester Pointer Kline to live with her Grandmother in Blair. Here she remained for a number of years. Her Grandmother's influence on her thinking is quite prevalent throughout the journal. The following vignettes have been taken from Rena's journal.


The most wonderful house in the world to me. It was a big sort of square, cream colored brick, with designs on the corners and walls of red brick. It faced east with a big bay window dividing the two east porches. The door on the north porch opened into the hall, from which company would go into the "parlor". Other folks went the other way into the sitting room. The door on the other porch led into the diming room1. On the south (west side of the house) there was a big screened-in back porch off of the kitchen. The "sitting room" was the room most used. Today, it would be called the living room, which would describe it much better for it sure was lived in! In the sitting room was a big bay window looking out onto a flower bed that any flowerist (sic) would envy. If there were any flower or plants that would grow in Nebraska soil, that was not there - it was because my aunts2 or Grandmother hadn't heard of it. There were small (flower) beds against the house and vines growing to the roof.

On the walls of the "sitting room" was a wall paper with designs that always looked to me like turtles. Those gold turtles will follow me as long as I live! Near the south window was an oblong marble topped table of hand carved walnut. On it stood a tall lamp with a vaseline bottom on which were scenes of water, sailboats, mountains, and blue sky with white clouds. The big milky colored shade had similar scenes. Beside the lamp was the bible, a great heavy leather book with letters of gold on the back. There was always a vase of flowers, the weekly paper, magazines, and a glass paper weight. In the corner near the table was the"what not." and that was a museum in itself. There were sea shells and coral brought all the way from Virginia3, Indian arrows and beads given by friendly Indians for chickens, statuettes of Dresden china, but what I coveted most of all was a petrified snake and a piece of petrified wood. By the opposite window, facing the north, stood the bookcase. Of all those books there, only one that I remember - a picture album - filled with cards and colored pictures cut from books and magazines. I never tired looking at it.

On the wall by the window was an oil painting of a girl in a golden frame, a very fine piece of work and very old. No matter where you stood in the room those big brown eyes looked at you. In the center of the room, hanging from the ceiling, was an oil lamp fringed with long crystals, which reflected the colors of the rainbow. How I wanted one and always had an unholy desire that one would fall off. The lamp could be moved up and down. Against the other wall was the sofa and above it a shelf on which stood a clock, and ornament of geese beside a tree stump which was my great, great, grandmother's4, a pair of vases with crinkley edges, a china sheep with rough fur, a sand glass slipper and a little brown jug.

In winter, a huge square hard coal burner stood near the sofa. That stove was a thing of art. Different colored pieces of tile with Grecian designs on them encircled the stove, which was almost covered with nickel work. And when you looked at the nickel, a funny face whick (sic) was your own, looked out at you. On the very top was a bronze urn which had colored glass jewels in its sides. The red coals could be seen through the isinglass, and my Grandmother would tell us stories of what she saw in the blue flames. The top would move around when lifting up the lid, and into the cavity under the lid, was poured scuttles of coal that made a very lovely rattle as it when down.

Double doors (from the sitting room) opened into my Grandmother's bedroom. In one corner stood a carved walnut bureau with its marble top. On it were two shell containers, in one was a clothes brush, in the other a hair brush and comb. Between them stood a silver jewel box, with three drawers lined with red velvet, containing rings and pins. The top was in the shape of an arch with a hook in the center, on which hung a watch. The whist broom holder hanging beside the dresser was a big yellow butterfly made of felt.

In the opposite corner of the room was the wash stand an exact repetition of the bureau only narrower. On it was a blue and gold bowl and pitcher and below in a little cubicle of it own was the "thunder mug" with its knit husher. The bed was a big walnut hand carved affair, big enough for three people and had a top matress filled with feathers. Covering the pillows, during the day, were embroidered (and starched so stiff they were like boards, pillow shams). They usually had a verse with flowers around it embroidered in colors.

- 126 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

A LAMENT FOR A HOUSE, The House, continued:

Across the hail (from the sitting room) was the parlor, only used when there was company or on Sundays. In there was a set of blue plush furniture - the very top notch of class, but not so comfortable. A mahogany table with a marble top held a lamp with a painted bowl on a brass base, the shade was really a handsome thing. Beside the lamp, on one side was a wire basket with a dish forming the bottom which held a steropitican set with pictures. On the other side a dish held the visitors calling cards. A couple of family albums held a prominent place, one was red velvet with a mirror on the back. Everyone was supposed to look at Uncle Frank5 Aunt Catherine6, and me. A chinese box held the old Diguerotypes. There was a metal shelf with tall black glass vases, figurines of bisque, photographs in silver frames, but no dried flowers.

On the walls were enlarged pictures of the dead also one or two of the living. Over the bay window which faced north and the road - was a long picture called "A Yard of Roses." The windows were curtained with very fine net and lace and it was just too bad if anyone of us kids got too close to them with our grubby hands! In that room the marriges (sic) were performed and it was there my father7 lay in his casket, when I was a tiny child and later my Grandmother.

On the top of the hill west of the house stood the Danish college8 rising tall and majestic and could be seen for a long ways off in every direction. When the windows were open we could hear the choir singing.

Built in the side of that hill was the cyclone cellar.  In it was a couple of chairs, cot, table with lamp, and matches.  Only once was it necessary for me to enter and then under protest.  The sky was queer looking and the air so still one could hear their own breath.  My Grandmother watched every change (in the sky) and when the clouds began to whirl - it was a rush for the cave for all.  I always did love a storm so I lingered outside. After calling me several times, my Grandmother came out after me and for the first and only time, nearly shook the breath out of me.  I went in, but it only was a wind storm with rain and no cyclone at all and was I disgusted!


1. Mr. Phil Larsen of Blair, who was born in the House, said that the dining room had built-in cabinets.
2. Maude Kline Peterson, Nellie Grant Kline Aile, Samantha E. Kline Dixon, Emma Kline Davie, and Louia Kline Peterson.
3. Lewis Mines Kline was born and raised in Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia.
4. This may have come from the Rittenhouse side of the family that lived in Pennsylvania as no ornament of this description was listed with Lewis Kline's Grandfather's estate.
5. Frank Rogers Kline, son of Lewis and Emily Kline.
6. Unknown
7. Dodridge Henderson Kline, son of Lewis and Emily Kline
8. Now called Dana College. The land that old "Main" stands on was donated by John C.W. Kline and Henry Dexter in 1885.


Past the well was a board walk leading down to a  small house with a crescent cut in the door and a square of shutters on each side. Chick Sales9 wrote about one such house and called it his "Speciality.” My Grandmother called it “Old Peggy.” The grape yard began right in front of Old Peggy and no one ever closed the door for it made a wonderful picture looking at while one hesitated within.

In summer there was always a chicken or two laying near on under the vines with a leg or wing spread out against the cool earth  and as a fly or buy came by would lazily stretch out their necks to catch it. Then it seemed there was always a train going around the hill with its hard puffing from the two engines (that) those long freights always had. It was rather pleasant visiting Peggy on a summer day - but at night that was another story. First it was a place a lamp where it would shine on the path, take a lighted candle go across the big porch off the kitchen, down the steps and along the brick walk to the well with its funny roof, then down the terrace onto the board walk which were planks laid end to end. And here one had to watch their step or he would catch a toe between the boards. Then their was the grass so close to the feet that might be hiding a snake or other horrible crawling things! Then when Peggy at last was reached and the candle held in first - making awful shadows you called back, - "I got here!' as if you had accomplished something great! Then came the perilous trip back. But that was nothing in comparison to visiting Peggy on a winter night when the snow blew up your legs and into your ears and eyes. That was something only (Admiral) Byrd or (Commander) Peary could appreciate. And that seat after the snow was brushed off - it makes me shiver to think of it even now!!

Peggy had a distant dwarf relation which my Grandmother called the "Thunder Mug."The mug had a lid which was dressed up  in a fancy knitted covering called a husher. In case of emergency, the thunder mug was called into action. But who ever did so had to carry the thunder mug down the plank walk the next morning and give the ablution.

9. Unknown.

- 127 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

A LAMENT FOR A HOUSE, continued:


There were other chairs better and more confortable, but that big wooden rocker with its woven reed back and seat was my Grandmother's special property and no one else ever dreamed of using it. It's arms were broad and were used as seats by my cousins and me as we listened to the "never-grow-old" stories of the days of the long trip in a covered wagon from far off Pennesylvania10 (sic) The shivers would run up and down our backs and we really knew indians and wolves were behind every chair.

The chair itself was a sturdy thing. The woven back was shining from constant use, and you could see the shape of the back that had pressed dents in it. The fat cushion on the seat was made of small pieces of silk and velvet of all kinds of colors and shapes. They were stitched together with different colors of silk thread in many different pattersn (sic). Every one of those pieces had a history - one from my aun't wedding dress - one from a great uncle's tie - one from a little girl's hair ribbon - but they all had a story that my Grandmother never forgot.

In the winter this chair always stood near the big heater in the sitting room and we all tried to see the pictures my Grandmother said she could see in the read coals. In the summer, it usually was on the porch off the dinning room11 and there is where I best remember my12 Grandmother - sitting there with her big palm leaf fan and me on the steps and maybe Louise my young Aunt setting on a step too. In front of us was a hugh flower bed in the shape of a heart edged with bricks. The peonys and rose bushes stretched way down to the end of the lawn. It seems there was always a long freight training just going behind the hill and puffing as its two engines could never make the grade, and leaving behind two long banners of black smoke.

One could see Blair in those days from that porch and invariably hear a dog fight going on in "Dog Town," that part of Blair which is described as "the wrong side of the tracks." That view from beside my Grandmother's chair was stamped on my brain with indelible ink. I still today (1941) can smell those flowers, see the long shadow and hear the double tooting of those trains.

Speaking of those chiar arms - once I wanted to give my gum a rest so I placed it carefully under one arm -. a sad mistake on my part! I had to remove every particle and believe me it was no fun getting a wad of sticky gum off and then wash away all traces with soap and water!

That sturdy old chair was symbolic of my Grandmother, well made of strong materials, gave the best of service through all those years, was always there when wanted by tired and weary bones and was still good to look at.

10 Lewis and Emily Kline were married in Pennsylvania, but lived in Maryland prior to leaving for the west in 1850
11 I have a picture of the house taken sometime in the 1880s or 1890s showing the rocker on the front porch.
12 Louise Kline Peterson

My Grandmother's Flower Stand

The flower stand was a huge semi-circle affair made of heavy wire, painted green and trimmed with gold. It was a pyramid of shelves, high as a man's shoulder and occupied the entire bay window in the sitting room.

I use to think that every kind of flower that grew was on that stand. There were a dozen kinds of cacti, from the little round button to that wonderful night blooming cirius. I was allowed to sit up 'til midnight to watch it unfold its white petals and spill its strong perfume. Then when morning came that thing of beauty was all black and wilted.

There were foliage (plants) of red, yellow, green and purple; bleeding hearts, angle wings, the big shiny rubber plant, ivy, wandering jew and dozen of others. In the center and under this hill of wire and vegetation was a hollow space for a child to play. I used to creep in there with my doll and have a grand time until spider would run me out. The spider always won for it was mighty bad luck to kill one. Right beside the flower stand was my Grandmother's prize possession - an Olander tree. It grew in a wooden tub end always seemed to have pink blossoms weighing its limbs down - but it was just too bad for anyone that picked a flower off that tree!

The archway over the stand had lace curtains dropped back and held by big knobs of glass. Above the curtains where the arch divided and the picture molding ended forming two tiny shelves; on one a wooden owl, carved by my father and the other a rubber rat with fierce red glass eyes. His stomach formed a bag made of red soik to hold tobacco. Everyone of my Grandmother's grand kids had played with the owl and rat - but only as a reward of good conduct.

- 128 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

A LAMENT FOR A HOUSE, My Grandmother's Flower Stand, continued

     On certain days the plants had to watered, it was a real ceremony! My aunts would bring in the water, a long handled tin dipper, a spoon and a pair of shears. Each and every plant was carefully examined, its dead leaves cut and the handle of the spoon used to loosen the soil, the right amount of water given and lastly the leaves wiped with a damp cloth.

That was some job but it was considered a pleasure and was enjoyed to the utmost by my aunts and Grandmother. I was allowed to watch but not to help!


South of the house beyond the vegetable garden stood the sorghum mill, a long frame building. Along the south wall (of the building) was the fireplace, an oven like affair made of bricks, with enormous tin pans covering the top. Outside (the mill) to the south was the machine which crushed the stalks of cane, causing the sweet green juice to run into a pipe which led into the pan inside (the building).

The (crushing) machine was made to work by a horse going round and round in a circle. His feet had worn the path deep. A load of cane would be driven up and the cane slowly fed into the mill, on one side, and would come out at the other side crushed and dry (with the juice running into the mill). The first pan contained the raw green juice, where the cooking started. The second pan contained juice that had thickened a little and (had) changed to a greenish amber. The contents of the third pan had lost all the green color, was dark and thicker. The fourth and last pan was of a mahogany color and quite thick.

When the sorghum was entirely cooked the little gate, which was in the end of all the pans, was raised and the syrup ran into a barrel. As one barrel was filled another took its place and so on until the pan was empty. Then the gate connecting with the third pan was raised and its contents flowed into the now empty fourth pan. The same operation took place between the other two pans leaving the first ready to again receive the green juice.

That was a very enticing spot for a kid and if you were real quick, you could get a couple of fingers covered with the "lickengood" syrup before someone ran you out. When the season was over and all the barrels hauled away, the furnace was cleaned out, the pans polished, oiled and put away - which meant - placed up side down on top of the furnace for the winter. And oh do they make the most beautiful music, when I got on top of them and danced! But it didn't last long, for just as I was having the most fun, someone was sure to shout, "Rinee!' and that meant I'd better stop!

(Her grandfather, died in September 1872 from heat stroke brought on by working in the sorghum mill.)


Tall with big bones, strong will and character, honest, God fearing of pure Holland blood was Emily Rittenhouse Kline, born in Union Town, Pennsylvania. Soon after her marriage (in 1849) to a young Virginian, Lewis Mines Kline (also a Hollander)13 they  joined a caravan of covered wagons (in the summer of 1850 from Cumberland, Maryland) that was starting for California. The story of that long wearsome journey is history. Part of the journey was pretty bad for her, for she was sick, homesick, and afraid, for soon she was to have a son14 that she did not want. They stopped at Kanesville, what is now Council Bluffs, Iowa for a while, then crossed the river and spent the winter at Florence with Brigham Young and his wives. Even with her religion (she was Baptist), my Grandmother held him in the highest esteem, she said, he was a wonderfully good man. My aunts would kid her about liking him and she always said - "If more men were like him, this world would be a better place to live in!”

They didn't go on with the caravan (to California) but settled on land given by the government15 and became farmers. She went through many a harrowing experience with Indians and wolves.

In those days there was no birth control and babies came thick and fast. When my Grandmother had ten and another expected to arrive very soon her husband was brought home dead, killed in an accident, and again she resented the coming of a baby. But she often said - the two she didn't want were the two she needed most and did the most for her. Her first, though still a boy16 took a man's place and helped her with all. As she put it, (he) was her staff on which she leaned.

When all the other children were married and gone to their new homes Louise17  the last and and unwanted, stayed in the old home with her until she passed away.18 I considered her the most wonderful women (sic) I ever knew. I adored her as a child and as I grew older my love increased.

On Sunday morning she would go to church. She wore a tiny black bonnet always. In

- 129 -


Spring 1983

Volume V, No. 4

A LAMENT FOR A HOUSE, My Grandmother, continued,

summer it was made of lace with velvet Pansies or violets on it. In winter it was of velvet and usually had black beaded roses on it, a very fancy creation. Louise would hitch up old "Betsy," who was fat and so old that white hairs showed all over her black body. (They would) drive to church in a pheaton that was the pride of my Grandmother's heart. It had a big shiny top, low step stretching up into the mud guards over the high wheels. There was a funny square lamp on each side and a red tasseled whip sticking in the pocket. The day old Betsy was retired to the pasture to end her days in idleness, my Grandmother went about the house as sad an blue as if she had lost her best friend.

Rob a big, black horse took Betsy's place as the buggy horse. He used just any excuse (or none) to run away and then would get the wallping of his life. Louise used that whip plenty on that black hide of his, but never entirely cured him of his love for dancing down the road trying to scare Louise and my Grandmother and they didn't scare at all!

After Emily Kline's death in 1905 the home was sold by the family to the P.G. Vig. Over the years it passed through the hands of several other owners before it was finally sold along with 10 1/2 acres by the Gilbertson family in 1920 to Dana College. The home was used by the college as a professor's home, an infirmary, and finally as an overflow residence for students.

The home, grounds, flowers and outbuildings went into a slow but steady decline. In a picture of the home in 1908, it showed the flower beds and many of the trees in back of the house had disappeared. A later picture, taken in 1941 showed that the bright yellow brick walls with the red brick designs and ornate wooden shinales has been covered with white paint, gone was the carriage house, well, sorgham mill and fruit trees.

The old home was torn down in 1960-61 to make way for the construction of a new science building and unfortunately with it went a small part of Nebraska's early history. Today the only visual remains of the old house is a small portion of the front door that was made into a special plaque that now hands in the C. A. Dana Hall of Science at Dana College. Thus my lament for a house!

13 The family name was spelled Klein and they were from Germany.
14 I think she is referring to their son John Crawford Wright Kline. John however, was born March 1850 in Cumberland, Maryland, prior to their departures for the West.
15 The Kline's lived in or near Kanesville from 1850 until about 1856 when they moved across the river into Washington County, Nebraska. Congress in 1854 established the Nebraska Territory, which stretched west from the Missouri River to the peaks of the Rockies and north to the Canadian border, which was opened to settlers. The Omaha Indians ceded land including Washington County area to the Federal Government and moved north some 50 miles from Blair to a reservation assigned to them by the government.

16 John Crawford Wright Kline was 22 years old when his father died in 1872.
17 Louise Kline Peterson was the youngest child of Emily and Lewis Kline.
18 Emily Rittenhouse Kline died in 1903.

Mr. Titus, the author of this article, resides at ... Ashton, Maryland and is the Grandson of Rena Kline Farr.


Submitted by: Mrs. Georgene Morris Sones, Omaha, NE


Class No. 3, Cressa MORRIS, Teacher





Lanzelle RIGGINS




Andrew BURR




Richard MORRIS


Rev. W. J. LYNCH, Pastor

Neils DANIELSON, Supt.



** Note: These electronic pages are provided for your personal use, and may not be reproduced in any format for profit, nor for presentation in any form by any other organization or individual. They may be freely copied for your personal use. **

Return to TOC for Volume 5, Nebraska Ancestree

© 2004 for the NSGS & NEGenWeb Projects by Ted & Carole Miller