The for sale sign at 601 Oak is likely the closing chapter of Larry Rupp’s story with one of the oldest homes in Hays and for a dream that became a life project.
“I just want to get that property cleared up before I go,” Rupp, 76, said.
Rupp purchased the house — for the second time in his life — in January and had to do some cleaning and restoration work from the condition it was left in.
“I was sick when I opened that front door with what it was like inside,” Rupp said.
He had sold the house in 2013 after a 40-year period of his life restoring a then-crumbling structure and preserving its history.
In the last eight months, he’s worked to clean, restore and even partly refurnish the house he had decorated to match its original period. Velvet curtains had been torn down, door screens ripped out, and much of the furniture he had found and restored was gone.
Known as the Schlyer-Eastlack home, the two-story limestone structure was built in 1894 by John Schlyer, the son of German immigrants born in Buffalo, N.Y.
Railroad work brought Schlyer to Ellis County in 1868 or 1869 at the age of 20, but he soon found a more lucrative living hunting bison and other game for the railroad workers, restaurants and families in Hays.
His first limestone home was built southeast of Hays near Munjor, where he planted Osage orange trees and planted crops on 160 acres, according to an article in the Nov. 3, 1977, edition of The Ellis County Star.
Schlyer, who spoke German, assisted the Volga-German immigrants as they arrived in the area. He played a role in bringing the Catholic Church and Capuchins to Ellis County, according to the Star article.
He later became county treasurer, sheriff, Hays postmaster and a representative in the state Legislature, where he helped work on the land grant from the federal government that turned the former military reservation into what is now Fort Hays State University, the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station, Frontier Park and Historic Fort Hays.
He died in 1926 at the age of 77.
Martin and Mary Eastlack purchased the home in 1933, and when Mary died in 1974, it passed on to her daughter, Bonnie Storm.
By then, the house had deteriorated. Her husband, Pete, wanted to tear it down, Rupp said, but Bonnie wanted the house she grew up in restored.
That’s when Rupp entered the house’s story.
Rupp, a Hays native, had lived in the eastern and southern U.S., learning the construction and restoration trades, including preservation work in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
The Schlyer-Eastlack home was what he had been looking for.
“When I got married, I knew the kind of house I wanted was this. It took me 21 years to find that house, and it took me another seven years to buy it from Bonnie Storm,” Rupp said.
The Storms hired Rupp to restore the home in the mid-70s.
“It was the worst job I ever took on. I’d never taken on a stone house before. That one needed some engineering,” Rupp said.
“We had a really good relationship,” Rupp said of Bonnie Storm. “When it came time to do it, she said ‘Larry, I’m going to let this all up to you. Whatever you want to do to the house, I’ll leave it up to you.’ And boy did I spend her money.”
The home’s interior walls were falling in and floors were sagging.
“I did things I had no I idea I could do. It took everything I had and knew to do that place,” he said.
To save the sagging floor and ceiling in the living room, he created support with a coffee table made from an old steam-tractor wheel. It’s supported from below in the basement, and its four posts support the ceiling. A glass top and elegantly upholstered stools give it a look to match the period wallpaper, hardware and furnishings Rupp used to decorate the home.
“I bought all junk furniture or I bartered for it, and then I rebuilt it altogether. It was a lot cheaper that way,” he said.
Rupp said he purchased the home from Bonnie Storm in 1980; county records show the deed transferred to him in 1986. He estimated he’s spent well over $100,000 over the years of restoration.
He acknowledges it will take someone with a special interest to purchase the house.
“Most people would have turned their nose up at this house. But I fell in love with it,” Rupp said.
His real estate agent Adam Pray said the fact it doesn’t have a garage or washer and drier have been issues in the sale, but both say it could hold value as a business property rather than a residence.
A small office building that once served as the Storms’ insurance agency is included in the property, and Rupp said the first floor of the home would also make a good office space.
“I would like to see someone take it and just take care of the damn thing. Someone that’s maybe interested in the history of it,” Rupp said.