Pamela Grizzell’s mother, Judith Penka, is one of the few who doesn’t want to see the inside of her daughter’s new old house until extensive remodeling is complete on the 150-year-old Martin Allen limestone homestead.
“Put your rose-colored glasses on,” said Pamela, inviting guests inside to tour the two-story Victorian home at 2704 Woodrow Court. She and her husband, Travis Grizzell, bought the house at the end of December, but their work to restore the home began in earnest just this past month.
“I’d hoped to be living in it by now,” said Pamela, a second-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary. Travis is the debate, forensics and drama teacher at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School.
The two have been busy, with Pamela doing costuming for TMP’s shows and both active in Hays Community Theater, including Travis’s preparation this summer for Disney’s "The Little Mermaid."
“Theater and the weather have not been complementary to this project,” said Travis, who had already made 40 trips to the dump before the two stopped counting. So far the couple have cleared the backyard of its heavy stand of foliage, replaced floorboards on the front porch, worked on the original plaster and lathe walls, had Budke Home Improvement shore up the old stairs, and taken many other steps.
Now they hope to move in by August, before school starts, and while the house is charming in its rustic appeal, the volume of work remaining seems daunting.
“It doesn’t faze me,” said Pamela. “My dad did this as a hobby, so it doesn’t scare me.” And his dad before him, did also, she said.
While her father, Jerald Penka, was a plant researcher at the K-State Experiment Station, Pamela said she tagged along with him as a child on his many remodeling adventures.
Looking around at the many tasks that need done, Pamela remarks of her father, who is no longer alive, “He would have loved this.”
It’s actually Travis, raised on a farm near Macksville, who has the skill set for much of the construction work underway, said Pamela, laughing. “He’s the brains and the brawn.”
He seems as calm as she is about the project.
“I’m kind of approaching this like Ye Ol' Stone House, the musical,” he said wryly, and for the zillionth time on the tour they both laugh.
Outside, the lilac bush out front is considerably smaller than it was earlier this summer, when it started out 40 yards long, eight feet high and 12 feet wide.
“I have been cutting lilacs all summer,” Pamela said, and she’s willing to share some of those that are left with anyone who wants them. “I will give a certificate of authenticity,” she laughs. “I love lilacs, I love plants, but it has to be controlled.”
There will be lots of sanding and painting ahead.
With all the work that needs done, the looming question is will they hit that August target?
“It depends on the level of tourism,” Pamela said. “We’ve had more tourists than most small countries. People knock on the door, even total strangers, and ask if they can see inside, so we show them around.”
Originally a four-bedroom house, that changed when water was piped in, and the smallest bedroom became what is now the home’s main, and very spacious, bathroom. It will ultimately have a claw bathtub that Pamela has preserved from one of her dad’s old projects.
Built about the same time as Fort Hays, the house is called the Martin Allen Home. It was the work of notable pioneer Martin Allen, a key to the success of Hays, including pushing for a land grant school and experiment station when Fort Hays was abandoned as a military post. The precise age of the home is still a mystery.
“It depends on who you talk to,” Pamela said. Possibly 1868 and 1872, when the limestone quarry near Hays opened up. But there may have been a house on the site prior to that, so the basement may be older, she said.
“We haven’t been able to find anything deed-wise going back further to when he sold it to C.W. Miller, the first curator of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History,“ Travis said.
The two have researched the house for about a year-and-a-half, including its more recent history as a home starting in the 1960s to notable Hays residents John and Dorothy Cody. Walking in on a hot summer day, the house, with its two-foot thick limestone walls, feels cool.
“We’re going to preserve as much as we can, while still making it homey,” Pamela said, pointing out some of the mysteries they uncover, such as the fireplace, which later gave way to a pot belly stove, that was converted to gas, and then nearby a possible floor furnace. “You just have to look for all the little clues,” she said.
George Armstrong Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody, who each had tenures in Hays, at one time were guests in the home.
“No matter what you think of those characters and the role they played in history, it gives me a shiver to think they walked across these floors,” Pamela said.
Even down in the basement, optimism, or maybe it’s realism, continues pervasive.
“I can close my eyes,” said Pamela taking in a panoramic view of the room, “and see a beautiful den.”