The Washington-Ames House Story

"Big House" in Leoti

In the city, if you say that you were going to the "Big House," you may be talking about going to a prison. But, if you said that in Leoti, you just might be going to Margie’s "Big House!" The Wichita County Historical Society would like to announce that Margie’s big house has very graciously been donated to them by Margie’s families, Norman and Yvonne Ames, Dean and Lorna Wiegers, all of Leoti and Sandra Quartemont of Cudahy, WI. Margie’s house will be the beautiful jewel of Leoti, as it once was.

The house will be called the Washington-Ames house. As best we can put together, William B. and Julia Washington were the original owners. W. B. came here from Kentucky. He made his home in Leoti since May of 1886,and set up practice as a pioneer lawyer before the county had actually been settled.

As a young man, W.B. became a prominent attorney in Kentucky. His first case in the District Court of Henderson County was a suit prosecuted for carpenter work against a wealthy tobacconist. Mr. Washington won the case, although the trial almost resulted in a court room fight. He also defended Aaron Hooper, who was charged with arson of his jewelry store in Leoti by an insurance company. He secured a verdict in favor of his client. He was a tenacious defender of the law and for many years was active in Wichita County politics.

W.B. and Julia raised 4 sons, Herbert, Harry, William B. Jr. and Herschel, in this home. Julia passed away in 1926 and W.B. in 1934. There may even be someone out there that will remember W.B. or Herschel. We recently found pictures of both W.B. and Julia and another of the four children at our courthouse. We are looking for anything from the family to put on display in the house.

The big house is located on the corner of J and 3rd Streets. In early photos, the house was painted a dark color with light colored trim and had decorative gingerbread trim which will be replaced. Our plans are to paint the exterior of the house like one of the Victorian Painted Ladies of that era. It will catch the eye of people traveling on both highways #96 and 25 and our hope is they will stop in Leoti for awhile. We will have signs about the restoration project in the yard.

An interesting story is at the time of the Tornado of 1923, many buildings around the big house were destroyed, but the big house stood firm. One of the photos taken at this time shows roofs, boards, mangled tin, etc. lying all around it. Another time, there had been a fire in the house. Every home has a story to tell of the sad and happy events that went on in the home, and its like they say, If only walls could talk. We would love to hear and document any stories and memories that people have of the house and its owners.

After the passing of his parents, Herschel Washington rented the home as a private residence to the Cibluski family. Several years ago, Martin Van DenLangenberg, a descendant of the Cibulski’s toured the museum and donated a lovely picture of the house taken in the late 1930s. The back porch had not been added on to the house at this time.

In 1943, the big house was sold to Pearl Burch, and in 1947, Tom Burch acquired a Hotel & Restaurant license and rented the upstairs bedrooms to teachers or high school students that lived in the country. One of the licenses was still hanging up on the porch when Margie & Oren purchased the house. We believe that the back porch was added at that time. Does anyone remember anything about it?

Margie and Oren Ames purchased the big house in about 1958 from Tom Burch. The Ames family lived there for many years. Sometime after the passing of her husband, Margie moved to a smaller home in Leoti. The big house was full of antique furniture and other collectibles, remaining that way until her passing in 2004.

One of the large displays at the Museum of the Great Plains is Margie’s Boutique and Millinery Shop, which is full of Margie’s favorite thing, HATS! When hats became out of style and ladies were getting rid of their hats, Margie was collecting them at garage sales, auctions, or anywhere else she could find them. Margie and hats are synonymous, she always wore a hat. Wouldn’t she be happy to know that her hats were going back into her big house? I am excited about decorating Margie’s Boutique & Millinery Shop in memory of her.

The Wichita County Historical Society plans to restore and preserve the home. The finished rooms will appear like they were at the turn of the century. The house needs a lot of repair, exterior paint, roof, and the front porch needs repair. There is plaster work that will need repaired, electrical wiring, and wallpaper to hang, etc. It is possibly the oldest house in town and surely was the grandest in its time. The interior is lovely with beautiful woodwork that has never been painted, which is a miracle in itself. It will be a lot of work, but it is not impossible. The house is very pertinent to the history of Wichita County.

We may make application for nomination to the Kansas State or the National Register. If we can get it on either listing, we will be able to apply for grants. One problem is that it takes close to two years to get that all done, and the roof needs to be replaced right now. It is already leaking and ruining the plaster in some of the ceilings upstairs. Terry Haines Construction will be giving an estimate of a new roof. So, this means we need to make a plea to the community to make donations to the Washington/Ames Restoration Fund for the replacement of the roof. We would like the restoration of the big house to be a community effort. We can not do it without your help. I might also mention that this will be a wonderful educational tool for the children of the community.

There will also be items that we need besides cash donations, such as loaning special tools, or trailer, pickup, etc. And, we will need help with landscape, grinding out stumps of the recently cut trees, artifacts for display, grant writing, fund raising, sign painting, strong backs to help move furniture, and donation of whatever your talents may be. We will keep the community aware of what is going on at the Washington-Ames House. We will let our needs be known in the Check it out section of the Standard and here on our blog.

We are looking for pictures of people that lived in the big house. Since we have none of the Washington family artifacts, we will do the next best thing and decorate the interior of the Victorian period with items donated by people of the community. There are some items that will be moved to the house from the museum. If an item is on loan, the owner will first be contacted for permission to move the item.

We need some strong young guys to carry several doors up out of the basement. We will be looking for large ornate picture frames, old paintings, lace or sheer curtains, draperies that can be remade into the Victorian style and pretty dishes, We are thinking of making a tea room, so will need several sets of wood tables and chairs.

We are excited to have everyone involved and also would like to have new historical society members. It’s just $5 annually, $50 fora life membership, or even better yet, get the young ones involved and purchase the life family membership for $100, which includes the parents and all of the children under 18.

We especially want to thank the families of Margie and Oren Ames for their donation of the beautiful and historic "big house!" We sincerely are asking the community to help in the effort to save the Washington-Ames House.