• Looking up at the Gateway Arch


    National Expansion Memorial Missouri

The Sod House

The pioneers of the plains created the sod house using ingenuity and the treeless land to build a home that became their permanent residence. Utilizing the John Deere grasshopper plow, pioneers cut sod bricks from the earth. They found a rise in the ground suitable to their "soddie" and patted down the dirt until it was rock hard. The sod bricks, about three feet in length and four inches thick, were interlocked to form walls two to three bricks deep. These bricks, with intricate root systems still intact, were placed grass side down. The roots attached themselves to other bricks, locking them together. The roof construction was of sod or in some instances, shingles.

The sod houses varied. Some were built with more than one room, used dividers of tarp paper or blankets to create rooms and even wallpaper to brighten the walls. In 1872 Montgomery Ward marketed windows and frames for $1.25, and the railroads carried these and other supplies to the Great Plains frontier. According to the Homestead Act, homeowners had to fulfill improvement requirements to take title of the land, thus creating a market for ready-made accessories.

Living in sod houses presented many obstacles. The soddie leaked continuously. Women reportedly held umbrellas over their stoves while cooking. Tarps were hung on the ceiling to catch particles of dirt that fell. Living creatures shared the sod dwellers' space as well. Snakes, mice, and bugs were everyday inhabitants of the sod house.

The sod house had positive aspects as well. Since they were constructed from earth, there were cool in the summer and easy to keep warm in the winter. When prairie fires threatened, the sod house became a safe haven. Farmers brought their livestock and anything worth saving into the soddie until the fire had passed.

The sod house demonstrated the creativity of pioneers. Sod houses were inexpensive to build and virtually indestructible. The utilitarian sod house displayed pioneer craftsmanship and the determination of the pioneers to live the American dream.


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