Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Grandmother's House:The 1906 Crowell House, Alva, Oklahoma

UPDATED Introduction, September 2016

The Estate Sale Chronicles is mostly a blog about things I find at estate sales.

This story is a compilation of individual blog posts written in October and November 2013 about the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Woods County, Oklahoma.  You may read this story straight through, or you may click on the links on the right side of this page to see individual entries.  (A list of online resources for organizations mentioned in this article is at the bottom of this page.)

The historic Prairie-style mansion at 801 Flynn Street in Alva was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell.   My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; when I visited in 2013, it had become The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

Now, a local realtor tells me, the Crowell House has been sold to a family with a lot of children. That's the best possible news for this old house, because it has so much to give. I wish the new owners many happy years, cherishing its history and receiving its gracious blessing. 

(And kids: stay off that oak banister!  :) )

Part 1:  Viola's Biggest Purchase, 
   or Home Is Where Your Old Stuff Is

Someone recently asked me where I got my love of going to estate sales.  That's easy to answer: from my grandmother.

Viola just loved antiques and, for many years, actively sought them out at yard sales, estate sales, antique shops, thrift stores, and flea markets.  This was long before the Internet allowed buyers with a cell phone to look up the resale or investment value of an item at a sale on the spot, as I see today.  

Armed with a paperback antiques price guide and a magnifying glass, Viola sought out and brought home teapots, mechanical banks, carnival and cranberry glass, Indian jewelry, pots and baskets, Victorian-era dolls -- even a matching cobalt blue onionskin Tiffany glass vase ("vahse") and plate that she paid $2 for at a yard sale.  Once when she was traveling, she bought an antique brass bed that she shipped home disassembled on a Greyhound bus, but usually the things she found would fit inside a brown paper grocery bag and could be stored in a bookcase.

Native American pot, American carnival glass, etc.,
found by my grandmother at estate sales and elsewhere, circa 1970

Most of the time when I go to estate sales, I transport the treasures I find in my handy L.L. Bean tote bag (which I also found at an estate sale).  Okay, I keep two tote bags in the car, just in case I find a lot of good stuff.  By restricting my purchases to those that will fit in the tote bag(s), I can easily get them home.

Even though I've found a few larger items at estate sales that I needed help transporting (like the oak pub table), I don't think I'll ever find something as large as Viola once found.  

She not only bought the entire contents of a nine-bedroom, four-bath, 6000 square foot brick house...she bought the house as well.  

If the outside of the house, built in the early 1900s, was spectacular, the inside was even more so.  The small, now-smudged photos Viola took more than 40 years ago don't do it justice, but they are good enough to give me an idea of what made the house so appealing.

Dining room with European cut glass chandelier


Entry Hall
Kitchen, complete with happy family members and cowboy hats.
(Not sure what the cowboy hats were about.)

Living Room

It seems like I only visited the house a handful of times -- not nearly enough -- but even after all these years I think I could draw a pretty accurate floor plan. 

The leaded glass around the front door, the secret "servants' stairwell" leading from the ground floor upstairs, the massive claw-foot bathtub on the second floor (that took forever to fill), the prisms on that unbelievable chandelier in the dining room casting rainbows of morning sunlight on the walls, my grandmother's delight in living in such a place  -- all engraved themselves on the inside of my brain, and there they remain to this day.  

The house had been built to impress, but it still conveyed a companionable peace and friendliness to the teenaged me. As British author Elizabeth Goudge wrote of another old house in her 1948 novel Pilgrim's Inn:

...[She] had a feeling that this house had a personality of its own, some sort of great angel who grew with the house and was enriched, or otherwise, by those who lived here; and she felt too that this angel was well disposed towards her.  It was a genial sort of angel, and remarkably patient....

I remember the house so well.  I wonder if the house remembers me?  

I will find out.  The people who own the house now run it as a bed and breakfast inn, and (Thank You, Lord) they have a vacancy next week.


Part 2:  Returning to 
   the Crowell House in Alva

It was late afternoon when I arrived that Tuesday in October 2013.  Aside from a couple of workmen outside, the house was the only one at home.

My grandmother bought this house in the late 1960s, then sold it several years later.  It changed hands a few more times and is now a bed and breakfast called The Vintage Inn.  I made the trip to Oklahoma, in part, to stay there once again.

Perhaps a little more house-history is in order now.  The home at 801 Flynn Street, Alva, Oklahoma, was built in 1906 by the influential local businessman George Washington Crowell.  

On pages 1509-1510 of Volume IV of A Standard History of Oklahoma (1916) Joseph B. Thoburn, we find a little background on the man who was the original owner of the house.  

"George W. Crowell. Among those men of dynamic force and fine constructive powers who have been foremost in the furtherance of the civic and industrial development and progress of Woods County, Oklahoma, a place of exceptional prominence and distinction must be accorded to the sterling citizen and representative man of affairs whose name initiates this paragraph. Mr. Crowell is vice president of the First National Bank of Alva, the county seat of Woods County, was the founder of the firm of Crowell Brothers, engaged in dealing in lumber and grain; and his extraneous capitalistic interests are likewise of broad scope and importance, as shown by his being president of the Panhandle Grain Company of Amarillo, Texas, and president and treasurer of the Centennial Coal Company of Denver, Colorado."
Crowell Bros. Grain Elevator
(photo found in public documents at Ancestry.com)
George Crowell was born in North Carolina in 1862, and moved to Kansas in 1879.  He and his brother David owned a lumber company.  The book continues: 

"The firm now maintains a series of well equipped lumber yards, at different points in Kansas and Oklahoma and the business has expanded to large and substantial proportions under the careful, progressive and honorable management of the enterprising proprietors.

"In 1893 Mr. Crowell became one of the large concourse of prospective settlers who participated in the run into the famous Cherokee Strip, or Outlet, of Oklahoma, at the time it was thrown open to settlement. He established his residence at Alva, the present thriving little metropolis and judicial center of Woods County, and the governor of Oklahoma Territory appointed him chairman of the first board of county commissioners of the new county. 

"Mr. Crowell thus played an important part in formulating the system of government for the county and also was influential in the progressive movements made by the board for the furtherance of the best interests of the ambitious county and its people. Mr. Crowell has otherwise given effective service in behalf of the public, and especially through his several years incumbency of the office of member of the city council of Alva.... In all things he is to be designated as a loyal, progressive and public-spirited citizen as well as a straightforward, alert and substantial business man…."

A page on Flickr.com describes the architectural style of the house as "...evocative of the Prairie Style as found in Oklahoma. It has a steeply pitched hip roof, covered with ceramic tile roofing. The center entry bay is topped by a dormer capped with a unique double-hipped roof. Below the dormer is a set of five windows, three in the center are closely spaced, flanked at a short distance with another on each side. Each of these windows has a transom. A stone beltcourse is set into the wall at the height of the second-story windows. The main entry porch features piers that extend past the roofline of the porch; these piers were probably originally terminated by urns. This was a common style found in other Prairie-style homes of the 1920s, a style first popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. The porch piers are flanked by columns, and the style of the port is mirrored in the style of the east-facing sunroom. A large porch, open other than over the entry, provides a strong visual base for this large home."

The Okie Legacy website describes the origins of the house:  "As to George's big house on 8th & Flynn Ave., in Alva, Oklahoma, legend has it Crowell wanted to build the biggest house in Alva so he constructed the house in 1906 and succeeded for about a year, until another man built a slightly larger house on the west side of town.  

"Crowell brought in an Italian artist, who was charged with scrolling in gold leaf on the walls and ceilings on the first floor and up the stairs. He also carved rail posts and the glass doors leading into the house. All the wood and the tile roofing for the house was shipped in from Kansas."

Vintage photo postcard of the "Geo. Crowell Residence, Alva, Okla."

George Crowell's first wife died in 1911, but A Standard History of Oklahoma notes: "On the 1st of October, 1913, Mr. Crowell contracted a second marriage, by his union with Mae Wilcox, who was born at Neosho, Missouri, on the 6th of April, 1884, and who is the popular chatelaine of their pleasant and hospitable home in Alva."

Pleasant and hospitable.

I went up the steps to the front door, noting that the leaded glass windows were still in place.  They were beautiful from the outside...

And even more so from the inside, with their little rainbows of light.

If you were going to build a three-story house like the one at 801 Flynn, it would help to be in the lumber business.  This slightly smudged photograph of my grandmother's from about 1970 shows the entry hall and staircase, crafted of solid oak, as I remembered it.

I walked slowly around the entry hall, camera at the ready.

The gorgeous tin ceiling was skillfully added by a later resident, after my grandmother sold the house.

Even though the paint colors are different and a vintage tin ceiling has been added, the wooden details are still there and in excellent condition.

The house was quiet.  I walked up the stairs and, when I got to the top, rested my hand on the oak.

"Hello, my old friend," I said.  The house spent the next couple of days responding.

Part 3:  Coffeyville Brick Walkway

They say "the devil is in the details," but I think God is in the details.  The real beauty of a complex object is often best seen, not only in the "big picture," but also in the attention to detail of the builder.

For example:  The front walkway to the house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma is made of bricks from the Coffeyville, Kansas Vitrified Brick & Tile Company.  I'd forgotten that some of the bricks are stamped with the makers' name.

I wonder if the bricks for the house itself were from Coffeyville, too?  It seems a reasonable assumption.  

When I got home from my trip last week, I did some quick research on the company.  I found an interesting piece of American history on the Coffeyville, Kansas Chamber of Commerce website:

"Due to an abundance of natural resources - large deposits of shale, limestone and building stone - Coffeyville had a number of brick plants in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s - the Standard Brick Company, Vitrified Brick Company, Yoke Brick Company.

"When Coffeyville's four brick factories were operating to capacity some 765,500 bricks were made every day. Today these bricks can be seen literally throughout the world and have become a collector's item to many.

"In the 1900's bricks were in great demand for sidewalk and street paving. There were 36 blocks of brick streets by 1905 to replace the dust and mud roads.  Also, many railroads used bricks for their passenger platforms. Each factory would imprint their brick with a company name or a special design. One of the best known Coffeyville bricks is the yoke brick made by the Yoke Vitrified Brick Company."

The Coffeyville Chamber website also notes the importance of glass in the city's history: 

"Coffeyville was the home of both blown glass factories and bottle glass factories.

"The art of hand blown glass produced a romantic era for Coffeyville between 1901 and 1916.  There were 10 glass plants in the city.  A number of homes today have windows of the blown glass from Coffeyville factories, and some collectors have glass fruit jars, plates, and other items which say 'Made in Coffeyville.'

"Glass blowers, who had learned their trade from their fathers and grandfathers in Europe, moved to Coffeyville with their families...  More than 1000 jobs were available in the glass factories at one time and it was said that half the town’s adult population was 'glass people.'  Glass blowers were highly skilled and earned $75 to $100 per week depending upon the amount of their production....

"The Coffeyville Window Glass Company was located by the Katy tracks on the present site of the Acme Foundry.  The company employed 175 to 200 workers.  One year $200,000 worth of glass products was marketed by the company.  Over 700,000 feet of lumber were used in making boxes in which to ship the glass."

This information makes me wonder if the any of the original glass in the Crowell House in Alva came from Coffeyville, too?  The research I did for my previous post indicated that George Crowell, the house's original owner, brought in an Italian craftsman, and that all the wood and glass were imported from Kansas.

P.G. Wodehouse humorously wrote: "Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks."   The three-story Crowell House was built in 1906, five years after Queen Victoria died, so I guess it's technically "Edwardian" except that the architecture is apparently Prairie Style -- oh, well.  

Whatever the case, it's obvious that someone in 1906 was expert at handling a trowel and a very, very large pile of bricks.  

It's good to know that Mr. Crowell could trust his builders and, after more than 100 years, the bricks in the house at 801 Flynn are still standing strong.


Part 4:  The Buckeye 
   Cast Iron Fireplace Insert

When I checked in to The Vintage Inn B&B, I heard a few noises coming from the parlor or living room.  Lori, the owner, said that her husband was repairing the fireplace in the parlor (or living room, or den).  The 1906 fireplace still had a vintage, unique cast iron insert with two adjustable dampers, that had needed some work.

"We've never used this fireplace before," Lori told me.  "We don't think the fireplace has been used in a long time -- we're not even sure it works!" 

"Well, it worked in about 1970," I replied, as casually as I could, "because we made popcorn in it, in the winter."

That's when I told her: My grandmother owned this house in the late 1960s through mid-1970s.

I gave Lori a set of pictures of the Crowell House, now The Vintage Inn, including a print of that same fireplace with that very same lining.  The quality of the picture is not great, but if you look carefully you can see the fireplace lining and the old blue tile surrounding it.  The tile has since been replaced, but not the insert.  Apparently it was originally designed to hold coal.  The back of the insert is stamped THE BUCKEYE.

Fireplace in 1970.

Fireplace insert in 2013, nicely cleaned up.
The inside of the fireplace insert says "The Buckeye."
Online records show that the patent for the design of the fireplace insert was held by William E. Fitch of Louisville, Kentucky in the late 1800s.  He had risen through the ranks of the Peerless Manufacturing Company.  An 1890 Louisville City Directory shows Fitch as a clerk in the organization; by 1893, he was general manager.  And by 1920, the year he died, Fitch was listed as president of the company.   Fitch described this creation as providing "two dampers for perfectly controlling and regulating the draft.

"The uses of the two dampers may be stated thus: When the fire is to be started, the [first] damper is opened, and when the fire has got under way this damper may be closed and [the second] damper opened, and it being smaller than the first and nearer the fire will carry off the smoke and gas and keep alive the fire. The top of the lining being closed from this damper to its outer edge presents a large radiating or reflecting surface, and thus materially saves the heat."

Fitch's notes also show he intended this fireplace insert to be easily installed and serviced.  Whether Fitch named his creation The Buckeye, or whether another company cast the piece and stamped the name on it, is difficult to determine since the name "The Buckeye" doesn't appear on any of Fitch's patent illustrations.  One website for a Chicago "building artifacts" seller reports The Buckeye was indeed manufactured by Peerless in Louisville, KY.  

The bottom line is, The Buckeye still worked well.

We put more wood in the fire; it crackled and blazed into life. Once the fire got going, Lori's husband closed the first damper, the second damper drew the smoke up perfectly, and the parlor began to grow warm.

The next evening the teenagers of the house settled in front of the fire with some friends to watch a movie.  Lori gave me a bag of popcorn.  The Buckeye was at work again, warming the family and guests in the old house against the chill of the autumn night.


Part 5:  Solid Grace

At Halloween each year, we get our annual dose of feature stories, (un)reality TV shows and movies featuring haunted houses.

I'd like to put in a good word for old homes that don't contain scary things.  Rather, these houses kindly draw us in and welcome us, making us part of their ongoing story.  They make us feel like family.

I'm not a historian, an architect or a preservationist, but I do love old buildings.  And I enjoy trying to piece together their history.  

The Crowell House at 801 Flynn in Alva has so much going for it.  The architecture is classic early 20th century Americana -- in the "Prairie" style.  

The house's original owner, George Washington Crowell, was a well-to-do Alva businessman who co-owned a chain of lumber yards with his brother.  According to stories associated with the house, Crowell imported the wood and the leaded glass for the house from Kansas.  (He may also have sourced the red brick for the house and front walkway from Kansas.)

My grandmother owned the Crowell House in the late 1960s to early 1970s.  She rented out some of the rooms and lived in the others.  Now, it has been preserved and adapted for another use as a bed-and-breakfast inn.  And it is well worth preserving.  (Thank you, previous and current owners.)

Inside are dozens of examples of master craftsmen (I wonder who they were?) who worked in solid oak.   Ornate carved oak frames sections of the walls, and runs above each doorway.  

Staircase in 1970

Entry Hall in 1970

Entry Hall in 2013

The carved oak frames the vintage tin ceiling, which was imported from another antique building and installed by someone who owned the house after my grandmother sold it.  It looks perfectly "at home" there.

The staircases and railings are also solid oak.

Looking down the stairwell to the first floor, from the third story landing!
The main stairwell also shows some of the gold leaf detail
crafted by an unknown Italian immigrant in 1906.
The oak continues into the dining room, with a wall of storage for glassware (with stained glass doors) and a fireplace surround.

Dining room in 1970

Dining room, 2013 (staircase in background)

Old houses like this share with us openly so many of their treasures.  The word grace with all its many definitions comes to mind: kindness; charm; pleasing appearance; unmerited favor; strength to help in time of need; a blessing.

When I visited last week I asked Lori, the current owner, whether anyone thought the house was haunted.  Quite the contrary, she said; guests tell her this house is gracious, kind and welcoming.  

There's that word again: grace.


Part 6:  Solid Light

Earlier in this blog, I showed you some pictures I took of the fantastic antique oak inside the Crowell House in Alva, Oklahoma, built in 1906.  You probably couldn't help noticing that the house has outstanding lead glass features as well. 

Some of my strongest childhood memories of the house at 801 Flynn are of the glass windows surrounding the front door and The Chandelier in the dining room.  (I'm going to capitalize The Chandelier here, because this one has a personality all its own.)  I think they are made of what's called lead glass or leaded glass -- beveled, etched and full of rainbows in the sunlight.

You notice the windows when you approach the house.  They frame the front door in the "Prairie" architectural style -- straight lines of windows.

But you don't fully appreciate the windows until you step inside and turn back to look at them.  They are tiny masterpieces of design, of solid light.

Walking past the entry hall, you come to the dining room and The Chandelier.  The original owner of the house, businessman George Crowell, imported it from Europe at great expense.  I could easily imagine the Crowell family entertaining dinner guests in what one of their contemporaries described as their "pleasant and hospitable home," with The Chandelier providing the ambiance as part of the entertainment.

The Chandelier in 1970

When I visited the house last week, I was pleased and relieved to see that The Chandelier was still shedding light on the room.

The Chandelier in 2013

The Chandelier is wearing its party clothes for the coming holidays.
My grandmother thought The Chandelier was Italian, but it could have been imported from somewhere else in Europe and hung in place by the Italian craftsman Mr. Crowell is said to have brought in to supervise the installation of the leaded glass in the house.  Regardless of The Chandelier's origins, the results are  spectacular.

The Chandelier reflects the light of its smaller neighbors above the fireplace

The old house contains one more old bit of antique glass, but it's hidden from public view....


Part 7:  Essence of Old House

There are many smaller old things that I love about my grandmother's old home at 801 Flynn in Alva.  One is the little bird (I think he's a bell-holder) at the back door.

Another is the servant's stairway that leads from the kitchen to the second floor.  It wasn't carpeted when I first knew it.  I used to sit on the landing just before the stairs turn right, and wonder what it would have been like to be a servant in this old house's heyday.

Then there's the antique clawfoot bathtub in the suite I stayed in.  I hadn't used this tub since the early 1970s, but there it stands.

That's why they call it a clawfoot tub!

This bathtub has its original soap and washcloth holder and drain plug.

When the device in the middle, with its white ceramic top marked WASTE, is lowered, the drain is plugged and water stays in the tub.

Raise the knob, rest it on the small brass post on the inside, and the tub drains.


There are more small details, not as easily observed, that give the house its character.
The folks who run The Vintage Inn in Alva keep scented candles in some of the rooms.  The candles provide a pleasant scent, and they mask the faint "old house smell" that is a natural part of a 107-year-old building.  A good bed-and-breakfast inn, after all, is an old house with its party clothes on, and most visitors appreciate the scent of the candles as part of the house's welcome to them.

But I told Lori, my hostess, that I wanted to visit the basement of my grandmother's house again.  There are no scented candles down there; it still smells like an old house.

And I happen to love the smell of an old house.

Basement windows, exterior

I remembered which door off the hallway led to the basement, opened it with Lori's permission, and took a deep sniff.  "There you are!" I said to the house.

And with one of Lori's friends at my side, I went down the narrow, steep flight of stairs off the hallway and entered the world of the old house.  We saw small rooms full of shadows and light, an old mirror, a few tools, and a lot of stored Christmas decorations waiting to be put on display later in the year.  

When my grandmother owned the house, the basement had been divided into apartments that she (and previous owners) rented out.  When Vi first arrived, one of the apartment rooms had contained bushel baskets full of small appliances, flatware and glassware that had apparently come from the small restaurant, alternately called a Hamburger Bar or a Milk Bar depending on who you talked to, that was once part of a separate small building located on the property to the east of the house.  Local students used to visit it after school.

More baskets in the basement in 1969 were full of small items that showed that a previous tenant (an elderly man, if I recall the story) had been a minor league kleptomaniac -- stainless steel flatware, towels and ashtrays marked with the names of hotels all over the Midwest.  They have long since vanished.

But some things about the basement have stayed the same.

Look at the attention to detail the builders lavished on the basement.  This is the ceiling:

And there's a very old stained glass window!  You can see it from the side yard:

But to really appreciate it, you have to look at it from the inside.  The window's colored panes show a variety of colors and textures.

I wonder if more of the basement windows were originally stained glass, or if the builders only created this one?

They say that character is who you are when no one is looking.  I can see the character of this old home, and of the people who built it, in the basement (where usually no one looks) as well as above the ground.


Part 8:  Jack Hayward, Alva Artist

During my recent visit to Alva, I made the rounds of the kinds of places I like to visit.  I walked around the town square, bought some pens at the office supply store, made an appointment to visit an antique shop later in the day, and went to the Library to check out their used book sale. 

As I paid for my books, my attention was drawn to a large watercolor painting hanging above the reference section of the library.

I caught my breath, as though I'd spotted a long-lost friend.  I was sure had seen that handsome snowscape before: it was by Jack Hayward (1903-1977).  

Well, of course it's here, I reminded myself, because Jack lived in Alva.

As I explained to the librarians (who had calmly watched me whip out my camera to take these pictures), Jack Hayward and his wife Marge were dear friends of my grandmother's.  When I was a teenager, I visited his studio and their beautifully-decorated home several times while my grandmother lived in Alva.  (Marge had an outstanding collection of paperweights on display, many crafted of millefiori glass.)  

The library also has an oil painting by Jack Hayward:

Chimney Rock in Northwestern Oklahoma
And some drawings (these may be prints; I forgot to ask):

Seeing these works made me remember the importance of Jack Hayward's work in my early life.  Hanging in pride-of-place in the entry hall of my grandmother's house was a watercolor landscape by Hayward:

(It's in the upper left corner of the photo)
Even though my old photograph is fuzzy, my memory of Jack Hayward is clear.  He is sitting outside my grandmother's house at 801 Flynn on a summer evening with her, her husband John and their mutual old friend Franc ("France") Wyatt.  Or Jack was in his studio not many blocks away, surrounded by his paintings and sketches, paintbrushes and paper.  

My grandmother owned at least three of Jack Hayward's paintings: the watercolor landscape above, a Mexican waterfront scene called "Tampico," and a landscape in oils dedicated to "Mrs. Kettle," a reference to a disagreement they'd once had which they later agreed was a case of "the pot calling the kettle, black."  

J.N. Hayward, as he signed his work, was a noted Alva artist and art instructor.  Although not much is written about him that's available online, there are several websites that contain memories of him and some of his students.  

I'm not sure how well Jack's work sold during his lifetime; so many artists are not really appreciated until after they are gone.  

And I don't know what happened to Jack's paintings when my grandmother sold the Crowell House in Alva. 

Because these art works are no longer in the family, I've always wanted to own an original Jack Hayward painting, and I figured if there was ever one for sale it would probably be in Northwest Oklahoma.  
One of my objectives in visiting Alva was to look for Jack's work and see if any galleries or shops had one available.

But people I'd talked to in town about Jack had told me that his work doesn't come on the market very often.  I thought the best I could do was take pictures of the art in the library's permanent collection, and later troll the Internet for possible offerings of his work.  (I didn't have time to visit the other public spaces in the area where I've heard Jack's work is on display.)

Then a Moment of Grace happened:  

I left the library and went to the downtown antique store for my appointment.  I bought a few small things to take home as souvenirs.  The owner of the shop, seeing my great interest in All Things Old, offered to let me explore the back storage area too.

And there, high on a wall in the dark back of the store, surrounded by many wonderful dusty old things probably unseen for years, was a smallish framed watercolor painting.

I peered at the artist's signature in the dim light.  Was it...?

Yes.  J.N. Hayward '62.

I galloped to the nearest ATM machine, zipped back to the store and bought the painting. (Thank You, Lord, I think this is small enough to carry home on the plane!) 

When I got back to The Vintage Inn (my grandmother's old house), I was able to take a closer look at Jack's creation:

Not a major work, but a very pleasant one. Perhaps a little water damage in one corner, but not in bad condition for 51 years old.  And to me, priceless.

What a blessing, to go forth in search of memories and come back with something tangible -- a link with my past and treasure I can share with others in the future.

Part 9:  Red Leaves, Red Bricks 
    and Murals in Alva

Part of the fun of visiting a smaller city is just strolling around, getting a feel for the place and absorbing bits of its history.  So one day in October I took my camera and wandered around Alva.  

The last time I'd had a chance to do this, I was a teenager on a used bicycle my grandmother had picked up at an estate sale or auction.  This time, I took the rental car and ventured a little farther.

It was a gorgeous autumn day.  The leaves were beginning to turn.

Alva Town Square

One of the highlights of looking around town has to be seeing the Alva Mural Project.

The middle...
...One side...
...And the other side of "Threshing Time," which commemorates harvest activities.  
"The Run" depicts the 1893 land run that opened up Northwest Oklahoma,
known as the Cherokee Outlet or Cherokee Strip, and the founding of Alva. 
45th Infantry Division Mural
This mural commemorates the World War II POW camps near Alva.

Murals in Alva are on more than just flat walls.

After I looked at murals, I drove around looking at old (and newer) brick buildings.  I think it would have been very interesting to be a brick merchant in the early 1900s in Northwest Oklahoma.  You'd never have lacked for work.

Alva's town square includes the Graceful Arts facility
(nonprofit arts organization), under the green overhang.
This old church was apparently converted to a home.

This is the Cherokee Strip Museum in Alva.

Herod Hall/Administration Building, NWOSU, Alva.
And the Co-Op facility dominates the skyline on the north side of town. 
No red bricks in sight on it from this angle, but it's still fun to see.
Alva has several properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The most recently-listed is the Hotel Bell.

My sentimental favorite old red brick building is the Crowell House at 801 Flynn, now The Vintage Inn Bed and Breakfast.

My grandmother owned this house in the late 1960s through early 1970s.

Part 10:  Farewell for Now

Revisiting a place where you were consummately happy as a child is risky.  The house you remember may be gone, or irreparably changed.  

The house at 801 Flynn when George Crowell owned it.
The house, in my grandmother's photo
album, with her notes about it.
She bought it from members of the Crowell family.
The house today: The Vintage Inn B&B.

Visiting my grandmother's old home has been a chance for me to look back, look around and look ahead.

look back in my mind and at old pictures of the house, and am blessed (and relieved) to know that it hasn't changed a whole lot.

Clawfoot bathtub with some original hardware.
looked around the house when I visited in October, and saw that a family who truly loves it now shares 801 Flynn with their bed-and-breakfast guests and their neighbors.  I saw a community, and a state, that cherish and preserve their history.

Antique cast iron fireplace insert, stamped "The Buckeye"
look ahead and I hope that more people will recognize the Crowell House for two things: its history and its graciousness.

The historic significance of the house is evident.  Built in 1906, its exterior red brick design appears to reflect a major trend in American architecture around the turn of the 20th century: the Prairie Style, with its hipped roof, overhanging eaves, and windows all in rows.  

Its interior lead glass windows, gold-leaf scrollwork, and solid oak appointments were reportedly crafted by an unnamed but highly skilled Italian immigrant, one of so many working in the Midwest in the early 20th century.


The house's original owner, George W. Crowell (1861-1944), was an influential local businessman at that pivotal time in Oklahoma, and American, history.  (The Cherokee Strip land run was in 1893; Oklahoma became a state in 1907.)

George Crowell's Lumber Yard
(photo found in public document at Ancestry.com)

George and Mae Crowell
(photo found in public document at Ancestry.com)

But how to describe a house that extends grace to the people who cross its threshold?  

The house at 801 Flynn reminds me of what the English novelist Dora Jessie Saint ("Miss Read") wrote about another peaceful old house:

"There is no doubt about the general reaction most people have to the 'feel' of a house.  Some houses are forbidding, cheerless and indefinably hostile.  Others seem to welcome the stranger who steps inside.

"...It was full of memories for me.  [The previous owners and visitors] seemed to have left something intangible behind: a sense of happiness, simplicity, courage and order...."  

The house at 801 Flynn is just such a place.

I think I need to visit it again!


Online Resources

The Vintage Inn B&B

The Coffeyville, Kansas Chamber of Commerce

William Fitch's many patents for fireplace innovations are listed here: 

Information on various kinds of antique glass:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has resources on old windows, including a report that concludes it's better to keep and retrofit old windows than replace them, in an old house:  http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/green-lab/saving-windows-saving-money/WINDOWS_PGL_FactSheet_100212.pdf

The Okie Legacy website mentions the hamburger bar at the Crowell House:

A great place to find out more about the arts in Alva is the nonprofit Graceful Arts Gallery downtown:  http://www.gracefulartscenter.org/home

Graceful Arts is the result of a collaboration between Freedom West Community Development Corporation and the Wisdom Family Foundation.  These agencies understand the importance of integrating the arts and humanities into a community's overall economic revitalization strategy.  Their work makes Alva, and other rural towns in in their service area, better places to live.

The Alva Public Library's website is here 

Here is a link to information on the Hotel Bell from the National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places:

Preservation Oklahoma:

Cherokee Strip Museum:

Alva Mural Society:

George W. Crowell also managed a baseball team in Alva, at the turn of the 20th Century:


  1. Teresa, what a wonderful trip to the past you have taken your readers on. I loved the part about the cast iron fireplace insert and it being brought back to life. The history of the glass and brick and the Italian craftsman... to know the name of the person whose hands placed each of the panes and brick, woudn't that be grand?
    Thanks again, Mary

  2. I enjoyed your blog post about the Crowell House. My dad, Landis Trekell, purchased the house from your Grandmother in 1973. We lived there for over 3 years. I also have many good memories of the old home. I am happy to see it restored to its former glory and being well taken care of and enjoyed by many visitors.

  3. Hello, I saw this on Facebook and felt after looking through it I needed to respond. I lived at 801 Flynn for about 6 years. The stained wood, the tin ceiling, and the brick walkway that leads to the front porch were all due to my dad's work. In fact, the lamp post in the front yard was also added by my dad and has my sister and I's name carved into the cement it stands in. The church you later mention that was turned into a home was also owned by my dad, which he made his home for a few years. It was really neat to look through this and see how this beautiful home looks today. I'm glad that the current owners have done such great upkeep! Thank you for sharing all this, it brought back a load of memories.

  4. Wow, that is great! The family that owns the house now told me how proud they were of the tin ceiling -- I think they said it came out of an old bank building in Kansas? Of course it isn't original to the house (as you can see from the old photos) but it looks perfectly "at home" now. Thank you so much for posting your comment. Hope lots of other people will enjoy the pictures of the Crowell House!

  5. Ok, omg. I live in the Walton Derr house in guthrie ok. I have this exact chandelier as well as it's partners in my other rooms. I was shocked to see it. It's french by the way. Wow.