During a trip to Nebraska, I stopped at a small museum near Scott’s Bluff. The majority of travelers on the Oregon Trail knew Scott’s Bluff well; it was a familiar fortress-like landmark not far beyond Chimney Rock. Among the museum’s displays was a sod house, or “soddie,” which had been moved onto the museum’s property from a nearby farm.
I found the soddie fascinating, in part because some of my ancestors probably lived in one. I meant to learn more about the process of building a dirt house, but forgot about it until a week ago when my aunt sent me a newspaper article called “Home, Sweet Sod Home”. The article detailed how and why pioneer families built these homes. The “why” was easy to understand—there’s not much else to build with in the middle of a prairie.
The “how” of building a soddie started with an acre of sod for a one-room house. You’d mow the grass, then cut it into pieces of sod—or “bricks”—with a special horse-drawn plow. Two layers of bricks were laid lengthwise, with a third layer crosswise. The crosswise pattern made the house stable. Windows often were covered with paper greased with animal fat, and a blanket was hung in the doorway.
Do you know what kind of home your ancestors lived in, and why? Wouldn’t that be an interesting research project for your family history?
- Pioneer Sod Houses
- Photographs of Sod Buildings, Northern Great Plains
- Prairie Homestead
- Sod Houses
- The Soddie