Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The History of our House: 1917-1940 (The original owners!)

If you saw our last post, you know that something very exciting happened recently: 

We finally got down to the very first people that owned our house. If you've poked around the blog, you know that this has been an off and on project of ours for years. We did a little research here and there and were able to piece together a couple of things but never knew who the original owners were.

Until one month ago when I got an email from Meredith. It read:

...I've been researching your house and I stumbled upon your fixer upper blog yesterday. 
The reason I have been researching your house is because I've been researching the original owners - my ancestors. They purchased the house brand new in 1917 and lived there until 1940, when, as you know, the Muck family bought it. 

I have some newspaper clippings and some census and city directory records I'm sending you so you have this information. You have done amazing work fixing up this home and I'm sure the original owners would be proud. 

Bernard P. Cunningham
Mary Elizabeth (Sheahon) Cunningham (my 3rd great aunt)
Had 12 children
2 died in infancy
1 died of Spanish Flu at Fort Riley in 1918 (James)

WOW. Right?

Before we get into all of that, here's a quick refresher on what we already knew about the house's previous owners:


Us! (the home's sixth and current owners)

We purchased the house in April 2009. It had been vacant at that point for at least a couple of years. It had no heat, and several other issues.

Here's a little more about buying the house, an interior tour, and a nice roundup of projects through the years.


(the home's fifth owners?)

A few years ago while painting the front porch with my mom, a woman came up with her son and said that she had lived in the house before us. I can't recall how long exactly she said but she gave some details of the house that confirmed she had lived in it.


Larry (the home's third/fourth owners)

By complete accident and good fortune, we stumbled upon the next people to live in our house.

Conan worked for years and years at Moler's Camera digitizing slides and old photos.

One day in 2016 he was digitizing some pictures and saw something that looked familiar - our porch!
Larry in front of our (his) porch on a pony. 

He looked through more of the pictures and sure enough - it was our house!

Larry and other neighborhood children on our porch. 

He spoke to the man who was a little boy in the photos, Larry, who remembered his dad working on the house and making some additions here and there. The above photos were taken around 1946 and Larry said his family lived there until the 70s then he purchased the home from them and lived here until the 1990s.

See all of these incredible photos here.


The Muck Family (the home's second owners)

The Muck Family, l to r: Dan, Charles, Maude, Eva
Before Larry and his family, there were the Mucks.

The Muck family purchased the house in 1940 and lived there with their daughter Maude and son Charles.

Dan & Eva Muck on their wedding day, December 25, 1890

I was fortunate enough to get to speak with their granddaughter, Wilene who had done a lot of research on her own.

Dan Muck and his granddaughter Wilene

She recalled that her grandparents slept in the dining room of the house and she sometimes stayed up in the attic.

According to the census, they had 5 female boarders while living here.


The Cunningham Family (the home's original owners)

Here's where things get really interesting as we put the final puzzle piece of our home into place.

So, Meredith was researching her ancestors and came across our blog and decided to reach out with all of the amazing information she had found. With her permission, I'll share it with you here, paraphrasing her:

The home's original owners were Mary and Bernard Cunningham. They were married on April 21, 1884.

They were from Pottawatomie County, Kansas originally. They moved to Butler County around 1913, bought 160 farm acres near Augusta, Kansas (about 40 miles from here).

They discovered oil and gas on their land and became extremely wealthy as a result. Here's an interesting clipping renting that farm out years after they had moved to Wichita:

The home was built by L.H. Bump for a whopping $5,500 dollars. Here's an article about the building permit (he also built one other home in our neighborhood):

They moved to Wichita in 1917 and purchased our house brand new to live in with their children.

Then things took a turn

Sometime in 1919, Mary filed for divorce from Bernard on the grounds of extreme cruelty (see center column of clipping below:

Their son, Maurice testified that his father had choked his mother and then threatened to kill him with a butcher's knife.

Things got so bad that at one point, after the birth of another of their children, Mary fled the home and walked several miles to a neighbor's house for safety and sent the neighbor back to retrieve the baby.

And if that's not enough, Bernard had also held a loaded pistol to his daughter Grace's head at some point as well.


Bernard's defense stated that he had moved into the garage to "obtain peace" but that when he returned to the house for meals someone was usually in his place at the table.

He claimed that it was Mary who had threatened to kill him due to the fact that he wanted to leave Wichita and return home to Augusta.

The divorce was finalized, with Mary receiving the house (now our house), half of their assets, royalties from the oil on their old farm, and custody of the children.

Bernard moved just down the street to 245 N. Chautauqua where he lived until his death on April 5, 1922, just two years after their divorce was finalized. The executor of his estate, his brother, reported that his children entered the home within a few hours of his death and stole personal property valued at $1891.

Among the things they stole:

A Dodge sedan
Diamond pin
Two bedspreads
and a razor

All of Bernard's children testified against him in the divorce case. He had about $40,000 of property when he died and he gave $4,000 each to his brother and sister and the rest was placed in a trust for his children.

Mary lived in the house until 1940 and then it was sold to the Muck family. Mary lived with her daughter Grace until her death in 1949.

So...yeah. That's A LOT.

When you think of researching your home or in our case, someone else researching their ancestry and finding you (!) - you never really think it will be anything as interesting as this.

Time after time, we've been handed these gems of history by people who have gone out and done the legwork and research.

In Wilene's case, she researched her family and put it out onto the internet for us to find through and in Meredith's case, she did an EXHAUSTIVE amount of research into her family's history and in doing so, found us!

We are so so so so grateful to them both for helping us piece together the history of our house which is now complete and we're doing our part by putting it here for someone to find someday hopefully!

Hopefully, someday Meredith will be able to connect with us in person and see the house. When she does, we have some trash we'd like to give her that belonged to her ancestors ; )

If you'll recall, when we were remodeling the upstairs bathroom we found some very old trash in the garbage chute under the stairs. Read all about it here

the tobacco tin up there is stamped with the date 1919 so it likely belonged to some member of her family. That was our first clue that our house was likely built before the year on the deed - 1920.

Just a neat little tidbit!

Thanks for reading and keep smiling!


  1. That is so cool. It's nice to have some more updates! I hadn't realized how much I missed them until you started sharing again.

  2. Aw, thank you! This was just the kick in the pants we needed to start sharing again : )


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