History of the Old Stone Building

The Old Stone Building is located in Douglas County, Kanwaka Township, about 7 miles northwest of Lawrence, Kansas and 4 miles southeast of Lecompton, Kansas. The original date of construction is unknown, but an inscription on the south wall, made when the mortar was still wet, displays the date 1874.

Originally, the Old Stone Building may have been used as a home, but when a wooden house on the same property was erected, the Old Stone Building was used as a smoke house, blacksmith shop, and brooder house (chicken coop). The building had three main rooms, as well as a loft at the north end.

On March 3, 1855, an act of Congress awarded tracts of land to officers and soldiers who had served in the United States military. On August 10, 1860, this 160-acre farm was deeded by President Buchanan to Mehitable H. Sanders, the widow of Samuel Sanders, an officer in the United States Navy. A timeline of the land starts with Sanders service during the War of 1812 on the U.S. Constitution and goes through to present time. In the original deed, the farm was passed to John A. Kelly, who was living in the Lecompton Township (1859 Territorial Census) when Kansas was just a territory. Kelly began living on the land sometime after 1860. Kansas became a state in 1861. During that time, the Old Stone Building and stable were built.

The farm is in the Kanwaka Township, named by Dr. Helen Heath because the township is halfway between the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers. Part of the Oregon and California Trails pass just south of the building. West of the stone building, there is an old base of a windmill (fallen down) and a pump the travelers used to get water. Kanwaka also saw much warlike activity around the Civil War because of its location. It was the middle of the trail connecting Free-State Lawrence and Pro-Slavery Lecompton.

In 1902, the farm was purchased by Willis A. Colman. Colman was born March 15, 1855, and died in 1934. The 1905 census valued the farm at $5,000 and the value of the buildings at $2,000. Colman was the son of Ezekiel A and Mary Jane Wendell and is thought to have been the first Caucasian male born in Douglas County.

After loosing a leg in a farming accident, Colman moved into the city of Lawrence and built a barn for his horse and carriage. Upon moving back to the farm in 1932, he split the barn in half and moved it to the farm (it is located at the southern end of the property). Colman’s children farmed the land collectively until 1940. Willis Colman’s son, Merle (b. May 30, 1889), engraved his name on the outside southern wall of the stone building, “Merle Colman 1902 Nov.”

Around 1940, Willis Ray Colman (b. November 30, 1895) became the sole owner of the farm. He lived in a modest seven room house, which later burned on March 5, 1951. This was the third home to burn on the farm. Colman then built the cottage in 1951 and lived there until his death, July 18, 1960. After his death, Colman’s wife, Nellie, their daughter, Waneta (b. July 9, 1927) and her husband, Harold Willits (married July 27, 1947), lived on the property and farmed the ground. Nellie Colman died in 1962 and the farm was divided in 1965 with the Willits as owners of the 160 acres.

In 1965, the Willits built the ranch style home that exists today. Waneta Willits died in 1994 and the family sold the farm to Gary and Terrie Price in 1994. Today, the farm still has over half a mile of stone fencing and a barn built in 1929; an equipment shed, a single grain crib barn (built around 1949) and, in a nearby clearing, a stone fire pit (stones are cemented) where community meetings were held.

The Old Stone Building is surrounded on the homestead by 4 original barns, a cistern, well, and stable, which was rebuilt in 2001. Most of the stable’s stone wall had crumbled and the wall frames and roof were non-existent.

About 30-feet of the original walls were still standing and served as the pattern for the rebuilt wall. This building now has a wood shop and sawmill.