Saturday, February 11, 2012


Unless you're a part of my family circle, I'd bet you a quarter that you've never heard of Marsland, much less know where it is. So you might imagine my surprise when during an insomnia induced fit of late night random Googling, I found myself at this page on ghost towns. Even more surprising, I found myself looking at a photo of my own great grandparent's home.
  My great grandparents were James Mundy Tollman and Flora Caroline Maika. They built this home in 1912 of cement blocks made on site. This was their second home in Marsland, the first being on a homestead nearby.  This photo was taken just after its completion and the farm eventually expanded to include a large barn, cattle pets, a smoke house, an ice house, huge garden area, silo, and hog pen.  A family letter written by one of the children, James Perry Tollman, written in his retirement details life in Marsland and on the family farm in vivid memories. One of the amusing comments is that the neighbors were always stopping by to check on the building progress and they were quite perplexed by the modern bathroom that was being installed...apparently one of the first in the county...especially since there was a perfectly good two holer not far from the kitchen door!

Marsland is located in western Nebraska in Dawes County. It's pretty remote. In its heyday, the population was about 800, according the the Nebraska Historical Society virtual Nebraska. The nearest large town is Chadron. Today, Marsland is just a shadow of itself, perhaps deserving of the ghost town designation to the outside world. 

Not for me, a woman who hears the whispers of long gone ancestors. And apparently not for the Nebraska Historical Society; shortly after seeing the house on the ghost town site, I came across it again while doing genealogical research on a Tollman aunt. The Nebraska Historical Society has done an excellent job incorporating the internet with their holdings and I found the house listed in a survey of historic buildings in Nebraska. It was not identified, just shown as an unknown home.  So I contacted them offering details should they be interested. 

A very enthusiastic response followed the next day and I've sent them several photos and other bits of family information to help them document and preserve this part of Nebraska history.  The Tollman family has deep roots in Nebraska and although it is scattered across the USA today, family reunions are still held in western Nebraska and always include a stop at the old house.

 The old house may not last forever, but it sure feels great to have helped it become a part of Nebraska history.


Janice said...

Sadly, you are right when you say it may not last forever. Looters have broken in a few times and stolen whatever they could get away with - doors and such. The current owner, Buzz, commented that he use to think about trying to restore it but now realizes it is past that point. The barn has already caved in. I wish the reunion this past summer had included the inside of the house. I have no memories of it from my visit as a small child, just the photo of us on the front steps to prove we were there. I would have loved to have seen it when it was new. I'll bet it was quite a grand home.

Jolene said...

It was a very, very grand home. It had a large dining, living room, and a special sitting parlor that was closed off in the winter. One big bedroom down stairs, with the bath off of that. You can imagine the huge cast iron tub with claw feet. Large kitchen with many cupboards. My Grandmother was a good cook, and they always had lots to eat. They had a porch room that held one of the first refrigerators, cooled by huge cakes of ice, that came from a big "ice house". In winter it would be filled with ice from the Niobrara river, on the edge of Marsland. Filled with sawdust to cover the ice blocks. The same river supplied ice to the railroad for their dining cars.

Grandmother also raised alot of checkens, mostly Leghorns, but some Rhode Island Reds, and the black and white kind. Ducks, and a few turkeys, so as a kid, we had Turkey Thanksgiving dinners that I remember from about age 5 or 6.
She also raised about every vegetable you can imagine. Much of the produce was canned and stored in the big basement. There was a dumbwaiter, that transported things up and down to the basement. A wonderment of childhood.
A huge built in glass doored china cabinet, with big drawers underneath to store linens. Wendy has the big table that graced the dining area. I remember big family dinners, but especially a Farmers Union meeting that Grandpa Jim seemed to be conducting. I was thrilled to see all the men around the table, discussing things. That interested me in being involved in community affairs the rest of my life.

The house had I think 5 bedrooms. A couple doors were always kept closed, and as children of yesteryear, you didn't run about opening what was not opened for you. A huge bedroom faced the south, and the one over the kitchen area, with the little porch out to the east, over the kitchen porch. You may have noticed the white railings around the little porch. What fun to open that door and go out there. Especially if a train were to be going by.... you could view it from a safe perch. The train was just to the east beyond the huge barn and cow pens.
In the attic, reached by pulling down stairs, was a big stuffed Bob Cat.... needless to say kids didn't want to go up there alone.
There was a large rectangle part in ground, part above, cistern, that held the water for the house, and bathroom. I remember seeing dead rats and green scum on the water. Good thing we didn't realize that was what we also drank. But we seemed to survive.

Besides all the poultry, they raised horses, as farming was done with horses then, altho they would have had one of the first tractors. They had milk cows to supply their needs, and a few bulls, as they ended up with many pastures, and herds of cattle, and then they raised and sold off alot of steers. Grandpa was the "Vet' that created the steers, and was known for going all over the several county area to tend to those needs for other ranchers. He was mostly a rancher, as he would buy up homesteads, as other folks gave up and sold them. He did enough farming to satisfy the needs for his livestock, and cash crops, like potatoes. Being along side a railroad, they could ship grain, potatoes, etc. to markets as far as Omaha. Even cream, from the cows they milked, was sent to Omaha to large creameries. Eggs were sold to local grocery stores. Their hundred or so hens, and a few roosters, were part of the daily routine of caring for the livestock.

I seem to remember a couple of mules too. In general I think both Grandparents liked to try new things. And always were on the look out to make more money, and use every ounce of what ever they had. Early "green" people.

They sent all 4 of their 2 boys and 2 girls off to college. My mother majored in Math and Science, so not only was an early college gal, but in a "mens" field of study. They truely were a pioneer family... in thoughts as well as deeds. I treasure that part of my inheritance.

Unknown said...

Hello, my mom was born in Marsland on the James W Finney property. Would like to know when the next Marsland Reunion will be, so we can plan on making it there. We were there in 1969 as teenagers. The Finney residence I believe is still there, my mom says it was built by my great grandfater in 1910. Buzz is my grandmother's second cousin..his grandmother and my mom's grandmother were sisters, laura snow poole and fern snow mann. said...

Loved the pic of my grandparents house at Marsland from a different view. Jolene`s description of the inside of the house was great. I remember the glass sliding doors china cabinet type area where the dominoes and the viewmaster were kept in the dining room.
When I was in Kindergarden half- days I would walk from school to grandmother's house past the telephone poles that would make a loud whining sound that hurt my ears until finally I was at the crossroads in front of their home where the road turned east.
Once in the house, grandmother Flo would be sitting at the living room table with domoinos ready, waiting to try to entertain and teach me I`m sure. I remember I had trouble learning my "5`s" that were on the end of the domino`s.
Her knees hurt her alot. Maybe that was why she seemed to have a short temper with me playing domino`s. Her knees were always bandaged in wide wraps because she told me once that she had fallen on them and being by herself alot, she had to slide her kneecaps in place by herself. Being a portly woman she walked as little as possible on those knees, so tending her plants must have been difficult.
That`s more than my share of this blog I`m sure......sorry.