Sod House in Syracuse Now Part of History
Last May, as the City of Syracuse tore down an old RV Park on Highway 50, a small storage shed was found behind the office. It had been covered with stucco, and, over time, some of the outside wall covering had fallen off revealing the sod construction.
To find out how this sod house came to be, we need to go to Oklahoma. In 1937, Ray and Neva Perkins decided to move north from Oklahoma to Colorado. Upon arriving, they found life in Colorado would be far too expensive for them. Heading back through Kansas, they stopped in Syracuse. They saw a service station for sale, bought it, and moved in next door.
In 1953, Ray and Neva Perkins decided to add a twist to their service station/gift shop on East Highway 50; a small animal zoo. Ray put road signs up all over the Midwest advertising their zoo. When someone was leaving Syracuse for a vacation or road trip, Ray would ask them to take a road sign with them and put it up wherever they were going.
Ray's zoo had cages filled with peacocks, squirrels, a penguin, deer, a coyote, a small alligator, a badger, and a skunk named Tabu. Tabu would let mice den under him. The donkey was raised by children and he loved to ride in the coaster wagon.
“When the donkey got to the zoo, he was a mature animal. But whenever the donkey saw a child's red wagon go by, he went crazy wanting to get in it,” says Ray's son, Noel Perkins.
Ray and Neva also opened up Prairie dog town for the public. Noel said, “There were two groups of prairie dogs that didn’t get along. They even built a ridge of dirt between them. If a prairie dog from one group tried to enter the territory of the other, the rest of the dogs would attack. They must have signed a peace treaty because they eventually tore down the dirt wall and lived peaceably amongst each other.”
In 1958, Noel helped build the zoo’s other attractions, an old Old Dutch windmill and the sod house. When Ray purchased the plans for the windmill, they were written in Dutch. But Ray was able to follow the blueprints and build the windmill in just a few months.
Noel remembers building the sod house in the spring of 1958. His father drove a tractor five miles east for Noel to chop off blocks of sod and cut them. They filled the tiny sod house with antiques reminiscent of the day.
In 1960, the service station closed and Noel’s parents went on to create Perkins Trained Dog Show. By 1964, they were travelling to schools and shopping malls with their dogs, Robin, Buddy, and Mary Lynn. The dogs walked on two legs and pushed strollers around. Neva made the dog costumes as well as the designs. In their motor home, they travelled 25,000 miles a year.
Meanwhile, Noel continued to run the gift shop. The shop contained parrots, monkeys, a small alligator, and a Mina Bird from India. But the animals were too much for Noel to take care of by himself. So they closed the zoo down.
Noel’s parents retired from dog shows in 1974. Ray decided to make the land into a camper park. Ray built the office with living quarters in back. The sod house became a bath house for the campers. He placed stucco on the outside walls and tin over the sod roof. Finally, in 1984, they sold the park.
The city tore down the sod house to make way for the new owner.
Today sod bricks from the shed are on display at the Hamilton County museum.