“The Snack That Takes You Back”: Historic Preservation at the Cracker House
Location: St. Joseph, Missouri
The saltine cracker is a pantry staple in many American households. Those little crackers and their creator, Frank L. Sommer, have quite the story to tell. In 1869, when Frank was just a teenager, he moved to St. Joseph, MO with his family and got a job at bakery. He used the skills he gained there to found the F. L. Sommer Biscuit Company. His business was very successful, but his real claim to fame was the “Premium” Soda Cracker – a title awarded to his crackers along with the Blue Ribbon of Excellence at the Buchanan County Fair in 1876. This small-town creation exploded into a nation-wide phenomenon, taking on the name Premium Saltines and helping to form what we now know as Nabisco.
Not surprisingly, Sommer put as much thought and attention to detail into his home as he did his business. The two and half story brick Italianate home was constructed in 1872 and features huge windows, a skylight, and black walnut wood. Although there is no record of such, it is rumored that esteemed St. Joseph architect E.J. Eckle is responsible for the property, as he also built Sommer’s factory, which still stands just three blocks away.
As is the case with so many of our nation’s treasured architectural gems, the “Cracker House” (as it has now affectionately been dubbed) fell into grave disrepair – having been converted into apartments in the 1950s, abandoned by an absentee land owner, and eventually seized by the city. That’s when the Cracker House Project stepped in.
“If the house goes, so does the story.” A former Cracker House President’s words perfectly parallel the ideals of preservation on which the St. Joseph, MO 501c3 non-profit was established in 2012. The organization is now in its second iteration of leadership with Leah Swindler leading the charge. The group has made a lot of headway on the extensive restoration, repairing and replacing the entire roof this last January. However, they realized they could not go it alone. Thus, a partnership with Adventures in Preservation was formed. AIP matches volunteers with preservation “adventures” nationwide – in this case sending participants from New York, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Colorado, and Illinois (including architectural students and even a museum conservator!) to St. Joseph, MO.
ABATRON could not have been more impressed upon hearing of the project and the astounding efforts made by all involved. LiquidWood® and WoodEpox® have become essential to the project as the team works to repair and restore trusses, windows, baseboards, and even crown molding at the Cracker House.
Tom Rinderrknecht of T & G Custom Millwork in St. Joseph, MO was gracious enough to lead a workshop for the Cracker House volunteers, taking them through a step-by-step tutorial in repairing some of the houses 145 year old windows.
The Cracker House Project is working to restore the house to its original splendor in hopes that is can serve as a community center – bringing light and positivity to the people of St. Joseph and all who visit.
For more information about other historic preservation projects utilizing ABATRON products, click here.