When Kansas City photographer Elaine Jones undertook remodeling her home in Matfield Green, she didn’t make a trip to the local hardware store for materials like most people. Instead, she made a trip to the junk yard.
In a “period of transition,” Jones moved to Matfield Green from Kansas City because she wanted to help with the restoration and research the Land Institute was in Matfield Green to do.
The Salina based-organization founded by Wes Jackson spent several years in Matfield Green researching ways small agrarian communities can survive in modern society while maintaining the prairie land. Jones was already involved in the Flint Hills area, having worked with the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and as a tour guide for several writers including “PrairyErth” author William Least Heat-Moon.
“I was sold on the idea of the Flint Hills to begin with,” said Jones. “I really couldn’t just go anyplace, because what would I do? I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “The obvious place was where the Land Institute was already developing a presence there.”
Jones said when she told Land Institutes founder Wes Jackson she was moving to Matfield Green, he didn’t like the idea.
“He said, ‘Over my dead body,’” said Jones. “I don’t want some Johnson County housewife coming out here and bringing a lot of people here. We aren’t doing that sort of thing.’ It was kind of a joke between us. He says he never said that.”
In the mid-1990’s, Jones decided she wanted a modern home built with recycled materials, so she bought a house on the verge of collapse near the north end of Matfield Green. That started a three-year project that included gathering of materials, unique construction techniques and a lot of “sweat equity.” All the building material used on the house was from recycled materials.
“The whole concept was to try to show myself that you could take a house like this and restore it so that it retained its character and was very livable,” said Jones. “It’s a nice example on the main road of what can be done. You don’t always have to tear something down and build something new. You can take something that needs a lot of work and just put some sweat equity into it and there you have it.”
The reconstruction process began with a visit to the Salina Salvage Company. Jones started by obtaining different types of wood, including bead board, pine and oak, for construction on the interior. But before the walls could go up, insulation needed to be installed.
Jones used an unusual method of insulation, mixing straw and hay and applying it to the inside of the walls. Once she got the go-ahead from her insurance company, Jones and friends began the process.
“We brought in the bales of hay and broke them open in the living room,” said Jones. “I had an old metal garbage can. We filled that up with a slurry of potter’s clay and water and stirred it with a canoe paddle. Then we took buckets and poured it over the straw and then took a pitchfork and mixed it up. Then we took that and started stuffing that into the walls and pounding it down until we had reached the ceiling.”
After insulating, the interior walls were built.
A stone wall was constructed behind the house for structural reasons, but has become the home for a perennial garden.
“The stone wall in back was built to retain the ground that was sloping down into the house,” said Jones. “That turned out to be a very nice project.”
While rebuilding the house, Jones wanted to leave everything as original as possible. Today, the house uses the original lighting and ceiling fans.
“Half of them didn’t work and half of them did,” said Jones. “I got on the floor and put them together. We got half a dozen working.”
Jones moved into the house upon completion and stayed for two to three years during the mid-1990’s. Jones still owns the house, but now lives in Maine.