Mission Hills couple are preserving a piece of prairie history

Patty Reece of Mission Hills and her husband, Jerry, purchased a 1913 brick building at Volland, of Wabaunsee County, Kan., that used to house the Volland Store. Reece, who has worked on several historic renovation projects, plans to renovate the inside of the building and use it as a community gathering place, event space, exhibition space for art and possibly a microbrewery. This conversation took place on a tour of the building at a party last month, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the store’s opening.

How did you become aware of this building?

We bought a place near here, in Alma, about 13 years ago. And as soon as we came here we began to hear stories about Otto Kratzer and the Volland Store. Longtime residents would tell about coming to the Volland Store, and Otto Kratzer would ask them if they wanted some candy, and they would say yes and he would give them a little sack full of candy. It was a very joyful experience for them.

One day we drove by the building, and it seemed like it was in really good shape. It just needed a little love.

The brick exterior is in amazingly good shape.

Yes, and it was the first time we saw it. The bricks are so nice that the building almost got torn down so the bricks could be sold. There is only one small area where we had to redo some of the brickwork, and the old bricks look newer than the new bricks.

Now the building is just a shell. What did the inside look like when you bought it?

It was filled with debris. The roof had fallen in, collapsing the second floor, which fell in and collapsed the first floor, so everything landed in the basement, so you couldn’t really come inside. But as you can see, it was very well-built. Everything is very straight and level, and Otto Kratzer and his brother, Bill, spent a considerable amount of money buying very nice bricks. The Kratzers always had the first and the best of everything.

The building is two stories. What was sold on each floor?

The store was only on the ground floor. It sold everything from barbed wire to fancy hats. They had meats and cheeses, canned goods and candy, fabric and cane fishing poles. If it wasn’t in the store, Otto could order it from the many catalogs he kept, and the trains would bring it in.

The Kratzer brothers also had their own brand of coffee, and they sold alcohol before, during and after Prohibition. Before Prohibition, neighboring Alta Vista and Alma were dry, but Volland wasn’t. Apparently, they made enough money selling alcohol in the original store (the white building across the street) to build the new brick building.

The family lived on the second floor. There were five bedrooms and a living room and dining room up there.

You have a lot of ideas for how the building might be used when it is finished: family reunions, class reunions, artist residencies, even a microbrewery. None of them is a store.

Not a store. The store went through a decline and eventually didn’t work because of lack of population and lack of a train depot.

What is the population of Volland today?


Are you thinking of inviting people in the whole county to use it?

Oh, yes. And beyond that. There’s a lot of interest from people in Kansas City.

A few minutes ago a photographer took a group photo in front of the store. Who was in it?

That was a picture of everyone here today who ever shopped at the Volland Store. That’s a big deal because even though I’ve been involved in historic preservation for a long time, what interests me is not just preserving the building but preserving the memories and the history and the culture of the community.

You renovated a stone farmhouse at the property you own in Alma. How much time do you spend there?

Not as much time as we’d like, but we do get out a couple of weekends a month. We usually come out the whole week of Thanksgiving and for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

If people from Kansas City are interested in seeing the building what is the easiest way to get here? Some people here today said their navigation systems took them on some crazy routes.

Take I-70 west to the Alma exit, drive through Alma and turn right on Third Street, which turns into old Kansas 10, then go 8 miles and you’ll see the sign for Volland.