History of the Kaley House

The Kaley House at 909 North Seward Street in Red Cloud, Nebraska is owned by Jay Yost and Wade Leak of New York City. They purchased the home in 1996 from Jay’s childhood babysitter, and have been working since then to restore it. Jay was born and raised in Red Cloud, and Wade is from Morgan, Utah (Porterville, to be exact). The home has become a part-time bed and breakfast, and a home-away-from-home for Jay and Wade.

The Kaley House was built in 1885-1886 by Charles William Kaley and Cyrelia Arella (Widney) Kaley – 14 years after the founding of the town. The home is an important part of Red Cloud’s Seward Street Historic District which, according to the Nebraska State Historical Society’s documentation, is a well preserved residential section that includes most of the finest homes built in the village in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This historic district, like the three others included in the “Cather Thematic Group,” was identified as a historically significant area through Cather’s literature and is defined by the abundance of significant Cather-related sites and Cather-era sites on the map.

The Kaley home was described in the State Historical Society’s survey as, “frame; irregular ‘cross’ shape; two stories; gable roof with a hipped section; gabled front with projecting gabled entrance pavilion, wrap-around porch with Eastlake columns, square bay on side with iron cresting, imbricate gables with semi-luminate attic lights, carriage house at rear; vernacular Queen Anne style; c. 1888.” (There is a copy of the National Register Survey in the writing desk in the Fireplace Parlor, along with a walking tour of the northern part of the Seward Street Historic District. Please feel free to borrow them.)

Charles Kaley was born in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in December 1846, moved to Ohio at the age of seven, later attended Wittenberg College and then taught school for four years. In 1874, he settled in Red Cloud, three years after the town’s founding. He was an early Red Cloud school teacher (1874 and 1875), and studied law under his brother, Henry S. Kaley, who had already established an extensive law practice throughout southwestern Nebraska. Charles was admitted to the bar in 1876 and practiced law with the firm of Kaley Bros., who were said to be the leading business lawyers of the Republican River Valley.

Prior to his death in 1881 at the age of 38, Henry had been appointed by President James Garfield to be Consul to Chemnitz, Germany. Unfortunately, he died of “inflammatory rheumatism” while making preparations to move. After his death, another brother, J.L. Kaley, joined Charles in the Kaley Bros. firm until 1887, when J.L. moved to Omaha. Charles continued to practice until 1896, when he sold much of his legal library and concentrated on managing his “large and widespread” real estate investments. One account noted that early on Charles had purchased 640 acres from the railroad for 25 cents an acre, and eventually owned over 3,000 acres in Webster County. Charles served for many years a local representative of the Burlington Railroad land office until their real-estate interests were disposed of. According to the family, it was through his railroad connections that Charles had the home’s sidewalks of red Colorado flagstone shipped to Red Cloud.

He became a county judge in 1879, the same year that Charles and Cyrelia were married on Christmas Day. Cyrelia was born in 1858 in Auburn, Indiana, and was 12 years younger than her husband. He was appointed to the State Legislature in 1881, and was later elected in 1904. From 1881 to 1903 he was a member of the State Board of Education, and a Regent of the University of Nebraska from 1894 to 1898. He retired from the law in 1896 and was later appointed as a member of Nebraska Governor John Mickey’s official staff, assuming the title of Colonel. (Mickey served two terms, from 1903-1907.)

Until they built this home, it is thought that the Kaleys lived in the smaller house still setting just to the west. The Kaley House, along with the Hugh Miner home (the “Harling House” in Cather’s novel, My Antonia) on the southwest corner of West Third Avenue and North Seward Street (six blocks south of this house), were featured in promotional fliers distributed back East as examples of the fine homes already built in Red Cloud. (Reproductions of the fliers are available at the Willa Cather Foundation Book Store and one should be hanging in the back stairway.)

Upon Cyrelia’s death on April 15th, 1901, her remains were taken back to Indiana. At this time, Charles turned much of his business over to his younger brother, David H. (“Dave”) Kaley (born December 23rd, 1859 near Carey, Ohio). Dave moved from Ohio to Red Cloud when he was 19, and married his much younger wife, Dora Drain (Henderson) Kaley (born 1876), on January 6, 1896, when he was 37 and she was around 20. In 1901, Dave and Dora were residing near Cowles (ten miles northeast of Red Cloud) when they moved to Red Cloud to live with Charles after Cyrelia’s death. Dora was a contemporary of Willa Cather and they were lifelong friends. Dora even delivered a speech that Cather had written for the 1910 Red Cloud High School graduation ceremony when Cather unexpectedly had to go to London as part of her duties as Managing Editor of McClure’s magazine in New York. Dave and Dora served as hosts for social functions, caretakers of the home and companions to Charles when he wasn’t traveling, which was rare after Cyrelia’s death. Charles’s obituaries noted that he had traveled twice around the world, including a tour of Palestine, and that he had attended every national convention of the Republican Party for the last quarter century. In 1904, one of Charles’s younger brothers, Albert U. (Bert) and Bert’s wife, Winter Welcome (Webb) Kaley, built the now-blue house across the street to the east. Over the years, four generations of Kaleys resided there.

Charles was en route to Los Angeles with his sister Bess to spend the winter when he became ill and then died there of pneumonia on January 8th, 1917. At the time of his death he was survived by four brothers – Albert U. and David H. of Red Cloud, J.L. of Omaha, and J.A. of Elmyra, Ohio; as well as three sisters – Mrs. W.R. Black of Boulder, and Mrs. Anna Cather and Elizabeth (“Bess”) Kaley of Lincoln. In total, Charles’ and Dave’s parents had 12 children. Charles was eulogized by local attorney, Jas. S. Gilham, as follows: “In the death of Col. C. W. Kaley, Webster County loses a citizen who probably enjoyed a larger measure of respect and popularity than any other man within its limits.” His funeral was held in the home.

Upon Charles’ death, Dave and Dora inherited the house. They are the finely turned out couple in the March 1909 photo hanging over the fireplace. They lived in the house until Dave died on March 13th, 1951 at age 91, followed by Dora in 1958. At his death, Dave was also survived by his brother Albert/Bert who still lived across the street, and sister Bess, then of Los Angeles. As was the case with Charles and Cyrelia, Dave and Dora had no children.

The home was then sold to Francis and Josephine Bohrer in 1959 who were moving into Red Cloud from their farm. Francis died in 1961 but Josephine remained in the home until April 1995. The only children who ever lived in the house were the Bohrers’ youngest daughter, who was then already a senior in high school, and later a high school junior who stayed one winter to help out Josephine. As young children, Jay and his sister, Sally, used to stay overnight in the then rather spooky house when their parents were busy with the Saturday night customers at their meat market. Jay often told Josephine that someday he wanted to own the home, and just before Josephine moved into the nursing home, she had one of her daughters-in-law call to see if “Jay-Jay still wanted the house.” Much to Wade’s dismay, Jay did. Jay and Wade purchased “The Kaley House” for $5,000 the next year – somewhat prophetically on April Fool’s Day.

As for the house’s reconstruction, the chimneys were completely rebuilt in 1998, and although supports had been put in place, the carriage house in the northwest corner of the 0.6 acre lot collapsed under the weight of a heavy snowfall in 1999. The nine-foot basement was added in 2004-2005, the double-hung windows were replaced soon thereafter, and the porch was rebuilt in 2008-2009 after being torn off 12 years earlier. The Eastlake porch posts are original, but all of the trim was replicated from the Dave and Dora photo above the fireplace, as were the king-post trim and lattice work in the gables. The entire interior of the house has been gutted, renovated, re-plumbed and re-wired.

UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE HOUSE INCLUDE:

  • The original etched-glass front doors, and the flaps underneath these doors that are activated to extend when the door is closed to cut drafts …..pretty cool 1880’s technology!
  • The original “twist” doorbell on the formal front door
  • The red glass window in the formal front door’s transom (the use of red glass was a sign of wealth since red glass is made with gold)
  • The lower part of the wall going up the front stairway has been stenciled to replicate the original wall paper. Dividing the upper and lower sections of the wall is the original gold trim.
  • The original interior doors, pocket doors, trim and woodwork, wooden floors, the bay windows’ shutters, door hardware, and chandeliers and their glass shades
  • The fireplace (now gas) which, according to family members, Charles imported from Italy
  • The china cabinet (which seemed to have originally been a double-sided pass-through to the butler’s pantry) was turned around to face into the Fireplace Parlor.
  • The “hidden” circus posters
  • The gold-colored picture rail trim in the North Parlor is the original trim that hung near the ceiling in all three parlors. It was so fragile that much of it fell apart when removing it, so we need to find a suitable substitute for the other two parlors.
  • The iron fence of the ornamental “widow’s walk” above the south bay window and outside of the Master Bedroom’s windows
  • The narrow and rather steep back stairway. (The new woodwork design where the railing attaches to the wall is the inverse of an exterior design detail beneath the facia boards.)
  • The window-pane door in the north upstairs bedroom (“Dora’s Room”) was thought to be a way to “keep an eye on” the hired girl who slept in the small room in the west end of the second floor (now part of the master bathroom), as she came and went via the back stairway.

  • FUTURE PROJECTS INCLUDE:

  • Restoring the interior of the summer kitchen building, which Dave later used as his office
  • Restoring/replacing the outside window shutters
  • Recreating the cresting atop the roof lines and installing replicas of the roof finials
  • Commissioning an era-appropriate landscape plan and implementing it over time
  • Installing a fence along the interior edges of the sidewalks
  • And (if we start making a lot more money) possibly rebuilding the carriage house