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Burns ranch wins place on historic registry

Staff writer

Surrounded by rolling hills of green grass northeast of Burns, a 20-acre historic ranch homestead first settled in 1881 has been approved for the Kansas Registry of Historic Places and has been nominated for the national registry.

Co-owner Rick Grace filed the paperwork, and a photographer took more than 100 pictures of the buildings, inside and out.

“The pictures really helped,” Grace said.

A representative of the Kansas Historical Society visited the ranch twice.

“This is a no-brainer,” she reportedly had said after looking over the facilities.

The first owner, Frank Wells, migrated to America from Germany and made a fortune on a patent for a cotton gin improvement that he and another man invented.

Wells used his money to put together 1,800 acres of grassland that still comprise the ranch. He called it Keystone Ranch.

He ran a large sheep operation, constructing a 420-foot-long limestone barn to house the animals. He also constructed several other limestone buildings, including a bunkhouse, two-story horse barn, foreman’s house, and ice house. All of them remain.

He built a still-standing feed mill operated by a water wheel along Turkey Creek, which flows past the farmstead.

All of the livestock corrals were fenced with rock. Some segments remain.

A two-story wood-frame house has a third-story eight-sided cupola at one corner, with windows on all sides. The story has been passed down that Wells could see his entire ranch from the cupola and used it to keep an eye on his employees. If any loitered, they were fired and replaced.

Grace’s grandparents purchased the ranch after Wells’ death in 1913. They lived in Wichita and hired a foreman to run it.

They later renovated the ranch house, living in the two-room bunkhouse until work was completed in 1940.

Grace’s father took over the ranch in 1960. Rick, now 69, grew up there. His father ran a herd of 200 Hereford cows but sold them in 1969.

Rick left the ranch to pursue his own interests after graduating from Peabody-Burns High School in 1966. He returned in 1980.

“I always had a feeling I would come back here,” he said.

He works to maintain the buildings and keep them from falling down. He ran his own cattle for a while but now double- stocks calves for 90 days every summer for another rancher in the area. Twice as many calves as usual for a full 180-day season are turned out on the grass from May through July and then removed.

Grace has a few horses, and a hired man continues to live on the place.

Grace said the future of the ranch was “depressing.” He has a brother who manages a large farm operation in western Kansas. Both properties are in a farm trust. Grace has no children and worries that the remaining heirs, his brother’s children, will not be interested in keeping the ranch in the family.

“Somebody else will buy it, and that will be the end of Grace Ranch,” he said.

However, a place on the Kansas registry and hopefully, the national registry, will ensure that it will not be forgotten.

Last modified July 6, 2017

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