When Ben Vannatta was 4 years old, he and his brother went to live on his grandparents’ farm at 77 335th St. Now 81 years old, Ben tells the story of the house he’s called home for over 77 years.
The Vannatta’s white two-story farmhouse, built in 1910, is a ready-to-build kit home. The original owner of the house, John Kenney, purchased the plans and materials from the Gordon-Van Tine Company through Sears, Roebuck and Co. Ben’s grandparents, George and Sarah Vannatta, bought the home in 1920.
Ben took over the family farm after his grandparents died. He stayed on the property even after his first wife, Marjorie, died in 1996. He now lives with his second wife, Midge.
In many ways the story of the Vannatta home mirrors some of the great advancements of the 20th century. Ben explains how the house was originally designed to use gas lighting. A stone shelter still stands where the gas was mixed with water and pumped into the house. His grandparents later installed a Delco battery system.
“(The Delco system) had glass batteries in it and it sat in the basement,” Ben says. “Every time the batteries would get low, the motor would come on and recharge the batteries.”
Visitors to the Vannatta home can still see remnants of the Delco system in the push button light switches. Ben says the house was wired for electricity in 1941.
More of the home’s history can be found in the basement. The home now uses a modern heat pump, but Ben remembers when his grandparents replaced the old coal furnace with an oil and wood burning furnace. Ben says on extremely cold days the wood furnace feels better than using the heat pump alone. The old coal and cob bins in the basement are now used to store firewood.
Other features of the home include the original beaded and beveled woodwork and sliding pocket doors. The old school bell from Ben’s elementary school days in Angus is displayed in the yard next to the house.
“I’m comfortable here,” Ben says when asked why he stays in his childhood home. “I guess that’s the biggest reason. I mean… a farmer can’t afford a new house anyway, but I don’t think I’d build one if I could. I wouldn’t know just what I’d want… It wouldn’t be the same.”