Tiny Houses on the Prairie

“Oh Snap! Homesteader Postcards, the Facebook of 1906” an article written by Heather Murphy at the Slate website features some really unique tiny homes built by homesteaders out on the prairies.

The images in this gallery were gathered over a period of 20 years by snapshot collector Michael Williams. They are featured in his book, Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America and at The Life and Death of Buildings, an exhibition currently on display at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Williams who spent over 15 years gathering these pictures at flea markets, antiques stores, and postcard fairs. The images were taken in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. Improvements were required by the homesteaders and those improvements were made using, tar paper, sod, bricks and wood. It just had to be sturdy enough to stand.

Click here to read the full article and see the slide show showing closeups and explanations of each postcard.

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Drue - October 4, 2011 Reply

My grandpa was a share cropper, and the family (four kids) all still lived in a shack very much like these during the Dust Bowl days. I have at least one picture of them standing out front to shovel dirt drifts away to uncover the windows.

Openings and chinks in the wood were stuffed with newspaper soaked in oil (to shed water).

An outhouse and no electricity (until 1948 – long after my dad had grown up).

I don’t envy their lifestyle or struggles, but it doesn’t keep me from wanting to experience just a day or two of their hard lives.

Josh - October 4, 2011 Reply

Neat old pictures, interesting to think that, at the time, I’m sure these weren’t considered tiny; they were just normal size homes (for those living out on the prairie anyway), and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size for a new, single-family, home built in 2010 was roughly 2,400 square feet.

Margy - October 4, 2011 Reply

My grandfather grew up in Nebraska in the late 1800s. I vividly remember a picture of him in a little wooden wagon in the dirt yard in front of their sod house. It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far since then, and are now trying to return to those simpler times. But maybe they weren’t so simple when there were few jobs, lots of mouths to feed, and harsh weather out on the praries. – Margy

alice - October 5, 2011 Reply

The past wasn’t necessarily ‘simpler’, it just had different complications, some of which we might not recognize as such. It did have more space, fewer people and fewer artificial pollutants. It could also have fewer rights and priviledges for the ‘different’. We can’t go back but we have the benefit of hindsight to hopefully keep things in perspective and inspire current versions of what works.

Jack - October 5, 2011 Reply

Not sure I would call the Dust Bowl days, “simpler”.

Read “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan.

Scary thing about it? We are repeating the same mistakes now (financially) as we did then.

But having dust blow into your sod house via every nook and cranny, leading to early death, although interesting to look at, not really something to “celebrate”.

    Josh - October 5, 2011 Reply

    Not sure I would call the Dust Bowl days, “simpler”.

    I think you could conceivably consider every era before now to be “simpler.” The Dust Bowl – tough times to live through, without a doubt. Just as were the times these photos were taken. But tough doesn’t equate to more complicated. Life today is much more complex (less simple) than 100 years ago.

Lisa - October 8, 2011 Reply

It’s one thing to return to these types of buildings for fun and recreation. It’s another to be forced back into such living for the whole country because your government has betrayed you.

Charlie - October 9, 2011 Reply

I think looking out and never seeing a tree or a hill etc would have eventually driven me bonkers. One serious question, how did they heat their cabins? I see stove pipes but no trees and I don’t think coal was readily available nor were buffalo chips left by then.

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