Kansas budget includes $300,000 to help buy former Charles Curtis House in Topeka

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The state of Kansas is taking steps toward potentially buying the former Topeka home of Charles Curtis, a Native American who became the nation’s first vice president of color.

The proposed omnibus budget being considered by Gov. Laura Kelly, which was approved Tuesday by the Kansas House and Senate, includes $300,000 to be used to help the Kansas Historical Society finance the purchase of the former Curtis House at 1101 S.W. Topeka Blvd., which features a museum focusing on Curtis.

The building has been restored and is in “immaculate” condition, said Kansas Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, who is among supporters of the purchase.

“The woodwork is amazing,” she said.

The state of Kansas is moving toward potentially buying this former Topeka home of Charles Curtis, a Native American who became the first U.S. vice president of color.

Who owns the Curtis House?

Curtis was vice president of the U.S. under President Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933.

“He had a very long and storied career and did a lot of good things for Kansas,” Dietrich said. “It just seems appropriate to embrace that house that he lived in.”

During Curtis’ time as vice president, his official address was the stately mansion at 1101 S.W. Topeka Blvd., where he began living in 1907.

The two-story house was built in 1879 and has an appraised value of $240,480, according to the website of the Shawnee County Appraiser’s Office. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Curtis House is something of a “hidden secret in Topeka,” said Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia.

She said she particular likes that the Curtis House is close enough to be seen from the Kansas Statehouse “when the trees don’t have their leaves.”

Siblings Patty Dannenberg, Gene Cottrell and James Cottrell own the house. They inherited it from their parents, Don and Nova Cottrell, Jefferson County residents who were newly retired when they bought the house in 1993.

Don and Nova Cottrell restored the building and turned it into the Charles Curtis House Museum, which they operated as a tourist attraction. But Don Cottrell died at age 91 on December 2019, 23 days short of what would have been the couple’s 70th wedding anniversary. Nova Cottrell died at age 86 in April 2020.

Dannenberg told The Capital-Journal in January 2021 that she and her brothers were asking $750,000 for the house, which she noted has historical value. She said they were trying to honor their parents’ wishes by ensuring that whoever bought it would continue to operate it as a museum and that all its antiques collected by Nova Cottrell would remain.

The house attracted national media attention that same month when Kamala Harris, a Black woman, was inaugurated to become the nation’s second vice president of color.

What does the law require regarding the purchase?

A proviso that would set aside $300,000 to go toward the purchase of the Curtis House was added to the state’s omnibus budget late last month, near the end of discussions about that budget.

Should that expenditure become part of the approved omnibus budget, Dietrich said, Kansas statute would require the state to receive three independent appraisals of the property’s market value before the historical society could take steps to buy it. Results of those appraisals would be used to help establish how much the state could use from the $300,000 to help finance the purchase.

The Kansas Historical Foundation would privately raise any additional money needed to buy the property from the owners, who are asking more than twice the $300,000 amount, Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, told legislators late last month.

The house, if purchased, would then be operated by the historical society as a historical museum, he said.

Who was Charles Curtis?

Curtis was born in 1860 in what was then Kansas Territory. Kansas became a state in 1861.

Curtis grew up to be an attorney and was Shawnee County prosecutor from 1885 to 1889.

A Republican, Curtis subsequently served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 20 years in the U.S. Senate before being elected vice president on the same ticket as Herbert Hoover.

William Borah, a Republican senator from Idaho, described him as being a “great reconciler” and “one of the best political poker players in America.”

Near the end of a presidential term plagued by economic depression, Hoover and Curtis lost their bid for reelection in November 1932 to Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner.

Curtis died in 1936, at age 76. He is buried in Topeka Cemetery beside his wife, Anna.

Contact Tim Hrenchir at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: State of Kansas may purchase former vice president’s home in Topeka