The latest structure acquisition for the National Ranching Heritage Center is the Pitchfork Ranch Cook House. The ranch was incorporated in December 1883, and has earned a rightful place in the history of ranching and Texas. For some, the Cook House represents many of those years of Pitchfork ranching development and growth.
Ranching owners donated the building to the NRHC when they decided to replace the old Cook House with construction of a new dining facility in the same location. For more than 85 years, the cowboys and guests of the Pitchfork Ranch sat down together to share their meals at the long, wood tables.
From as early as 1921, the simple wood-frame structure was a sanctuary for family reunions, birthday parties, and daily meals for the ranch hands and cowboys. The building sits just a few yards away from the Big House, where many of the Pitchfork ranch managers made their home. A few yards out the back door of the Cook House, the land drops off to the north bank of the South Wichita River. Horses graze in nearby pastures. Tamed wild turkeys mill around nearby eating corn chips thrown out for them by the cook. And at every mealtime, the old dinner bell is run to call everyone in to eat.
The Cook House began as a two-room structure with the kitchen and dining hall separated by a single wall. Cold in the winter, the wind finds its way into the building and makes the heat from the gas stove at the north end seem faint. In summer, the evaporative coolers just manage to take the edge off the heat.
Though the exterior walls are now covered in modern shingles, the original wood clapboard siding is still in tact underneath. The interior walls and ceilings are clad with narrow one inch by two inch beveled plank paneling. The dining hall is a long spare speace furnished with well-used wood tables and hand-made wood benches. Two cisterns are located near the structure.
Over the years, a number of modifications and additions were made to the building. Screen porches were added, removed, and rebuilt. The building was expanded, including a 4-foot widening of the kitchen and a new room used as an infirmary for several years. Two other rooms and a full bath were added later. A porch on the south side of the building was enclosed, creating yet another room. One wall of the kitchen was modified to allow for the installation of a six-door refrigeration unit. The kitchen is focused around a central work counter with the large gas stove on the east side, and the sink and clean-up area on the west. There were no frills - this was and still is a working ranch kitchen.
The original Cook House is being separated from the rest of the structure in preparation for moving the old facility to the National Ranching Heritage Center, where it will be rebuilt. Extra siding, paneling, and windows are being salvaged from the original site for restoration supplies.
Restoration work will repair the walls and ceilings, returning the building to a condition similar to its original construction.
The Cook House will provide visitors with a unique opportunity to see and understand an aspect of ranch life rarely seen by outsiders. The building was saved through generous financial donations and respect for the past by individual members of the Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. board, plus RHA Execurive Committee member Jim Burkhart of Lubbock and the National Ranching Heritage Association.
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