Historic barns of Hunter Township

By ROGER STANLEY rogerstanley769@yahoo.com
Posted 1/11/21

Times change.

At the turn of the 20th century there were many barns scattered around Edgar County but not now. Barns have been slowly disappearing or falling into ruin since World War II. …

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Historic barns of Hunter Township

Posted

Times change.

At the turn of the 20th century there were many barns scattered around Edgar County but not now. Barns have been slowly disappearing or falling into ruin since World War II.

Barns are expensive to fix and a lot of them no longer meet what farmers really need today. Many of the old corn cribs and smaller wooden bins have been replaced by metal bins. Instead of horses and other livestock being stabled in sturdy barns with feed bins built next to the stalls, modern farmers look to shed large machinery.

Paul Stafford put together a story and pictures of many of the remaining barns in Hunter Township in the 1990s. There is a quote from Stafford telling about his childhood memories of some of the barns, “Childhood memories of the barn include; playing in the hay mow, horses and cows in their stalls, the hooting of the owl, the acrobatic display of barn swallow and the cooing of the pigeons.” The book includes many pictures of the barns around his neighborhood where he lived in Hunter Township. He also gives the owners and builders of the barns and a short description of how the barns were laid out. Stafford includes many of the family farms which had barns on them of the past such as: Fry, Dodd, Dickenson, Elsberry, Frazier, Egan, Francis, Heelen, Haddix, Hiddle, Wright, Hale, Scott, Keehner, Miller, Dittoe and Keys. Many of the barns had been moved and many were struck by lightning or had burned and were rebuilt. He also included many of the builders and contractors of the barns.

Stafford’s book describes the roofs of the barns whether they were gable, gambrel or just a plane old shed roof. A gambrel roof has two slopes on each side and allows more utilization of the haymow storage space. It also has more braces across the top and more supports for the bottom slope.

Many of the old corn cribs featured vertical sides spaced so air could filter around the ear corn instead of horizontal siding. Two barns on the Mayo Hiddle farm were made during the Civil War. One barn featured a gable roof with one side offset so it had a non-symmetric appearance. Many of these barns had an overhanging roof above a large door for putting loose hay in the loft. A track was extended on that overhang and reached to the other end of the barn. A device called a trolley helped pull the hay across the barn where it was stored.

A rope from the trolley was attached to another device called a hay cradle or knife that was lowered to the hay wagon, secured a large hump of loose hay and pulled it into the barn. A pulley on the other end of the barn roof had a rope extending to the ground where a horse pulled up the heavy load of hay.

Much of the lumber came from timber stands on the farm itself which included oak, hickory and other hard woods. Many of the supporting beams were roughhewn with axes and pinned with oak pins rather than using nails. Several of those old barns had sheds or corn cribs as part of the structures. Today, a lot of metal is used to build large machinery barns and large grain bins.

There are a few new, large wooden barns built for meetings, celebrations and weddings. There are also a few horse barns being built for hay storage and stalls for the horses. Many of the old wooden barns had a little bit of everything in them: Grain bins, small cribs, milking rooms, horse stalls and other small or large loafing areas for livestock.

Author Paul Stafford’s son, David, explained the book his father put together. He told some of the stories about the barns on the Stafford farm and of a barn originally built for John Dittoe that was turned into a house. Mark Gladding now owns the barn and a house next door to the barn. The old, remodeled barn provides a home for his father and mother-in law.

One of the Stafford barns was hit by lightning in 1925 and Paul Stafford saw it happen from Clay’s Prairie School house. The barn was rebuilt in 1926. The haymow floor used smooth pine boards and the carpenters on the project wanted to hold a barn dance after it was completed. The Stafford family, who attended the Clay’s Prairie Church and being very staunch Methodists, refused to let it happen.

Several of the barns in the book are still standing today, but they are slowly falling down. Some are still used for storage and some antique boards have been sold.

I must thank the Paul Stafford family for the book and Louise Lewis for helping with the manuscript. David Stafford was my guide, and I thank him for his time and especially for still having some of those old barns around.

Looking at the old barns we can see why they survived as long as they did, and they are definitely a thing of utility and beauty. They were truly magnificent structures that served many purposes for so many years.