Barns, past and present, locate in city

By : 
Mary Jo Dathe
Glimpses of Yesteryear

Barns: These are some of my favorite structures, each different and fascinating. Can you guess how many barns inside the city limits have been taken down the last few years?  And how many still stand?

When Spring Valley was organized in the mid 1800s and folks began to construct their dwellings, it was common to also build a barn to shelter at least a team of horses, a few dairy cows, and the necessary feed storage. Let's take a look at one barn that has a recorded history.

A notable barn that stood along South Section and Highway 63 was that of Sparky Bartlett. Many years ago Sharon Jahn assisted personnel from the National Register of Historic Places to complete a history on the Bartlett barn. Built about 1877, the barn had essentially remained unaltered and was in fairly good condition. Described as a basement or bank barn, it was built into the side of a hill, with north and west wagon entrances opening to the ground floor. This main floor could be used as a threshing floor and for storing grain and equipment, and the basement was a stable for livestock. 

A loft for hay storage beneath the gabled roof was reached by stairs, and was topped with a small round metal ventilator. The barn was 30' x 35', covered with board and batten siding.  A small room in the northeast corner was used as a shop where seed corn was sold.  Although in fairly good condition it was typical of the era: others existed, and since George Washington did not own it, it was not eligible for the National Register. The property on which it stood was more valuable than the barn, and it is now gone.

The Bartlett family of English origin established their farm on the south edge of town around 1877, and operated it for four generations. They grew wheat, corn and soybeans on the 157-acre tract.  Third generation Everett married Florence "Josie" Bartlett in 1912 and they had three sons:  Robert, Francis "Sparky" and Erwin. Sparky (1914-1984), who eventually took over, was a farmer and livestock dealer.  Robert worked on the farm, but many of us remember him behind the counter at Pete's Sward-Kemp Drugstore. We also recall the life-sized horse figure that stood beside the barn, quite an attraction to those driving by. Sparky also had some peacocks, whose wailing "help, help" cries drove us crazy! 

Others to consider: Chet Lamson's barn, c. 1870s, is well preserved on the corner of Hudson and Fremont.  The remarkable Lobdill stone stable stands on East Church Street, c. 1880.  My grandfather Doc Boucsein's veterinary barn on Tracy Road has been expanded and is well used. 

What of those grand barns that no longer grace our landscape?  I can think of several that have recently disappeared...there was a large white barn on the east end of Fremont; John and Rosalie Kruegel had one in their back yard on South Huron; when Gordy and I bought our house lot in 1955, this land had been Frank Clouse's pasture, and we saw his large barn for years from our kitchen window. 

In the accompanying photo you see a falling down barn on South Huron and its adjacent outhouse.  Many of us remember the buildings as the home site of Jim and Mattie Wiersma.  When Ann Thon moved her lovely home to the former Lobdill mansion site on the corner of Division Avenue and Church Street, the barn came down but the outhouse went to its new honored location.

In my ancient past there are several barns clearly remembered including Mrs. Lee's and August Mueller's barns; my Steffens grandparents' across the street from the high school as did Frank Bacon's place. Barns are gone. The Richardson farm with its barn is about where Kenilworth Place is today. Along Warren Avenue the Andrews-Weeks home had a large barn out back with a pull-down upstairs loft.  We were forbidden to go there, but of course we did.  In the Sample barn down the street we climbed into the loft — where I stepped through a storm window, broke it, and gashed my knee. Fellow culprits hauled me home in a coaster wagon, wailing aloud, with a shard of glass in my knee. I still have that scar.

Why not treat yourself, a friend, or your grand kids to ride about town and see how many barns you can spot. There are several suspects where a small barn might have been converted to a garage for a more recent type of horsepower. Good luck!

Watch for the opening of the Methodist Church Museum — hours daily are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.