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Great Barns of Fillmore County

Mon, Sep 30th, 2002
Posted in Features

Fillmore County is an agricultural area, no doubt about it. No lakes in this county. Some good fishing streams and a couple of rivers to canoe on, otherwise boating is out of the question. Not much night life to speak of either. Heck, there is only one stop light in the entire county. Yet rural Fillmore County is a treasure. Rolling hills, enchanted valleys, patchwork vistas as far as the eye can see. Dotting the countryside are the gems that are this countys crowning glory - barns, barns and more barns. Historic, stone, round, old, new - the great barns of Fillmore County are a legacy to the spirit of the people that settled these prairie hills over the years. Our Great Barn Tour starts in northwest Fillmore County, in Jordan Township. Our first barn is an old world dream come true. Fergusson - Anderson Stone Barn ChatfieldThe Anderson farm is located six miles west of Chatfield on County Road 2 and a half mile south on the township road. The serene hillside setting is a perfect backdrop for this masterpiece of masonry that is the Fergusson Barn. Built by Thomas Fergusson Sr., a Scottish stone mason, the barn was constructed in two sections. The first half (north side) of the structure was built in the 1880s and consisted of two stories. This structure housed livestock on the first floor with grain bins and an elaborate distribution system on the top floor. Fergusson built the barn into a hillside. The slope acted as a ramp which he used to drive a team of horses into the grain storage area for easy loading. Loath to waste any space the Scotsman dug a large root cellar under the ramp. Fergusson worked on the barn in his "spare time" between other masonry jobs and raising seven children. Approximately 100 cords of native stone were harvested from the farm to complete the project. The walls are nearly two feet thick and display the large stones above the doors, windows and archways, which were Fergussons trademark. The south section of the barn was added later and is connected to the north section by a beautiful drive-thru arch. Legend has it that the arch was built to accommodate stage coaches as they traveled along the route. The truth is that the old route passed south of the barn and did not require driving through, but its no wonder the rumor got started. Driving up the driveway and through the arch is just too irresistible. But, its okay...go right ahead. Deb and Gary dont mind, in fact they welcome visitors. As you drive slowly through the center of the barn be sure to note the round stone silo which goes from basement to attic level. The silo measures 12 feet across and is 40 feet tall. The barn itself is 100 feet by 40 feet and was finally completed in 1912 when Fergusson was 71. Since its completion, the Stone Barn has suffered through a tornado in October 1902 which took the roof. In 1938 a fire destroyed the roof, grain bins, and distribution system. The roof of the barn was later replaced and the design was changed. However, the stone barn continues to reflect the image which was Thomas Fergusson's dream. Deb who is active in preserving native grasses and flowers is happy to be a part of preserving this treasure. She has compiled a tremendous amount of history regarding the barn and house. The farm passed out of the Fergusson family in 1968, but the Andersons take great pride in preserving the legacy not only for the Fergusson family but for all who visit. Next Stop one of Minnesota's Round Barns.Waller - Ahern Round BarnChatfield Rural Minnesota is fortunate enough to be the home of over one hundred round or polygonal barns. Fillmore County hosts four such barns. The second installment on our barn tour is the round barn owned by Dave and Jan Ahern, though old timers refer to it as the Waller Round Barn. When asked "Why a round barn?" many farmers answered, "Why not?" Religious people liked the idea of a round barn so the devil couldnt hide in the corners. In 1911-1912, the Kansas State Board of Agriculture published an article extolling the efficiency of round barns. This article highlights many other reasons for a round barn. Jackie Dougan Jackson is credited with this explanation; "An aerial view of a cow shows it to be wedge-shaped and therefore arranging these wedges around a circle with the heads closest to the center silo with the wide "business end" at the outer circumference of the barn represents the most efficient use of space." Economically the round barn was said to save the farmer from 34% to 58% of the cost of a rectangular barn of the same size. Efficiency for feeding the livestock from the center silo was also a great advantage to the early 20th century farmer The Waller Round Barn is located south and east of Chatfield. To get there, find Township Road 259 which intersects Highway 52 one-point-four miles southeast of the junction of Highways 52/30 in Chatfield. Travel south on Twp. Rd. 259 (gravel) about three miles to the barn which is on the east side of the road. The Aherns barn was built by Daves great grandfather Otto Waller who purchased the 240 acre parcel in 1898. Theresa Waller Ahern, Daves mother, thought the barn was probably built around 1900, but could not be more specific than that. The barn sits directly across the road from the Aherns home. They are proud of the unique structure of the barn, and encourage visitors to take pictures from the road. This working farm still has livestock on it, so for safety sake the owner requests visitors to stay outside of the fence.

Nichols - Stethem Round Barn Troy(Once a Stage Coach Stop)Photo on front page The next barn on our tour is located just a hair out of Fillmore County in Winona County. The farm is the current home of Mitchell Stethem. Take Highway 74 from Chatfield about six miles to Troy. From the highway go north at the Troy turn off. From the Junction of County Road 6/43 in Troy go south 1.4 miles. Then East (curves north) on the Township Road 1.05 miles. The barn is just past the trout stream on the south side of the road. The barn was built in 1906 by ancestors of brothers Thomas and George Nichols. It is classified as a true round barn and measures approximately 54 feet in diameter. A point of interest is the unusually tall cupola. The original plans of the barn did not contain a center silo, which was the original advantage to building a round barn. The other reason to build a silo was to help stabilize the roof.It is said that the farm house was originally an inn and tavern on a stage coach stop. The setting is quite peaceful, off the main roads, with a creek running past the site. From the road, with the horses in the foreground its easy to imagine the stage rumbling to a stop and the horses being rested and watered here. This would have been a relaxing haven to the dusty, hot and weary traveler. Molstein - Agrimson Round Barn Lanesboro From Chatfield head east on County Road 30 eleven miles, to Co. Rd. 32-250 and go north just about a mile. As you look to the west you will see the white round barn of the Agrimson farm. JoAnne Agrimson is a teacher and a woman who has reason to be proud of this landmark. Known by many as the Molstein round barn, it was built in the 1890s by two carpenters from Winona for G.G. Gilbertson. The lumber for the barn was hauled from Winona by a wagon and team of horses. The carpenters received $500 for labor, and the supplies cost about $1800. The silo inside the barn was built several years after the barn was completed, a marker indicates the work was done in 1898. The barn itself is 75 feet in diameter and 355 feet in circumference. The silo is 18 feet across and 52 feet high. There was originally a cupola on the roof, but it was destroyed in a storm several years ago. The Agrimsons have recently had the roof reshingled and the barn sided. Art Molstein wrote, "We were told the barn was used as a landmark for airplanes to fly over, before jet planes came to be. This is what we were told but (there is) no proof of this." Art was the grandson of G.G. Gilbertson and the son of Andrew Molstein, previous owners of the farm. Gilbertson built the barn originally for horses, but he enjoyed the efficiency of feeding that a round barn provides. He also believed that "in a straight wind round structures resisted winds better than square ones." Whatever the reason, Gilbertsons barn has weathered four generations of farm families. The Agrimsons enjoy an occasional visitor, but it is always best to call before stopping in. This is a working farm. Historic Meighen BarnForestvilleFrom Preston travel north on Highway 52 to Highway 16. Then west on Highway 16 about nine miles to County Road 5. Head south on Co. Rd. 5 two-and-a-half miles to the Forestville State Park turn off. Historic Forestville boasts one of the oldest barns on our tour and also one of the newest. The old barn across the street from the Meighen store was built before 1898, but we are not sure of the exact date. It was thought to be the largest barn in the county when Thomas Meighen had it built. The barn is historically accurate with its wooden beams. And aside from some preservation, remains the same as when it was originally built. An interpreter at the site would be happy to answer any questions you might have about this lovely barn. Across the road from the Meighen barn is the new visitors center and office. This structure was completed and opened earlier this year. What makes this barn noteworthy is that the stone foundation of the barn was taken from the old Sy Sorenson barn which once stood on the Forestville site. The old foundation was broken down and cleaned and reused in this new building. A large wooden beam taken from the old barn has also found a new home here. The barn itself is located where one previously stood in the days when Forestville was a bustling community. An antique photograph shows a roof line and corner of the old barn, and from that information the barn was crafted to look as authentic as possible. Don't be fooled, the craftsmanship and amenities are strictly 21st century, with a furnace, running water and flush toilets. Meighen - Ray BarnForestvilleBefore we leave the Forestville area, lets drive down the road to the next farm which was once the home of Louis Meighen. Sunnyside Farm is currently owned by Darrell and Lois Ray. The Rays have lived on this picturesque farm since January 1951. Surrounded by hills on either side, Sunnyside Farm is cut in half by the Forestville road. The barn is 100 feet by 50 feet and 60 feet high. As far as Darrell is able to tell, work began on the barn in 1881 and was finished in 1888 or 89. The rafters and siding were made of poplar. To the best of his knowledge the barn was first owned by Meighen, then was sold to a man named Harry Muffley. Guy Purvis was the next owner, before the farm was purchased by Merlin Ray, Darrels father. A fire in 1939 or 40 destroyed a 32 room house that was located on the property. Sunnyside Farm is a working farm; the owners dont mind if you take pictures from the road, but be mindful of the livestock. Laura Ingalls Wilder - Svebakken BarnSpring ValleySo far we have visited eight barns and we have two more to see. We will be traveling on Highway 16 to Spring Valley and the home of Roger and Llonomae Svebakken. Once in Spring Valley, take Tracy Road (next to the Kwik Trip) to the west. Theirs is the first farm on the left (south) side of the road. The unassuming brown brick and board barn would not stand out as a particularly beautiful barn, but it is a historical structure and one that Spring Valley residents are quite proud of. This farm was once the home of Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Almanzo's uncle George Day originally owned the barn and the 90 acre parcel. When Day died in 1873 the farm was purchased by his brother-in-law James Wilder. James and his wife Angeline had six children, one of them being Almanzo. After helping his father establish the Morgan horse farm, Mannie (as he was called) and Royal headed west to DeSmet, South Dakota, where he met and eventually married Laura Ingalls. The couple lived in DeSmet until 1890, then following a bout with diphtheria, the couple and their daughter Rose came to Spring Valley to convalesce. In all, Laura and Almanzo spent about eighteen months here at the family farm. The barn is the only building from the Wilder farm still standing. Svebakken says he bought the farm without knowing its historical significance. "I didn't even know who Laura Ingalls Wilder was, until someone stopped by and asked me about the barn," Roger recalled The Svebakkens, like the Wilders, raise horses on the farm, and ask that people respect their privacy. "We dont mind if people stop and look, but we don't give tours," says Llonamae. Royal Wilder did eventually move back to Spring Valley to stay and is buried next to his uncle George Day in the Spring Valley Cemetery. Rath-Erding Round BarnSpring ValleyThe last stop on our tour will be the farm of Jeff and Cindy Erding. Located northeast of Spring Valley, the easiest way to get there is to take County Road 1 north from the junction of Highway 16/63 in Spring Valley exactly 6.3 miles. Turn east on Co. Rd. 4, then travel five miles to Township Road 343, then one mile south on Twp Rd. 343. The Erding barn is on the right side of the dirt road. This beautifully preserved round barn was originally built by Edward Rath in 1916. Rath had seen a round barn and decided that when he built a barn it would be round. Rath quarried the "blue" rock from nearby hills and set the stone foundation himself. Jeff Erding felt the same way about the round barn as Edward Rath himself. He had always thought the barn was special. In 1978 when the farm came up for sale, Jeff and his wife Cindy "bought the farm." Since then they have done extensive work preserving it. There are new doors and windows and the barn has recently been sided and shingled. The scene as you round the curve and see the barn is lovely. This old barn has been loved by its owners and that is apparent from the first time you lay eyes on it. In case you haven't had enough barns for the day, be sure to check out The Old Barn Resort on the Root River bike trail. The resort has a camp ground and hostel as well as a restaurant and golf course. The barn remains intact and no barn tour would be complete without a stop and a bite to eat. To get to the Old Barn Resort, travel north about four miles on County Road 17 from Highway 16-52 in Preston. The way is well marked, just follow the signs. Authors Note: As always I began my quest for information about the Great Barns of Fillmore County at the History Center in Fountain. Howard Sanborn is a real treasure, not to mention just plain delightful. Thank You Howard. Also a big thanks to Sharon Jahn and Rosalie Krugel of the Spring Valley Historical Society. To learn more about other round barns go to There are two excellent sites with exact locations, some information and also pictures. Good Luck and happy hunting. This article first appeared in the Historic Bluff Country Journal Visitors Guide published by the Fillmore County Journal on September 1, 2002.

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