Book recognizes history of barns

Todd G. Higdon

Back in 2004, members of the Shoal Creek Heritage Preservation published a small book, “If Only They Could Talk” about 27 barns in Newton County.

In a continuation of that book, the preservation group has produced a second book, “Lofty Places: Barns of Newton County, Missouri.”

“Barns are disappearing, and every time there is a storm coming through Newton County, probably one of the major things that disappears is another barn or two,” said Larry James, who helped create the book.

James, along with other members of the preservation group, drove around Newton County finding barns, taking pictures and gathering history along the way. As in the first book, the members received some nominations of barns from owners or others.

“We had the opportunity that we saw that we thought needed preserving as much as possible,” James said. “This is, by no means, all of the barns in the county. There are others that we wished we could have got in the book. We just ran out of time and space for them.”

There are more than 80 photos of barns, with at least one photo per page. The book also describes the history of the barns, some of which have remained in the family since the barns were built.

“One of the barns which sticks out in my mind is the Eckerberg barn,” said Kay Hively, who also worked on the book. “It has a berm, one side of it is built into the hillside and you could drive your wagon into the second or third floor. Just for looking, it is very startling. It is so large.”

Most of the barns described in the book are still standing.

“Some of the ones in the book are not in the greatest shape,” James said. “My guess is that in five years, some of these may not be around anymore. And some of them even where they are located, everything has already changed from what it was when we first started the book.”

The group began the second book’s process of gathering in earnest about a year ago.

“All of the barns have their own personalities,” Hively said.

Interesting facts

“There are lots of little things in the types of the barns which were constructed,” said James. “Several of them used native stone, which is an interesting thing. You don’t see that everywhere in the country. Some places you do see some brick barns, but that is one thing that you do not see here. Most of the barns were frame structures. Most of them were built into the hillside. Most of them started out as a dairy barn. Milking purposes was one of the big features of the early barns. Then, over the years, they changed. Most of them are used for various storage purposes.”

Fading barns

At one time, particularly in Newton County, round barns dotted the countryside. The round barns are not featured in this new book, but have been mentioned before in other historical books. One of the round barns is located near Joplin, while the other one was located in Newtonia. It has since been torn down.

“There are very few round barns left,” James said.

And barns don’t necessarily have to be located outside of the city limits of town.

According to Hively, there are at least eight barns inside the city limits of Neosho.

“They were probably in the country when they were (first) built,” Hively said.

Preserving the past

The Shoal Creek Heritage Preservation will host a reception to introduce “Lofty Places” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the New-Mac Electric Building on Missouri Highway 86. The public is invited to attend.

The money raised from the book goes back into Shoal Creek Heritage Preservation for recognition purposes.

“One of the big things that our group does is to recognize improvements of historic sites throughout the entire county,” said James. “We have presented plaques to anybody that has become placed on the national register and we also have ‘Neosho Proud’ awards for businesses, homes and other sites in Neosho that have improved their structure and helped to preserve it. We have presented certificates to businesses throughout the county as well as Neosho over the years.”

James hopes that this book will help preserve the history of the barns and “spark some interest around the county.”

“I think that it is a wonderful project: They are just not building barns anymore,” said Hively. “It is to make people aware of barns and that they are disappearing and hopefully we can motivate some and put a little bit of effort into it and keep the roof on it, it probably would be around for many, many, many years.”

Neosho Daily News