Friday, October 24, 2008

Blue skies, round barn and an old house at Allerton


Down at Bethany, Missouri, for lunch on Monday I took the scenic route home on Route 136 past Mt. Moriah and through the Thompson and Grand River valleys headed for Princeton, then Lineville. It's a beautiful drive this time of year, or any time of year for that matter.

Anyhow, round about Mercer and almost back in Iowa I remembered that I'd been wanting to revisit the round barn site out east of Allerton (in Wayne County) and see what kind of progress they'd been making on the old Wilson house, moved out from town a couple of years ago.

So I took a sharp right across the wood railroad bridge into Mercer and headed across country to come up into Iowa at Clio, southwest of Allerton.

The round barn site is located a mile east of Allerton on about 100 acres and is operated by the ambitiously-named International Center for Rural Culture and Art. Why they picked that mouthful to call themselves and exactly who is involved I don't know --- but I've admired the organization's buildings since the center started developing the site about 15 years ago.

The 1912 round barn already was there and its preservation provided the impetus needed to start this particular ball rolling. Then came a small schoolhouse and then a church.


The New York Christian Church, which dates from 1887, is here now, beautifully restored and available for suitable public events, but it wasn't the first. If I remember right, the first country church moved to the site was struck by lightning and burned. Looking around for a replacement, the center found the New York church a few years ago up my way in northern Wayne County and moved it down. The building hadn't been used in years, but had been taken care of by neighbors who shielded it from vandals and other threats. While it was sad to see the last New York landmark roll away, that move saved the church in the long run and we can be grateful for that.

Anyhow, the center had been in the market for a house to replace the original on the farm, which had vanished.

They were lucky and brave enough to acquire the Wilson house in Allerton and it's been a work in progress for maybe four years now. I remember the house as it was in Allerton, unpainted and spooky, so its new sparkling white and pristine exterior is quite a contrast.



Standing here by itself out on the farm the building has a remarkable advantage, a chance to show itself off as a piece of art, sculptural in its many angles and twists and turns, especially the round silo-like southwest corner that mirrors the round barn across the drive. It's quite an ensemble.

I climbed the porch steps and peeked through the windows and was astonished by the interior, which has not been at all restored. In a house of this age that's had a hard life you expect to see overpainted woodwork, plastic paneling tacked to the walls and maybe matted shag carpet on the floor. None of that here.

Although plaster has fallen, the old wallpaper is peeling and the floors are bare and rough, nothing seems to have been touched --- as if its family sent the furniture away, walked out and closed the door 50 or 60 years ago, then let nature take its course. The only content seemed to be a battered upright piano in the embrace of the grand open staircase that circles up to the second floor in three flights from the entrance hall.

I suppose the center plans to restore the interior, too, then furnish it --- but that's kind of a shame. I've visited many museum houses in my time and found nearly all of them stuffed with stuff and as dead as a stuffed bear --- more life in a cemetery than in one of those embalmed buildings.

If wishes were horses and this beggar could ride, I'd stablize the interior so that visitors could enter, then just leave it alone. But that's really none of my business and I'll enjoy whatever happens.

Headed out of Allerton, I stopped at the Log Chain Apiary shop next door to the Inn of the Six-Toed Cat to stock up on honey --- another bonus of any visit to Allerton.

To reach the round barn site, look for the Community Center on main street in Allerton and turn east there. You'll actually see the old Wilson house in the distance since it sits at the head of the "T" intersection a mile east of town.

1 comment:

Ed Abbey said...

Do you know why some round barns were built as opposed to more tradtional styles. We have some round barns over this way which I'm sure you are well aware of, and I've always wondered why? Was is just an attempt to be unique?