By Joann M. Ringelstetter
"Few buildings of the past remain to speak as plainly of the early American economy as the old stone farm buildings."
From “I Remember America” by Eric Sloane, 1971
At the crack of dawn on October 8, 2009, Ruth and I had the privilege of photographing a beautiful fieldstone barn, located in Oconto County, Wisconsin. In 2007, this barn and the surrounding ten acres were purchased by the Town of Chase and the barn is now known as the Chase Stone Barn. It is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
I’d like to take you back in time for a few minutes. Imagine that it is the late 1800s and you are living on a farm in a rural area of northern Wisconsin. Life is simple, but there is no shortage of hard work.
You have spent several days behind a horse-drawn walking plow, your hands rough and calloused from holding onto the handles as the plowshare pierced the hard ground. Your back is sore from steering the team and the plow. Your neck and shoulders hurt from the tug of the reins around your neck. But you barely notice because your mind is on the new crop you will be planting and the hope for a better yield this year.
Before you can begin planting, however, there is one more back-breaking job that needs to be done – gathering up the stones that come to the surface every spring as the soil thaws. How can there be so many stones year after year, you wonder.
You harness the team, this time hooking up a stone boat that the horses will drag through the fields as you pick up stones – lifting and tossing the smaller ones onto the stone boat and rolling the bigger ones.
As you gather and toss what seems like a thousand stones onto the stone boat, a vision begins to form in your mind – a vision of a grand fieldstone barn; one with a large arched doorway at each end, allowing you to drive your horse-drawn hay wagon into the barn, unload the loose hay, and drive the empty wagon out the other side.
As you wipe the sweat from your brow and move the horse team forward, you think about how solid and durable the massive stone walls will be. You think about having a stable on one side with wooden feed doors that could be opened to pitch loose hay to the cows. You think about maybe having an interior stave silo some day. And you think about contacting a local stone mason named Wilhelm Mensenkamp.
In 1903, this vision came to life with the completion of the Krause fieldstone barn. The Krause family owned the barn until 1920 and then it changed hands several times. In 1954, the barn was purchased by Casey and Stanley Frysh. These two brothers owned the barn until their deaths approximately 50 years later. The barn has withstood the test of time, but is now in need of restoration.
The town of Chase is developing plans for the creation of an historic park with the barn as the central focus. The large open area of the barn will be a gathering place for receptions, barn dances, shows, auctions, etc. The large stable area will become a rustic agriculture museum where they will display old farm machinery and tools.
If you are interested in learning more about this historic fieldstone barn and contributing in some way to preserving it for future generations, click here .
Our thanks go out to Kris Kolkowski of the Chase Stone Barn Committee for allowing us access to this amazing barn.
In 1971, Eric Sloane, the famous Americana painter and author, wrote, “I believe there is hope for at least a partial survival of the original America.” It is now almost 40 years after Mr. Sloane wrote these words and I still have hope that people will recognize the importance of saving and preserving our agricultural and architectural heritage.