Sunday, March 7, 2010

“What Do You Suppose That Was?”

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Here in Wisconsin, and in every state we have visited, we pass old buildings with interesting architecture. Usually, one of us will ask the other what that building might have been. Since our backgrounds are far removed from rural architecture, we are never sure, but often we have some sort of a guess.

Small Stone Building, LaFayette County, Wisconsin

On our trip to Ohio last April, we came upon several old buildings with long chains hanging down from the gables of the roof. We didn’t know what they were for, but we did wonder about it. Later on the trip, when we had time to read some information we had picked up about the National Road, we read that those chains were used by the local inns, taverns or stagecoach stops to alert the passing stage drivers that they had a package to pick up. They would lower a ball attached to the chain. If the ball was left high, the driver passed by without stopping. The chain in the photo is sort of hard to see, but it is hanging directly above the old front doors.

Front of Historic Building on the National Road, Henry County, Indiana

Several years ago we came upon an old stone building sitting tall at the edge of the road in Sauk County Wisconsin. As Joann photographed the building from the road, I tried to imagine what the building might have been. It resembled a mill, but we didn’t have any information about a mill in this area, and there was no water source nearby. Often the buildings we stumble on are not in any of the historic information I have found.

Old Stone Creamery, Sauk County, Wisconsin

On our most recent visit there, it was late enough in the day and we could see that people were home at the house across the road, so we stopped. They kindly told us that they own the building now and that it was the first creamery in Sauk County. We never would have guessed that it was a creamery. It sort of resembles an old stone hotel that we have visited, or an old mill, but now we know for sure. (And we know our guesses are often wrong.)

Window of Old Stone Creamery, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Another case of mistaken identity is an old building with a stone front in Green County Wisconsin. We have been taking photos of it for years. We first stumbled on it while searching for a stone barn on an unnamed road. As we sat looking at that building we decided it must have been a soddy or root cellar and that someone may have built it and lived in it prior to building their eventual dwelling. Imagine our surprise when this past spring we found out that it was actually an old cheese cellar. Whether it was a cheese cellar its whole life, we don’t know, but now we have to wonder about all of the other soddies and root cellars we have recorded in our logs.

Old Stone Cheese Cellar, Green County, Wisconsin

Often our logs contain entries where we have guessed the type of building we photographed, and the guess is indicated as a question mark after the description. Several years ago, in Shawano County Wisconsin, we came upon a gray building that was sort of barn-like, but set in an unusual location. It sat facing a small creek and we couldn’t imagine how the farmer could get grain or animals in and out of the barn. It also had some interesting overhangs for a barn and the doors didn’t make sense for animals. We studied it from several angles, and reasoned that it might be a mill.

Old Gray Barn, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Later we had the opportunity to visit with a representative of the Shawano County Historical Society. She said they had no information about anything historic in that town and when we showed her the pictures, she said it was a regular barn. We’re still not sure.

We also asked her about another building we had photographed years ago in Shawano County. It is a gorgeous old stone and wood building. Our guess was that it was a blacksmith shop, but again, she didn’t know of the building. I bought the county history booklet they had put together and read it from cover to cover. There was no mention of the town or the mysterious building. Searches of the National Historic Register and the state information I have gathered came up empty as well.

Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Last fall we visited the building again and were happy to see that it is still in pretty good shape. As Joann was finishing up photographing the building again, a man pulled up in a truck and she flagged him down to ask if he knew what the building had been. He confirmed that it was an old blacksmith shop. Finally, one point for us!

Last summer on a trip to Iowa, we couldn’t find a motel in any of the towns I thought would be central to our plans. We ended up going further south than planned. As we were on our way to our motel, we passed a building with very interesting architecture and I glanced at the name on the front of the building.

Old Filling Station, Calumet County, Wisconsin

Joann: “What do you suppose that was?”

Ruth: “I don’t know what it was, but it’s a Fashionable Styling Salon now,” (which was the name I thought I saw on the building).

Joann: (laughing) “It doesn’t look very fashionable to me.”

Ruth: (laughing too) “That’s not very nice.”

Old Filling Station, Cedar County, Iowa

We’re pretty sure the building was an old cottage style gas station repurposed as a beauty salon. We are always glad to see the old architecture saved, especially if the original building has not been changed too much. I don’t know why, but we didn’t stop to take a picture of that building. Perhaps we were laughing too hard.

Do you know the history of any of the old buildings you pass in your travels? Or is there an old building that fascinates you but you don’t know what the history is? If so, let us know.

Happy Shunpiking!

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