Saturday, August 27, 2016

Nationally registered barn remains as a last vestige of local homesteading era

"Last winter I tried to talk Jesse into leaving. Not anymore. I've grown to cherish the freedom, the openness of this land, the wall I plastered, the trees I planted. I can see God using me. Homesteading, building a community with people I care about..."
 ___ Catherine Richmond, author

Midwest three-portal barn evolved from the earliest and most basic form of barns in the United States, the crib barn

By Rob Carrigan,

Back then ... and for years afterward, living and working a local homestead was a difficult existence.

Getting the barn up. Taking care of the stock, growing what you can, and most of the time —just surviving. Perhaps that is just one of the reasons that the local barn shows up Colorado Historical Register. The land can provide you with a living — but it can also turn on you. It eventually did on J.G. Evans.

"The J.G. Evans Barn is located in the Platte-Arkansas Divide in the Black Forest area of El Paso County. The area is mostly rolling, grassy hills with sporadic ponderosa pine trees dotting the landscape. Standing in the middle of Hodgen Road, facing north, one sees the front of the barn with the large wagon entrance. To the west is a small grassy hill that has protected it from wind and snow for many years. To the east, a windmill, which is missing its blades, and a stock tank made of corrugated metal lay a few feet from the side of the barn. North and east of the barn the land slopes into a small drainage area. A new housing development under construction is further north and east of the drainage, just above the floodplain. Turning around and facing south, one sees the original John G. Evans ranch complex," according to National Register of Historic Places Registration Form and written by Kimberly Henderson and Michelle Van Heukelem, Archaeology Graduate students from University of Denver, in November of 2003.

Inside, three adjoining bays with hand-hewn beam H-frame construction in the central bay and other lumber in the barn displays circular saw marks and cut nails. Flanking the central bay on the left side is a series of rooms. Each room has a wooden trough or manger for feed. Flanking the central bay on the right are more rooms; however, the troughs rest much higher than the other side indicating use by taller animals such as horses instead of cattle. Also located on the east side toward the front of he barn is an enclosed room lined with corrugated tin sheeting. It is thought that this room was used for grain storage. The shed extension is an open area with an opening to the tin-lined room. The second story of the barn contains a large open hayloft. The floor only extends halfway across the main barn section. Hand-hewn beams make up the floor of the loft and in between each of these beams are remnants of concrete mortar and straw used to keep rodents out.

"The John G. Evans Barn is significant ... as one of the last remaining barns representing the earliest period of settlement and development in the Black Forest community of El Paso County.

Associated with one of the county’s pioneer ranches, it is also one of the earliest barns built in the area displaying construction techniques that are characteristic of the Black Forest homestead era (1860s-1930s). The barn exhibits elements of late 19th/early 20th century Midwest three-portal barns in its three bays, broken gable roof, timber framing, and hand-hewn logs," says the registration form.

The Midwest three-portal barn evolved from the earliest and most basic form of barns in the United States, the crib barn. The J.G. Evans Barn represents this evolution in its hand-hewn log and timber framing on the interior, which is covered with plank and board and batten on the exterior. Though commonly found in the south central United States, Evans had family from Kentucky and grew up in Kansas, both areas where he would have been exposed to this type of barn. The barns and other outbuildings that remain standing in the Black Forest vicinity seem to have influences not only from the middle and eastern United States, but also from European inspirations.

"Many people of European descent settled in this area, contributing to a wide variety of architectural  styles and forms. The sloping, broken gable roof and three bay design of the John G. Evans Barn is characteristic of the barns that used to cover the Black Forest region. It is one of a few remaining original buildings in the region. The original materials, including unpainted wooden siding, hand-hewn boards and posts, uncut foundation stones and concrete mortar contribute to the construction of the building. The tin lined room and granary bins of unequal heights are characteristic of the distinctive utilization of barns in an area that employed a variety of agricultural production.

The barn displays a moderately high degree of physical integrity and has had no modifications to the original structure that are evident or documented. The barn is no longer in use in the current agricultural community in terms of an active animal facility, but does remain a local landmark for the residents of the area," reported United State Department of the Interior National Park Service, which approves registration.

The Platte-Arkansas Divide, where the town of Table Rock was once located, is an unusual area; raised slightly above the surrounding landscape, it is wetter and colder than the plains around it. Early settlers to the area grew crops like potatoes, alfalfa, oats, wheat, rye, millet, and corn, all of which need only a short growing season. Enough water was available to these farmers from the 20 inches of annual rainfall, high ground water, and natural springs that irrigation was unnecessary.

The tall grasses native to the area also supported large herds of cattle and horses. It is noted in the book, Growing Up in Black Forest, that “Black Forest was called the Colorado Pinery and Land Co. in 1885. ... Albert Steppler found old papers indicating the Table Rock area was also forested, until the wagons came west and cleared the fertile land for farming,” wrote Vera Rusk Ellet in her 1990 book "Growing Up in the Black Forest."

John G. Evans would have been one of those that came west, having built his barn in 1885, when the Table Rock community was established. Black Forest was not the common name of the area until after World War I, when developers came to the area.

Potatoes were the main crop in the Divide area when the barn was built. They were considered to be the best cash crop and by the mid-1890s farmers planted over 20,000 acres of potatoes. Over planting and blight hurt the market, but a few farms were able to maintain prize winning potato crops well into the 1900s, wrote Elaine Freed in her 1984 report, "Historic Sites and Structures: El Paso, Colorado. El Paso Land Use Dept., Colorado."

Raising cattle was a fundamental part of the subsistence of early settler in the Black Forest area and still is today. Dairy cows seemed to have been most important during the early settlement Almost every homestead had their own cow to produce milk and butter for the family and to sell. Storage in the barn is evident from the granary bins and other storage areas found on both the north and south ends of the barn. The barn was once part of an extensive property, which boasted 1750 acres, a good amount of land upon which to have a large herd of cattle.

"John Evans was a native of Iowa. His father was born in Kentucky and his mother in Pennsylvania. Mr. Evans spent most of his childhood in Wyandotte County, Kansas and eventually moved to Table Rock in 1884. Evans built his ranch from local wood cut by his own sawmill, and continued to improve his land by adding a stage stop for travel between the Denver and Rio Grande and the Colorado & Southern Railroads that traveled through Monument and Eastonville, according to Judy Von Ahelfeldt in her 1979 book "Thunder, Sun and Snow: A History of Colorado’s Black Forest."

He also built the Fairview School, located up the hill from his ranch house said Kathryn Peterson, in a personal communication in 2003. The local schoolteacher, Lillie Barrett, lived in an upstairs bedroom of his house.

"As his wealth increased, he continued to add land to his original 160-acre homestead, reaching a total of seventeen hundred and fifty acres. As his holdings increased, his ranch, was at one time, thought to be one of the “most valuable in his section of the state,” according to Wilber Fiske Stone's 1919 History of Colorado.

In 1884, Evans married his cousin, Elvina C. Evans of Missouri. They were married for twenty-nine years before she died, leaving Evans alone on the ranch. They never had any children, but nonetheless, were well known in the community. Mrs. Evans was especially important, for it has been said that the entire community would wait for her sign to plant the crops each year, according to Kathryn Peterson, in personal communication in 2003. Additionally, Evans gave much of his time to his duties as chairman of the committee for Table Rock in putting his town “over the top in Liberty Loan, Red Cross, and Young Men’s Christian Association campaigns,” wrote Stone.

"He was a Knight of Pythias at a Colorado Springs Lodge. In addition to his agricultural contributions, Evans led a life active in community affairs before passing away."

Lucille Lavelett, in her 1979 book "Monument's Faded Neighbor Communities and its Folk Lore," describes it in the following.

"The house was on the south side of the road and the barns on the north. Mr. Evans lived on his ranch until his death, during one of Colorado's blizzards, November 19, 1913. Mr. Evans had tried to get to the house from the barn, fell, and was frozen to death."

He is buried in the Monument Cemetery, and on his tombstone it reads, "He arose on the wings of a storm."

After Evans’ death, the ranch was sold in 1932 to C.C. and Ruby Klose, who lived there for approximately ten years before it was sold to Kirby W. and Florence Peterson from Canada. After their deaths, the Peterson family divided the land and sold it to various people. Among those was Clarence Thurston McLaughlin, a wealthy oilman, rancher, and philanthropist from Texas. McLaughlin integrated his portion of the Evans Ranch into the Shamrock Ranch to the southwest. After McLaughlin died, the property was sold to a person named Farrar. The property then passed through a succession of owners before the current owner, Georg Kuhnke, purchased a number of acres, including the barn. The ranch house and other associated buildings across Hodgen Road are presently on thirty acres of land in section 29 owned by another (unrelated) Peterson family, through which much of this history has been discovered.

Photo Information: The J.G. Evans Barn has been restored somewhat in recent years, but still bears the marks of more than century agricultural use here on the Divide.

___ By Rob Carrigan

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