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Re-raising a barn: 1880s Bolton Barn moved to new site in Hancock County

Bolton Barn (1).jpg
Bolton Barn, built in Sonora Township north of Nauvoo in the 1880s, is being rebuilt on the grounds of the Western Illinois Threshers.

A Hancock County barn that dates back to the 1880s has a new home.

But despite the barn moving less than 10 miles, it's been quite a journey.

It’s known as the Bolton Barn, because it was built on Alexander Bolton’s farm in Sonora Township north of Nauvoo.

“The barn was built circa 1884, and the reason why we say circa is because we only know through family history, the approximate time of its completion,” said Patti Starr.

She said Alexander Bolton was an early settler and prominent landowner in Hancock County.

Bolton had eight children and has many descendants in the area, including her husband, Ron.

He calls it “Patti’s Barn” because she has spearheaded saving it, relocating it, and raising the money to make it happen.

A utilitarian barn

Prior to acquiring the barn, the Starrs did some research.

They consulted with Trillium Dell Timberworks of Galesburg.

They know it’s a tenon and mortise barn, a traditional method that uses wooden pegs to fasten joints instead of metal or nails.

The Starrs also learned the barn’s beams were likely rafted to Hancock County along the Mississippi River, arriving in Pontoosac.

Starr said it’s not a fancy barn, but an extremely well-made utilitarian one.

In the early 1950s, a tin roof was added and secured with nails – the first time metal had ever been part of the barn’s construction.

“And that’s basically what saved the barn,” Starr said.

Finding a new home

The Starrs acquired Bolton Barn from another descendant in 2014.

“They were going to dismantle the barn or burn it down, and it’s only two miles from our house, and we didn’t want that to happen,” Starr said.

By July of that year, the Western Illinois Threshers voted to allow Bolton Barn moved to its grounds, about seven miles away.

Western Illinois Threshers began in the late 1960s as a group of neighbors meeting to discuss how they could display their antique tractor collections.

By the mid-1970s, the organization purchased land north of Hamilton to be a permanent site to preserve and demonstrate agricultural methods of the past.

Raising the funds

For the Starrs, this seemed like a great home for their historic barn.

“But there was this stipulation. We had to raise $50,000 in order to get it there,” Starr said.

It took a few years, but Starr actually raised $60,000 for the project.

Starr pursued grants and received the first one awarded from the Hancock County Endowment of the Community Foundation in Quincy.

She also wrote letters, did radio appearances, wrote newspaper articles, and sold prints of Bolton Barn framed with the wood from its original siding.

“It was a lot of work, a lot of phone calls,” Starr said.

Beam by beam

Then it was time to move the barn – and that, too, has taken a few years.

“We had determined then that there was no way that we could jack the barn up and move it. We had to dismantle it,” Starr said.

And so piece by piece, and beam by beam, Alexander Bolton’s barn came down.

Patti said this has been possible because of modern technology and equipment – and the ingenuity of farmers.

A crew of around a dozen people helped to dismantle the barn, with the couple’s son Matthew playing a lead role.

“We probably have the same amount putting it back up,” Starr said. “That varies from day to day depending on who is available.”

A look at the past

At the Western Illinois Threshers grounds, the barn’s foundation has been poured, and its walls and rafters are now framed.

Starr said work continues on reassembling Bolton Barn.

It’s one of the attractions at the 55th Annual Western Illinois Threshers Bee and Antique Show that starts today on the Thresher grounds.

Joy Swearingen, a volunteer for Western Illinois Threshers, said this year’s show highlights Allis Chalmers tractors, along with activities and demonstrations from sheep shearing to pony-powered threshing.

“The Western Illinois Threshers gives a look at farming in the past and acknowledges what farmers did before we had our new modern equipment… what was the modern equipment for them back a hundred years ago,” Swearingen said.

In addition to Bolton Barn, the Western Illinois Thresher grounds are also home to log cabins, a church, one-room school, print shop, blacksmith and post office.

More information is online at www.westernillinoisthreshers.org

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.