Posts Tagged ‘Historical Buildings’

Heartland 3 – Starke Round Barn, Red Cloud, Nebraska

October 9th, 2015

Risk and Ruin at the Starke Round Barn, Red Cloud, Webster County, Nebraska

A Drive Through The Heartland, Part Three

Front Entrance and Second Floor of the Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

Front Entrance and Second Floor of the Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click image to see larger.)

(Continued from the blog post, “A Drive Through The Heartland 2.”)

Largest of It’s Type in the World

For their time, for any time, many Midwest barns were engineering marvels, especially the large round barns. Round barns do not have any European antecedents like other barn designs. They are entirely an American creation and an important part of American architectural history. Round barns are also the most rare. Less than one fifth of one percent of all barns in the US are round barns.

One of the most impressive designs and largest in the world of its type, the Starke Round Barn near Red Cloud, Nebraska holds together without any nails or pegs, entirely by the weight and balance of the building and the beams of the structure. However, the design of the Starke Round Barn is not the only interesting aspect of its history.

Conrad Starke and Sons Amassed a Fortune in Milwaukee

Interior of Second or Main Floor and Inner Silo, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde. (Click on image to see large.)

Interior of Second or Main Floor and Inner Silo, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click on image to see large.)

The Starke Round Barn story rises and falls with the fortunes of the owners. The builders of the Starke Round Barn, the four Starke brothers, came to Nebraska from Milwaukee, Wisconsin just after the turn of the century. The Starke family had been in engineering and building for many years, constructing ships on the Great Lakes.

Starke family members at the time were known to have attended elite Milwaukee society parties, having amassed a fortune and political influence through various enterprises. They owned shipping companies, tugboat lines and other businesses on Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.

The Starke Round Barn Historic Site explains that around 1880, Conrad Starke, Sr. and his wife Veronica purchased 400 acres of land in Webster County, Nebraska in the Republican River Valley near what is now Red Cloud. Veronica’s brothers, Gottleib and John Christian Rasser had homesteaded in the area in 1870 after serving in the Civil War.

Old Farm Equipment Inside Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde. (Click on image to see large.)

Old Farm Equipment Inside Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click on image to see large.)

Conrad Jr., Ernest, Bill and Christopher Starke Build An Engineering Marvel Round Barn

Still living in Milwaukee in 1902, Conrad Starke Sr., the mastermind behind the greatest portion of the Starke fortune, gave his four sons Conrad, Ernest, Bill and Christopher funding and supplies to go to Nebraska to live at the Starke property near Red Cloud. In addition to other building materials for a barn and other projects, the Starkes shipped gigantic 12” by 12” timbers from the Great Lakes to Nebraska. The Starke Round Barn took the Starke brothers two years to complete.

As the Starke brothers erected the barn, they did not use nails or pegs like other barns of the time. The citation for the Starke Round Barn in the National Register of Historic Places describes the construction and how the building holds together through tension, weight and balance:

The Starke barn is not polyhedronal, a type more common in Nebraska, but a true round barn. It is three stories tall and 130 feet in diameter. The central silo, of brick and mortar construction, is 28 feet in diameter and 65 feet in height, with a total volume of 40,000 cubic feet. The roof is a gable and of low pitch, required by the barn’s great circumference. The construction method is a combination of balloon framing and heavy timber supports. The entire three level vertical and horizontal support frame is of massive 12 X 12 timbers, which are held together by compressive and balancing tensile forces rather than by nails or pegs, which would be useless as fasteners under the thousands of tons the building was designed to hold. The barn was originally covered with horizontal siding. In the early 1960s, the original wood siding was covered over with corrugated iron sheets… With the exception of this minor alteration, the barn still stands today virtually unaltered since its construction.

Back Downhill Side of the Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde 2015. (Click image to see large.)

Back Downhill Side of the Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click image to see large.)

With the full three stories, the barn contains over 40,000 square feet of floor space. Other large round barns may have one level that is larger in diameter, but other levels are smaller. This is the case with the Central Wisconsin State Fairgrounds Round Barn in Marshfield, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Fairgrounds Barn is considered the largest round barn in the US.

The Thriving Starke Dairy Farm

The Starke Round Barn with extensive room on all three floors, originally supported a large dairy operation. The third top level, or loft, provided hay storage. The middle second floor, accessed directly from the front of the barn with a triple-wide driveway and doors, housed farm machinery, wagons, buggies and other conveyances, tools and equipment. The bottom ground floor stabled horses in one section and cows in another. Nearly half of the bottom floor extended into the hillside, while the remaining majority of the ground floor had windows around it. The milking area was on the window side of the basement floor. There were also windows on the main second floor originally, but many of these were covered in 1960 when the metal siding was installed.

Milking Area, Interior, First Floor or Basement, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click image to see large.)

Milking Area, Interior, First Floor or Basement, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click image to see large.)

The Starke brothers enjoyed a successful farm for nearly 20 years. However, they also overspent on farm supplies, luxuries and lavish parties. Novelist Willa Cather may have attended one of the parties, speculated the current owner of the Starke Round Barn, Liz Rasser, a relative of the Starkes, in Nebraska Rural Living. Red Cloud was the childhood home of Willa Cather. In one of Willa Cather’s short stories, “The Bohemian Girl,” the main character attended a barn dance to celebrate the completion of the largest barn in the state. Willa Cather’s father, Charles, who owned a real estate, insurance and loan office in Red Cloud, signed some of the surviving historic papers of the Starke barn. The Starke brothers were popular in the area and known by most.

“Everyone wanted to come out and work for them because they would just go sit under a shade tree and drink out of a cider jug all afternoon,” Rasser said. In 1915, the Starke brothers started the dairy operation, with approximately 75 stanchions for milking on the lower level of the barn. In 1922, the Starkes had Nebraska’s best producing cow for milk and butter.

Tools, Chair, Window, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015.

Tools, Chair, Window, Starke Round Barn Near Red Cloud, Nebraska, Midwest #Heartland United States by David Leland Hyde, 2015. (Click image to see large.)

The barn has made it through two tornadoes and been missed by nearby fires, but tragedy struck the Starke brothers when their dairy herd contracted tuberculosis and nearly all died in the early 1920s. Debts had been mounting. Two of the Starke brothers left town and both died of heart attacks. The remaining two brothers moved to town, but lost the barn and the whole farm to a foreclosure sale on the steps of the Webster County Courthouse in 1929.

Walter and Will Rasser, nephews of Conrad Sr. and Veronica Rasser Starke, purchased the Starke farm in fateful 1929. Percy, Liz and son Cal, the current owners, are descendent from the original Rassers who bought the farm. The Rassers today give tours of the barn and hold special events and historical activities on the grounds.

The Rassers are actively raising funds to further restore the barn. Through various grants they were able to replace the gigantic roof and more maintenance is needed. To donate or get involved with the Starke Round Barn go to The Starke Round Barn Historic Site.

(Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Heartland 4 – Nebraska – Little Ruins on the Prairie.”)

Additional References:

Starke Round Barn Family History

Visit Nebraska: Starke Round Barn

Red Cloud Attractions: Starke Round Barn

Heritage Highway, US 136, Pioneer History

Milwaukee Waterways: Conrad Starke

Monday Blog Blog: Derrick Birdsall

September 26th, 2011

Monday Blog Blog: Derrick Birdsall of My Sight Picture Lands A Book Deal To Photograph North Texas Frontier Forts And Lives For A Week In A Historical Log Cabin

Sunset, Log Cabin, Farmer's Branch Historical Park, Farmer's Branch, Texas, copyright 2009 Derrick Birdsall.

(See the photograph large here.)

What in the world is Monday Blog Blog? See the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”

Some photographers have no problem with singing their own praises or even over-blowing the merit of their own work. In contrast, many photographers and other creative people hesitate to promote themselves because either they doubt their own work, feel self-aggrandizement is tacky or any number of other reasons. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, fit into the second category and architectural, historical, street and landscape photographer Derrick Birdsall does as well.

When I proposed doing a Monday Blog Blog on Derrick Birdsall and his popular blog My Sight Picture, he said something about the caliber of photographers I feature, how short a time he had been “serious” about photography and that he felt highly honored to be the subject of such a blog post. My reply was that my father liked to support and encourage those who were the most dedicated to the craft and the most accelerated in their development. Besides, Dad was always egalitarian in his association with all levels of photographers. I added that even though Landscape Photography Blogger exists to honor my father, it is my blog, doggon it, and I will feature who I want, which essentially in time will be a wide variety of landscape photographers from all over the world that I haven’t even met yet, but to start with I will feature those who I like and who support this blog the most.

Derrick Birdsall began his participation on this blog by asking in a comment if I thought that the current period was another Golden Era for photography. See comments on the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Ever since, he has shown a knack for asking pithy, discussion sparking and often difficult questions. I have always been amazed at his prolific volume of photography. This month, for example, he made over 20,000 exposures. Also, he puts up blog posts more frequently than any other blog I follow.

Just five years ago, Derrick Birdsall began photographing with a small Hewlett Packard “point-and-shoot” that came with a printer he bought. Because it was convenient to keep in his pocket, he took it everywhere he went. At first he had mainly an “I was here” style, but once he was out exploring around the Gila River in New Mexico and a storm blew across the canyon. Derrick “snapped” a few pictures and found that one of them had an “Ansel Adams style to it and something just clicked in my head, that I could do this.” He now photographs mainly with his Canon 7D, with his earlier Canon 50D as a backup. For post processing, he uses only Adobe Lightroom and Idealab/Google Picasa, no Photoshop.

Right away Derrick made an impression on me with his polite, Southern manner sprinkled with “please” and “thank you, Sir.” He was born in Virginia and has lived in Texas since the 4th Grade. His distinct photography in some ways is best exemplified by his photographs from his visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rather than going for the landmarks: the adobe, Native Americans on the Plaza, or other typical Santa Fe clichés, his images on Smug Mug are of the land and not even of the most prominent features. He explained that this was partially circumstantial as he had attended a museum conference, took a walk and photographed what looked good to him. “A lot of times we miss something right under our noses because we’re too busy trying to put tripods where someone else already has. Part of my uniqueness is that growing up, I never spent much time looking at, or learning about art or photography. Even now, I don’t look to others’ photographs to guide what I do.”

He photographs landscapes, motorcycles, shooting competitions, airplanes, animals, architecture and many other subjects. Here’s his explanation for wide variety over specialization:

If I had my druthers, I’d be out working the Texas deserts and canyons every day with a camera. Unfortunately for me, I can’t get out there all the time, so I take images of what I have access to. There’s beauty to be found everywhere—whether that’s in a majestic desert landscape, a nice macro that you walk by every day, your dog laying out in the sun, or whatever you might pass by.  My rule number one is that to take a good picture, you’ve got to have your camera with you everywhere you go.  That way if you see something that catches your eye, you can take the time to stop and capture that moment. That being said, I think that to really capture the essence of something, you have to know it, and the images I share with folks are of things I know and love.  Basically, it’s all about ‘seeing.’  Once you start hunting for the light, you see it everywhere you go. I also use every photo opportunity as a way to become more skilled with the camera across the board. For example, I can learn something from taking an image of a hot rod and apply it to capturing reflections of a pool of water in the desert. In the short time I’ve been working at this, I’ve learned that photography is often about trial and error. Every time you hit the shutter button it’s a learning experience. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the more images you take, the better you get at being able to bend the camera to your will so that you can capture the image you visualized.

The big news recently was a book deal with TSTC Publishing for a coffee table book featuring Derrick Birdsall’s photographs of the Texas Frontier Forts. Derrick Birdsall has a background in history and has been photographing the Texas Frontier Forts seriously since 2009. He earned an MA in History from Sam Houston State University and since then has been working in museums for over 20 years. He learned from a competitive shooting mentor that if you want to succeed, “you have to let other people know what your goals are and they will help you reach your goals.” Derrick Birdsall has had the goal to produce a coffee table book on the Texas Frontier Forts for some time. At one point, he collaborated with Margaret Hoogstra, who manages a cultural tourism trail centered on the Texas Frontier Forts called Texas Forts Trail. She was at a meeting with a representative from TSTC Publishing and they started talking about potential book projects. Margaret Hoogstra mentioned Derrick Birdsall’s photography of the forts. Subsequently the publisher set up a meeting in which they agreed to do the book. Derrick called it a “networking success.”

The forts project hits so many buttons for me. For starters, I am a historian by trade… I love history, always have. Secondly, the bulk of the forts are well off the beaten path and in some truly beautiful country. Thirdly, they are some of the only places you can get to anymore where you can not only see things the way they were, but you can feel it too. Standing inside some of the old buildings and hearing the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls without the interruption of modern noises is just magical to me… I can get my history fix and my landscape fix in the same breath.

The city of Farmer’s Branch, Texas has a historical city park with 28 acres of grounds and 12 structures dating from the 1840s to the 1930s. Derrick Birdsall, park Superintendent for 12 years, slept in one of the log cabins for a week this last March in commemoration of Farmer’s Branch Historical Park’s 25th Anniversary. The Dallas Morning News article shared how Superintendent Birdsall wore period clothing and cooked over an open fire to help bring frontier days to life. See the YouTube video here. The Farmer’s Branch Historical Park, with over 80,000 visitor’s a year, is an outdoor museum, special event venue and educational facility sharing the heritage of North Texas and Dallas County.

I enjoy being able to teach people… and there are definitely perks associated with the museum world. From time to time I can flash my “museum card” and get access to places that I otherwise would not have…. My museum is… not your usual gallery type setting. One of the things that just flat drives me nuts is that quite a few of the folks who work in a gallery setting are elitist snobs. It’s my belief that the objects in our care are to be shared with as many folks as possible and that visitors should have reasonable access to the artifacts. A lot of the gallery types keep everything behind glass if it’s accessible at all and more often than not you can’t even see the items because they are hiding back in the stacks. How can you educate and teach your visitors if all of your tools are locked up behind closed doors? The other thing that I notice about some folks in more traditional types of museums is that while they are often times highly educated, they only know what they’ve read, and not because they have any experience in their subject matter.  Those are the folks that talk about the rules in art and photography but if you put a paintbrush or camera in their hands they wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to use it.

When Derrick Birdsall studied museums, he attended graduate school. When he learned competition shooting, he took classes from the best marksmen in the world (See a YouTube video of the “Three Gun” type of shooting he does here). However, with photography he has been largely self-taught. He took one class online with master landscape photographer William Neill, but the rest of his training has been through trial and error in the field. He chooses photographs and guides his photography with the help of pre-visualization. In shooting competition, he made a sight picture, aligning the front and rear sight of his gun with the target. He also learned to fire between breaths, during what is called the respiratory pause. He sometimes uses this technique while photographing. As a result of his training, he can often defy the rules about when a tripod is necessary. He wrote about the parallels between both types of “shooting” in an excellent blog post appropriately called, “Sight Picture,” similar to the name of his highly visited blog My Sight Picture. Take a sight along his photo blog for yourself. You will see the work of a new voice in photography, traveling at a high velocity toward his target.