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Kansas History - Spring 1999

(Vol. 22, No. 1)

Kansas History, Spring 1999

James R. Shortridge, "Kansas Barns in Time and Place."

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In this important essay, which serves as the introductory piece for this special issue of Kansas History, Professor Shortridge, a cultural geographer at the University of Kansas, reminds us that barns "are icons for rural life and for everything positive that we have come to associate with that existence: community spirit, hard work, closeness to nature." They are integral to our romantic notion of agrarian life and their architecture can be stunning. But barns were fundamentally utilitarian structures, and to understand how the farm economy functioned, we must understand "how our grandparents and great-grandparents constructed these buildings, arranged them internally, and used them as a basic functional unit of their economy." As Shortridge writes, the aim of this article "is mostly contextual, to relate a general history of the barn in the United States, to explore the types that came to Kansas, and to discuss the evolution of the structure that took place after the state was settled." He also suggests ways in which the survivors might be preserved for the benefit of our own and future generations.

Cathy Ambler and Judy Sweets, "A Pennsylvania Family Brings Its Barn to Kansas."

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The second article in this issue focusing on Kansas barns is a fascinating case study of the "great barn" constructed in 1869 by the William Henry family on its farm near Lecompton. "The Henry family experienced success, hard times, and personal loss in its new state as did many other immigrants, but few family stories can make the connection as well between Kansas settlement-era farming patterns and regional barn-building traditions from an eastern home state. When the Henry family built a new barn, it chose a great, Pennsylvania banked timber-frame barn that became the heart of the family's farming enterprise." After looking at the barn form itself, the authors examine the effectiveness of this particular barn with regard to the needs of the Henry family and analyze "the process and results of cultural transplantation for both the family and the barn." Among other things, they conclude that "only in rare instances in Kansas can barn patterns be associated with ethnic or religious groups." "The story of this family is tied to Pennsylvania traditions but unfolds within the context of Kansas's regional agriculture. The [Henry] barn reminds us that some immigrants believed their economic success was bound not only to farming traditions but also to their barns, which they integrated seamlessly into their farm life."

James R. Shortridge, "The Round Barns of Kansas."

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Although more prevalent in the state of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, a good number of round barns were constructed in Kansas, twenty-four of which are extant. "The primary purpose of this article," writes the author, "is to provide a record of and guide to the Kansas contingent of round barns before they completely disappear from memory and the rural landscape." The article includes a fine introduction focusing on the history of the design and construction of these aesthetically appealing structures throughout the Midwest, a map of their locations in Kansas, and an inventory-including illustrations of all but one--of the forty-one known round, or "nonorthogonal," barns in the state.