Monthly Archives: October 2013

Preserving History: Farmsteads

FarmsteadHaving grown up on a farm east of Kansas City, Missouri, in Lafayette County, I can attest to a having a personal passion and appreciation for the preservation of farmsteads. I grew up watching my own father tend to the cattle and corn just as he had done since childhood. His parents passed the reigns onto him as it had been passed on to them. Our farm was established by my great-great-grandmother and her three boys in 1908, and has stayed with the family for four generations. Through personal tragedies and triumphs, feast and famine, this old farm has seen its fair share of history. For example, in 1928 it became the first farm home outside of town to be wired for electricity – mainly because the town electrician just happened to call that particular farmhouse home. Shortly after, miraculously, my family maintained ownership throughout the Great Depression, while others were not so fortunate.

To this day I consider myself lucky to have been raised in America’s Heartland. In a family of storytellers, we’ve been passing along tales of family members who were here before us, who shaped the land and put dinner on the tables of many. You see, our little farm has had over 100 years of stories to tell.

Over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized in the State of Missouri, many of them bearing with plaques or signs such as this to signify their achievements.

Over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized in the State of Missouri, many of them bearing with plaques or signs such as this to signify their achievements.

Many farmsteads throughout the state – and across the nation – have similar stories to tell, and some have begun to speak up. In 2008 our farm was recognized as a Missouri Century Farm, a program offered by the University of Missouri Extension and the College of Agriculture to recognize and celebrate farms across the state held by the same family for a century or more. To date, over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized, each bearing a plaque that acknowledges their place in Missouri history. If you think that your family farm may be eligible for this acclaim, you can get more information here. A book published in 2012, titled Missouri’s Century Farms: Preserving Our Agricultural Heritage, highlights many of these farms and tells their stories. Find it at your local library, or contact the University of Missouri Extension for more information.

Believe it or not, there are several other ways to preserve the history of your farmstead, and in fact there’s been a big push to get the word out. Missouri ranks number two in the nation for number of barns – second only to Texas – and Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office has been conducting architectural surveys of farmsteads and barns in order to document and preserve their history for years to come. The survey mainly asks about what the farm produced historically and currently (crops, livestock, etc.), details about buildings on the property (farm house, barns, silos, brooding houses, etc.), and the layout of the farm itself. Of course, providing photographic documentation of the property is also a great supplement to your survey submission.

So what happens once this survey is completed? How is this information used?

Once the survey has been received by the State Historic Preservation Office, they are included in an inventory of architectural surveys that will serve as a database for the state’s historic resources. There’s much to be learned from our rural communities and family farms, and participating in the process is a huge contribution to our understanding of our history. You may also find that your farm is eligible to be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places! (It’s also worth mentioning that once your property is designated it could also be eligible for federal and state tax deductions to use toward restoration of your income-producing structures.)

To learn more about this survey project and get your own survey forms to contribute to this project, visit this site through the Department of Natural Resources.

Also, check out Missouri Barn Alliance and Rural Network (Missouri BARN), a non-profit organization dedicated to farmstead preservation and instrumental in getting the Barn and Farmstead Survey started. They are also advocates for adaptive reuse of old farm structures so that even those that are out of commission can be of a benefit to their owner or community once again.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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Exactly How Old is Your Home?


Information such as ownership, square footage, lot size, and age can often be found listed in current tax records from your local county’s records. However, aging your home can be a little more like looking at a dog’s teeth than relying on public records.

About six years ago I received a call to look at a property not too far from my own home. I pulled the tax information on the property to see the house was built around the turn of the century. The very first thing I noticed about the property was that the entrance at the back door had extended foundation stones flush with the yard. Upon further inspection, seeing some of the stones crumbled near the foundation, I realized it looked to be a possible cistern or well opening.

It didn’t take long to see that the house and the foundation age simply didn’t match up. Off to the library I went. Was the original structure burned during the Border War or simply just burned from common causes? Maybe a storm? The home, though near the Missouri River, sat on high ground far from any flood’s reach. Then the obvious new question arises: How old is the foundation, and why didn’t the tax records reflect the foundation’s age?

About a year later I had a similar experience with a home only three years old, with tax records showing it had been built in the late 1800s. In this case, I was privy to some of the home’s history thanks to the owners’ knowledge, and that its original structure had burned leaving only the foundation in place.

Then there is the opposite situation, a concrete block basement with a Greek Revival sitting on top? It really isn’t as uncommon as we think for homes to be moved from one location to the other. Often new basements are built for the moved home to sit on top of. Unfortunately many counties don’t keep copies of permits to show exactly when the work was done.

Sometimes simply looking at the style of house doesn’t quite do the trick, either. While looking at the style of the home can give us some visual clues to estimate the age of the home, it can easily throw a curveball at you. For instance, Antebellum homes from the mid-1800s were sometimes updated and “Queen Anned” during the Victorian period, and Victorian homes were often stripped of their ornate details during around the turn of the century to give them a more traditional Craftsman- or Bungalow-styled appearance, according to the change in fashions.

There isn’t one single place that will tell you a definitive timestamp for the age of your property. Many things must be factored in to piece together the puzzle. That’s when we put on our detective hats and start digging for clues.

Audrey L. Elder & Liana Twente
Past to Present Research, LLC

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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Uncategorized