Nestled on the old Davidson homestead northwest of Eureka is a historical treasure with a rich past and big future plans.
The 176-year-old Davidson Barn on Mt. Zion Road has been proposed for usage as a community center by Barnstorming Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization led by president Steve Colburn and a board of directors. The Eureka Enterprise Committee approved using South Point at Eureka Lake Park as the new home of the barn, though the agreement is still subject to approval by the full city council.
The barn was built on the farm of Caleb and Martha Davidson, near Walnut Creek. Caleb was born in North Carolina in 1797. His parents moved to Kentucky when he was a child, and Caleb married his wife in 1817. They set out to Eureka (then called Walnut Grove) in 1830, carting all of their possessions on a horse-drawn wagon.
They originally lived in a small log cabin already on their property, but later built a frame house using Wisconsin white pine obtained from Chicago. A particularly bitter winter forced Davidson and his party to winter up north. Colburn said the house stood until the 1980s. The original staircase from the home is stored in the barn.
The Davidsons were cattle ranchers, who started out with about 200 acres of property. The farm quickly grew, to reach 840 acres by 1835. To accommodate the rapidly expanding farm, Davidson hired a builder, possibly named Plinny Monroe, in 1838, according to "An Architectural Assessment of the Davidson Barn, Rural Eureka, Woodford County, Illinois," a document compiled by Christopher Stratton and Floyd Mansberger of Fever River Research in March 2008.
The builder lived in a lean-to adjacent to the Davidson home for a year while the barn was under construction. Using the old, weather-resistant white oak trees growing on the Davidson property as building materials, the barn was constructed on a slope using a nail-free mortise-and-tennon method. The barn was erected in two stages, with a 30 foot addition added later. The two-story barn has 5,000 square feet of space available on each level, as well as two lofts.
Some of the tools Davidson used have been preserved to this day. Colburn said a wooden plow, horse-drawn scrapper and cross-cut saw jack were found in storage in one of the barn lofts. The cross-cutter allowed cuts to be made by pumping up and down, and was likely used in the barn's construction based on the markings on the barn's boards. Barnstorming also has a froe that would have been used to split shingles for the barn's roof, and Davidson's wooden mallet with iron supports.
After Davidson's death in 1870, his son William took over the family business. The farm eventually made its way into the hands of Eureka College in the 1930s, when it became one of more than a dozen farms the college used to supplement its income. During those years, Eureka College put galvanized iron on the south side of the barn and roof.
"That's what saved it," said Colburn, crediting the move for the barn's state of preservation today. The iron is still attached to the barn wall, though the roof has since been replaced by donated old billboards to protect the barn.
The college sold the land in 1958 to another family, who used the barn for another 50 years. Eventually, the barn that once held cows, horses and grain became a large storage facility.
Colburn said the goal of Barnstorming is to restore the barn for usage as a community center. At a recent city council meeting, Eureka Mayor Scott Punke and aldermen said a community center has been a consistent wish list item from citizens.
The Davidson Barn already has a history of serving as a community gathering place. The large threshing floor was used as a space for a team of horses to power the machinery to process wheat, but the open area also served as an early home of the Eureka Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), according to Colburn.
"This was, if you want, the original community center building," said Colburn.
In addition to religious services, the document by Stratton and Mansberger also tells of plays, music performances, and husking and spelling bees held in the barn during Eureka's early years.
Because the barn was built to adhere to a slope, Colburn said any potential future site would likely need excavating work done. The plan is to keep the second story as an open space usable for receptions, gatherings and other events. In terms of aesthetics, Colburn said it would still look like a barn.
"We're really tring to preserve the Midwestern Gothic cathedral look," he said.
The first floor would be partitioned to serve as a permanent home for the Woodford County Historical Society and their items. The historical society is currently housed in the offices of the Woodford Chronicle on N. Main Street. Colburn also hopes other civic and cultural organizations would like to share office space in the community center.
One of the proposed plans drafted by an architect would create an attached service area to house the stairs, elevator, bathrooms and heating and air conditioning so as to preserve the historic integrity of the barn itself. The siding, which Colburn said is not original, would likely be replaced by something weather-resistant while still keeping the barn look intact.
Colburn said a targeted completion date of 2018 would sync up nicely with the barn's 180th birthday. The estimated costs of disassembling, moving and rebuilding the barn were $800,000 when Barnstorming commissioned a study several years ago, though Colburn said the costs have probably significantly increased since then. A capital campaign will help to raise the necessary funds over the next few years. Most of the barn's timbers are still usable, Colburn said.
A group of Eureka citizens recently spoke to the city council about concerns with the suggested location in the park and the historic preservation of the barn. Though Colburn didn't directly comment on those concerns, he supplied the Woodford Courier with a short typed statement.
"Barnstorming wishes to offer thanks for recent community input regarding the site selection for the planned community center," the statement said. "Our current emphasis is being placed on detailed architectural designs of the restored Davidson Barn to make this structure responsive to needs as a community center building. This process may take several months, and input from the community will be highly valued. While this architectural design effort is being conducted, we will also be open to suggestions regarding other sites that are equally qualified and perhaps more desirable."
To learn more about Barnstorming, the Davidson Barn and the community center project, head to http://barnstorming.org/. The non-profit group accepts donations, which are tax-exempt.