The Stone House

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I remember the first time I saw this stone house in Richardville township, Kittson County, Minnesota.  I was fascinated by the intensive labor that would be required to build it. Now, some twenty five years later I returned, with permission, and photographed it in detail.  I have done a little research and believe it was built some time in 1885 to 1890 by a Alfred E. Ramsey, who came from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

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This close-up shot of the horizontal lines indicate that wooden forms were used to frame the wall and many, many stones were used with the concrete.  The wall on either side of the windows has lost the smooth surface shown on the other sections and suggest to me that the concrete mix had less cement in it and weathered badly. The two window frame must have been set in place prior to the pouring of the cement & rocks mixture.  Other sections of the walls showed this happened in other places. It also may be an indication that the cement was poured on a very hot day and the cement up against the wooden forms  caused it to dry out before it could set properly. Regardless of what caused it, these sections were strong enough to last over 125 years.

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This is the south side of the house and shows the major crack in the s/w corner.  In fact all four corners of the house failed in this manner and it is amazing it has not fallen down. When I first saw the house the cracks were hardly noticeable and I believe the harsh winter freezing temperatures were responsible.

It is obvious the lower section of the roof failed and it allowed water to enter the building and caused considerable damage to the floors. Most abandoned buildings suffer from roof failure, followed rapidly by the failure of the walls and the collapse of the building. That did not occur with this stone walled structure.

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This view of the back wall of the house shows it is reasonably intact other than the fact that all the windows have rotted away and fallen inside. Note the failure of the cement under the window frame on the right side. The bottom corner is very bad but shows that thin rebar was used, at least in the corner.

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This view of the rear or west wall is in very good shape considering its age. If the sides of the house had not cracked it would probable remained standing for many more years.

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The shot was taken looking east through the window opening in the right rear lower section.  It is a confusing mess.  The house was divided in the middle by a north/south wall. The door opening is on the second floor.  The entire dividing wall, both upstairs and down has fallen down into the basement. In this view, what little remains of the second floor is in the middle of the photo.  Only the portion in the left middle of the photo still remains.  The first floor has already fallen into the basement. The door on the main floor had a rounded top which can be seen in the lower right of the photo.

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In this view the door opening was on the first floor and has fallen about four feet into the basement.  Looking through the door opening you can see what remains of the first floor. The floor joists and planks on the lower left are a portion of the attic floor that fell into the basement. The round holes in the wall are for stove pipes. The hole in the south roof allowed water to soak the main and attic floors so that they failed where they were attached on the south side of the house.  The stone walls are still secure and in time all the interior walls and floors will rot away and leave a hollow building.

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This is the north wall of the house which only contained a door and window opening. The door opening has been sealed up with stone and cement. From the cracks it appears the wall above the door was failing and it was sealed up to stop it from getting worse.

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This is the north east corner of the house. From the age of the trees all around the house it appears that there was nothing but open prairie when the house was built.  To the best of my knowledge no members of this Ramsay Family remain in the county.

Killed by a January Thaw!

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While we are always learning new things that make life better, we are continually forgetting important skills that saved us from an untimely death a few generations back. This thought came to mind when I began to plan a snowshoe outing during our recent lovely weather. As I put my snowshoes on and took a few steps, I found that the surface of the snow was very wet and I sunk deeply into the drifts.

It was at this moment that my memory kicked in and I turned right around and headed back to the house and removed the snowshoes. In the historical past, trappers, hunters, and explorers were fearful of a sudden thaw when traveling during the winter months. Extensive wet snow soaks the webbing on the snowshoe and the wetter it get the more it sags and begins to stretch apart. If you keep traveling in these conditions the webbing gets so soft your foot sinks deeper than the frame of your snowshoes.  Eventually the webbing breaks and you are forced to stop and make camp.  The snowshoes need to repaired and dried out while you calmly feed your fire and await colder weather.

If you are caught on the trail miles from your cabin or proper winter shelter the situation becomes precarious  With deep snow conditions travel on foot is impossible.  Without snowshoes your moccasins become soaked, lose their strength and come apart, leaving you with wet feet.  At this point you are forced to sit out the so called better weather and hope you have enough food to keep you alive until things freeze again. Some stories report experienced outdoorsmen being trapped for almost a week.

Travelers who get into this situation and fail to appear at the end of the trail, cause friends to become concerned.  The poor snow conditions also prevents help from traveling to the rescue. Everyone just has to patiently await colder weather before he can hit the trail.  The search will usually find the traveler out of food, hungry and cold.  Under sever conditions the amateur will be found starved and/or frozen to death.

Keep this in mind before you head out to check your traps or visit your friends and relatives.

 

 

Abandoned

For a many years I have been photographing old barns and houses in Kittson County before they are burned down or crushed and buried.  I now have the only photographs of many buildings that no longer exist. Each year fewer old farms and homesteads are left. As a result I am finding it difficult to find subjects to photograph.100_2087.JPG

Early this May I spotted an old red barn sitting close to the Canadian border in St.Vincent township.  From a distance it seemed to be in good conditions and wore what appeared to be a reasonable coat of paint. As I drove the trail into the farm site it was obvious that the buildings had been abandoned because the road and farm yard was covered in tall grass.

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The house and buildings looked as if they had been built in the 1940’s. In a small garage with a collapsed roof I could make out the remains of an old 1930’s truck. As I walked around I could see a lot of old farm equipment such as horse driven hay rakes an mowers peeking out from under the tall dark grass.

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When I got to the barn I quickly saw that it was well built but the roof was full of small holes where the asphalt shingles had blown off and the original cedar shingles underneath were in sad condition.Strong prairie winds during years of exposure had lifted the big doors off their tracks and one set was on the ground.

As I walked around in the deep grass I could see that no vehicles or people had been on the farm for many years.  The entire place was as silent as a tomb and gave me the feeling that something serious or tragic was connected to the place.

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The interior of the barn was in excellent condition but it only had a half dozen stalls on the west side while the east side was constructed of pens for small livestock.

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When I went up into the hay loft I found the head of the stairs was used as a tack room and enough horse harness for a couple of teams was hanging on the walls. When I stepped into the hay loft I found it empty of hay but the hundreds of small holes in the roofing made it look like a star filled night.

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As I drove away I could not shake the feeling that there had to be some kind of story connected to the place. It was as if the residents had left in a hurry and time just stopped suddenly.

I resolved to look into who owned the property and see if I could learn what story it held.

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It took a month or so but I learned that the owner of the property had been sharing a few drinks in a local bar and agreed to drive two younger men home.  No one seems to know why but they ended up driving on a remote country road east of St. Vincent and got stuck in a snow filled ditch.  It was in February, it was dark out, and they left the road in an area that had no residents nearby. The owner and driver of the vehicle was in his early seventies while his two passenger were much younger.

The owner of the car decided he would go for help and started walking in a north westward direction in what later appeared to be in the direction of his farm.  It was not until the next morning that someone driving by saw a body lying out in a field. The man was dead and had frozen to death.  Later the occupants of his car were found safe and alive in his car about five mile away. All this took place back in 2001 or about fifteen years ago. The deceased lived alone so the farm site became abandoned.

I thought that was the end of the story until a month or so later when I returned to the farm to look at the old car, the farm machinery and the horse harness.  I was with a person from the Historical Society and were going to examine the old vehicle and horse harness to see if it would make a good exhibit for the museum. We had already made steps to contact the owner who lived in the west of Canada

When we climbed the stairs into the loft we discovered most of the horse harness was gone.  We found tracks in the tall grass left by a four wheeler that led into the back of the barn. This harness had hung in the barn untouched for fifteen years.  It seems reasonable to assume that one of my recent enquires into the history of the farm had resulted in the theft of all the horse harness.

It would be of little value today but it would have made a great display of horse harness that had a great part in building the county back in the horse and buggy age. Perhaps someone reading this post has seen or heard about a new found set of horse harness and will call the Museum in Lake Bronson so we can arrange for it to be returned or for the Sheriffs office to take some action.

It was rather a disappointing end to what was already a sad story.

 

 

 

 

Prairie Showers

Today it rained off and on. That usually means that the rain clouds are marching across the sky, bringing rain to limited areas of prairie unexpectedly. They are also known as sunshine showers as the rain can be surrounded by bright sunshine the whole time it is raining.100_1822.JPG

One advantage of living on the open prairie is the rain clouds can be seen coming from a long distance and the falling rain reminds one of a huge garden hose, watering the crops.

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When I was very young and caught in a rain storm, while living in the city, I always assumed that it was raining all over the city at the same time.  I was quite surprised when I was a little older to see it raining some distance down the street, but not where I was. Had I been raised on the open prairie I would have caught on more quickly.

Flatland Farm

I love exploring old abandoned farms in Kittson County. Farms that provided a home and an occupation during the forties and earlier.  Many of them look as if they just packed up and left the buildings and never looked back.  Some places get the grass mowed and some even get the lawns trimmed, but most age rapidly in the wind and rain and hot sun.

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The buildings served a multitude of purposes, from storing equipment, sheltering animals to storing grain. These buildings at one time were part of the farm yard but now even that land is being cultivated.

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The door has sagged to the point the latch no longer works so a chunk of iron secures it from the strong prairie winds. The blowing dirt slowly builds up around the shed and in turn the grass grows with it. Its now to the point the door can no longer open.

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This corner of the building is fully exposed to the strongest sand laden winds which have slowly chewed away at the boards. The lower boards are protected by the grass while the highest boards sit above the worst of the sand. Mother nature is relentless.

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This is another old building which appears to have had a multitude of uses. The upright boards in the sagging door show its present size, accompanied by another iron wind support. If you look carefully you will see the added boards on the right side of the door shows the previous door was larger.  The short boards on the left side of the door indicate that originally the door opening  was even larger. As the buildings use changed the doors were reduced in size.

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Every farm yard had at least one well with a large hand pump. The well lid is warped and getting dangerous. A tight top on a well keeps small critters from falling in and tainting the morning coffee. While the pump was last in use two clamps were needed to hold the top pieces in place.  The farm was obviously abandoned about this time and the pump never fixed permanently.  The grass has not been cut since last year.

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At the time the photo was taken the field had been cultivated and was awaiting seeding. The building should survives  for at least another ten years as a reminder of the orginial tenants but soon even it will be gone. The present farmer no long lives on the property.

George’s house – a little history

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George’s House

I have learned that George Johnson bought the house and the land from Glen Clair Beck some time in the late 1940’s.

Beck bought the land and a smaller old house from Pete Anderson in 1938. In about 1942 Beck bought the present house and moved into onto the property in order to house his growing family. Betty (Beck) Wileski has kindly provided me with this information.  She lived in the house for about ten years before the family moved to farm south west of Lancaster.

At the present time we have not learned where the house originally came from, but we are still looking. To emphasize how small the original house was, Betty commented with a laugh, “After we moved out, it was turned into a chicken house.”

Betty’s information has confirmed the George Johnson purchased the house and the land and it was never owned by his parents who farmed in the Caribou area. If you know any additional information about George Johnson, his house, or family history please contact me at gbrowne@wiktel.com.

 

George’s House

People die, houses are abandoned and time marches on.  Each year the local memory fades and soon no one remembers.

I took the photo of George’s house because the details are starting to fade faster than the house is.  We can drive past these old houses and don’t even notices them. A family lived here but now all are gone as are most of the facts.

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I met George Johnson a few times but only knew a few facts.  He was an elderly bachelor who lived alone and raised cattle.  He did not own a car so drove his tractor the five or six miles to town when he needed anything. He was considered eccentric.

Then, when some time had passed I learned he loved to read and owned a lot of books. He was considered smart and had gone to university. I now regret I did not get to know him.

Later, I found out that in his youth he had left home to get a university education. At some point of time his father took ill and George was forced to come home and look after the farm. Eventually his mother took sick and died and George never did get the chance to go back to university and complete his education, nor did he ever marry.

While George was not a hermit he was a bachelor that kept to himself and seemed to struggle through life.  When his house deteriorated to the point it was no longer livable his friends and neighbors got together and moved a livable house on the site so he could spend the latter years of his life with better roof over his head.

George eventually died and the property has remained vacant. The replacement house was moved off and used for some other purpose.  The original old house remains as the only indication that this property once had a family living there. Someone new owns the property and it continues as a cattle pasture..

It seems sad to sum up a man’s life in half a dozen paragraphs.

Fairies Hankies

I cannot recall when I first heard these words but it was as a child and I never forgot them. Early one recent morning, after a heavy dew, I saw these cobwebs scattered over the back lawn and the term Fairies Hankies popped into my mind from some where deep in my memory.

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The last of the snow was gone but the spiders were very quick to spin their webs between the old grass and dead leaves that lay scattered over the lawn. During the early morning hours the dew settled on the webs and they all stood out, glistening in the morning light.

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As the sun comes out and the ground warms up the dew is burned off and the webs disappear. Conditions have to be just right to create the proper effect.

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Someone long ago, with a vivid imagination, coined the term Fairies Hankies.  It is a perfect name for a delicate object and I doubt it can be improved upon.  Watch for them early on a dewy morning and be sure to pass the term along to young children who will be delighted in the words and hopefully will remember them for the rest of their life.

Fading memories

Why do old weathered farm buildings produce comforting memories deep within our soul?   Why do we covet hand crafted hinges and door latches, produced by the skill of a long gone blacksmith?  If you have never had these feelings then don’t read further.

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These old storage building were last used for grain storage, as signified by all the windows and openings having been boarded over. Perhaps they once were used to store farm equipment which has now been hidden out of sight in a lesser position of importance.

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These old horse pulled hay rakes have done their job and like so many before them will soon be sold for scrap.  In the mean time they turn a rusty red, while the buildings lose their original red paint.  Left alone, mother nature steps in and changes the wood into a  variety of soft greys with orange/red lichens as trim.

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The three doors of the grain bin are showing the ravages time. The wood is rotting, the doors are sagging on their hinges, and the lower boards are departing, one by one. Instead of a lock or a latch, the rims of old wooden wagon wheels are used to hold the doors closed. Time works at a methodical but unstoppable pace.

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While the ravages of time completes the destruction of the once robust outside stairs, bushes have taken root in a quiet and sheltered site, ignored by the rest of the passing world.

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No matter from which direction the remains of the old farm are viewed, it exhibits the feeling of peace and tranquility. Lets hope we all depart in a similar manner.

 

Retired sentinals of the prairie

These little old buildings and sheds are scattered all around the country, no longer of use to anyone, but full of memories. This pair finished their lives as small grain bins, but now they would hardly hold a few large truck loads.  The building on the left was divided into three separate storage bins and the sagging doors are braced shut by the steel rims of old wooden wagon wheels. The set of exterior steps provided access to the attic which could have been a bunk house for hired hands during  many forgotten harvests.

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The original farm house is long gone and these buildings are not going to be able to withstand the strong winter winds much longer. The red paint  is almost gone and the wooden shingles are beginning to scatter across the fields.

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At the time this photo was taken little snow had fallen but the winds have been starting to build up the snow and dirt in drifts far to the west. The remains of the neighbors barn can be seen on the lonely horizon to the extreme left.

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The windows have all been boarded over to keep stored grain from escaping. The original paint under the eves is still the original barn red, hidden away where the direct prairie sun could not reach it.  The empty prairie skyline emphasizes the feeling of loneliness, experienced by new visitors.
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The north side of the building remains in the shade and encourages the growth of a bright orange yellow growth that compliments the barn boards that display various shades of grey.
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The rusty red hinges and door latch continue to do their job but the dry rot above the door mark the passage of time with a vengeance.