Iowa Barn Foundation

Kneisel Barn

Kneisel Barn

This story about the life of a historic 1880 barn appeared in the Griswold American in February 26, 1958. The story by Fred B. Dewitt is such a poignant story that we asked the newspaper if we could share it. The ending is sad. The barn burned April 23, 2003.

An Old Barn Along an Old Trail

Kneisel Barn

"Old buildings have always had a fascination for me, and one in particular will always stand out in my memory. It is a red barn and located about seven miles northwest of Griswold in Wright Township, Pottawattamie County, Iowa."

The barn was built on the south side of the Old Mormon Trail, about a half mile west of Walnut Creek in 1880 on land now owned by Wilfred Bates. The present tenant is Warren Kneisel.

The old barn has weathered winter blizzards and summer sun and storms for 78 years. If you should ride past this barn today, you would find it not much different from other barns in the community that were built much later. It is about the size and shape of the average barn. If you did not know its age or historical background, you would perhaps never give it a second thought.

As the builder is more important than that which he builds, the Passmore Family should be introduced. The first family by that name to migrate from England to America was George Passmore, who came over with William Penn in 1699. George was great grandfather of Samuel B Passmore, builder of this old barn.

Samuel was reared on his father's farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He received his education in a public school. In 1850 he was married to Hannah M. Jackson, native of the same county. They settled on a farm near their old home and in 1855 moved to Bureau County, Illinois where they lived on a farm for 15 years.

They had heard of the vast acres of glowing prairie in Pottawattamie County and in 1870, when the eastern part of the county was being rapidly settled, followed the Mormon Trail west. They purchased 160 acres of prairie on the north side of the trail, just west of Walnut Creek. They built a one and a half story frame house and a few other buildings. Their first barn was built with poles and a covering of slough grass which grew in abundance along Walnut Creek.

In 1874 they purchased another 160 acres of prairie abutting on the south of the original purchase and south of the Mormon Trail which almost cut the 320 acres in half. Just to the west of the barn they set out 13 acres of native trees. Most of the trees were maples, and they named the farm "Maple Grove". It carried that name as long as the Passmore family lived there.

They also set out some evergreen trees, three acres of apple trees, flowers and shrubs. In a few years it became one of the show places in eastern Pottawattamie County. When the trees in the grove grew tall enough to make some shade, the grove was usd as a community center for Fourth of July celebrations and church and school picnics for many years.

The first building done in Griswold was in the late fall of 1879. and in the spring of 1880 a lumberyard was established. Before that, most of the building materials were freighted by wagon from Atlantic or Walnut. With a shorter haul for building material, Mr. Passmore decided to build a larger and more durable barn than the old grass-covered pole barn.

He selected the best lumber he could find at the Griswold lumberyard and hauled it to his farm where he and his sons spent most of the spring and summer of 1800 building the new barn.

the barn was built on the south side of the Mormon Trail across from the house. The foundation was made with limestone blocks hauled from the stone quarry at Sienett. It is built on a side hill, and the wall of limestone blocks on the lower side is about six feet high. The framework is all mortise and pegged, and no nails were used in its construction.

The siding and sheeting were put on with square, wrought iron nails, and the best quality wooden shingles were used on the roof. The main part of the barn is 44x46 feet and is 18 feet from the top of the foundation to the eaves. There is a large cattle shed built on the south side of the barn.

Through the years the barn was given the best of care and has been painted many times. It stands as a monument to men who built well, and, with the same kind of attention, should last the century out.

It is now the only building on the farm that was built by the Passmore family. The old house burned down many years ago, and the other buildings either were torn down or just rotted away. More modern building have taken their places.

When the townships in Pottawattamie County were surveyed, most of the roads were located on section lines, but a mile and a half of the old Mormon Trail was left as it is today from a point where the old Village of Whipple was located, running west over Walnut Creek, past the old blacksmith shop and through the Passmore Farm.

For a time, after the village of Whipple ceased to exist, it looked like a green growth of willows, wild plus, sumac, and wild grapevine would swallow up the old trail. In recent years the fence rows and the Walnut Creek bottom have been cleared and it now looks like an ordinary country land.

More recent and less famous thoroughfares get the attention and improvements, and few people travel it today, and it shows no suggestion that it mourns the famished builders and human traffic that once moved along it - the Oregon Settlers, the Mormons, and tens of thousands of pioneer settlers in their prairie schooners and stage coaches, and the old Conestoga wagons with their heavy loads of freight.

The thing that is immortal about this old trail is the quality of hope and endeavor that first cut it across the prairie of Iowa and other states and should be a reminder of the drams and purposes of those that first shaped it: the builders of a nation.

The old trail invites reflections as a new and busy road never does, and all the old trails, worthy of a name, whether abandoned or not, have led somewhere beyond the old country store, the blacksmith shop, church, school, or post office, and was once a start on a longer journey. They are surely worthy of recognition and suitable markings, and we not only owe this much to those first travelers on the old trails but to generations yet to come.

A few attempts have been made over the years by women's clubs and historical societies, to mark this old trail on a hit and miss basis, with temporary markers, but many of the markers have disappeared and few markers remain in western Iowa.

While we spend millions of dollars for new highways, it would seem like the state could provide funds with which to mark this old trails which played such an important part in Iowa's early history.

The fact that it is so poorly marked and almost forgotten by many people is proof of the vanity of human effort and it is high time we awaken and put forth a greater effort to get this old trail permanently and uniformly marked across the state.

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Updated 04-13-17.

 

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