For Christmas one of my brothers gave me a pen. A nice pen, with a wooden barrel. The cool part… well better than cool actually… the wood came from the old barn.
Growing up on a farm used to be such an ordinary thing in the middle of the US. And growing up on a farm that had been a farm for quite a while… still fairly ordinary. This is not Europe, so the context of “quite a while” should be interpreted as somewhere between 1 and 2 hundred years.
So this farm my sibs and I grew up on – it was purchased by my parents right after I started school. It was at the time on the edge of Shiloh, a quiet little village which has since morphed into something quite different. The farm sat upon a ridge and commanded a view to the west that included the city of St. Louis on the distant horizon. In the mid 60s they built the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi shoreline by downtown St. Louis and we could watch them build it with a fair pair of binoculars from this very farm.
There was an old barn on the place. We used it to store hay, to house Holstein steers, the occasional pig, and a few chickens. Playing in the hay loft, doing chores, putting up hay, and razzing your siblings – all great memories played out on the stage that barn provided us.
They say time and tide wait for no man. I suppose ‘barn’ might be appropriately appended to the notion. There finally came a time in the growth and development of Shiloh when the farm was surrounded and the property value vastly exceeded the land’s capacity to remain a farm – or to need the services of an old barn. It was torn down.
My family kept pieces for the memories, and from one such piece of barn wood this pen was made.
The barn appeared in the 1874 St. Clair County Atlas. The drawing is fairly accurate for the buildings that remained by the middle of the 20th century when I came to know it. The stable between the house and barn was already missing by the time it became our home – but Dad did hit a huge white stone while plowing in the field where this drawing places the stable. We imagine it was a cornerstone for the stable.
The highest point in St Clair county is just off to the artist’s left, about 20 meters across Lebanon Avenue (the road in front of the property). The city of St Louis was already the economic hub of the region, and from this artist’s perpsective it lay off about 23 miles through a sight created by the lightning rods atop the house.
The Engelmann homestead, one of the oldest farms in the area, was less than a few hundred yards immediately behind the point from which the artist captured this scene. We used to bale straw on a field just south of the Engelmann’s place. I did some research on the Englemanns when I was in high school. They were German immigrants. One of the Engelmann daughters was married to Gustav Koerner, himself a German immigrant who went on to be the 12th Lt Governor of Illinois and a politcal friend of Abraham Lincoln.
Obviously the wood from the barn came from a tree. And it’s the tree that became a part of this barn and has now come to me as part of this pen that I find somewhat interesting. That tree was likely still growing during the Civil War. If the tree were even close to a hundred years of age it would have been around at the time of the Revolution as well. If it could speak, the stories it might tell.