Historic stone barn stands the test of time

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Built in 1903, Chase Stone Barn is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mammoth stone barn in Oconto County that has stood for 118 years could easily have succumbed to the same fate as the countless dilapidated wooden skeletons dotting the rural landscape, once the vibrant hub of a long gone dairy farm.

Built by the Daniel Krause family, German immigrants who settled in area in the 1870s, the 100-foot long by 60-foot wide barn is now securely listed on the National Register of Historic places for its architectural significance. The designation is a feather in the cap for a group of steadfast volunteers dedicated to preserving the stone sentinel for generations to come.

Daniel Krause, Sr. 1827 - 1905. Daniel Sr. came from Germany to the US in 1867, bringing with him his wife, Henriette, and their 2 boys, Daniel Jr and Otto. Daniel Sr later turned the farm over to his son, Daniel Jr, who then built the stone barn in 1903.

"The barn is a testament not only to the earlier settlers, but the will of the people who came here to make something out of nothing," said Chris Jaworski, member of the Town of Chase Park Commission and the Chase Stone Barn Historic Preservation Project committee. "A lot of people doubted we could restore the barn, as we're a small rural community of just over 3000 people, but we did it. A hundred years from now people are going to come out here and look at the barn and marvel at it. You're never really going to see anything like this again."

It is believed that the barn is just one of two remaining barns in Wisconsin to be constructed from fieldstone. 

Wave of immigrants

During the nineteen century, just after the end of the Civil War, a wave of German immigrants moved west from the eastern United States. And with them brought a distinctive German American architecture. Remnants of this architecture - including the Chase Stone Barn - still exist, though few remain standing.

According to historical records, Daniel Krause, Sr. and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1867, and like other settlers was looking for a place to farm. Nine years later his son, Daniel E. Krause, Jr. married and took over running his father's farm. He and his wife had nine children and were described as hard-working, innovative citizens.

In addition to raising a herd of Milking Shorthorn cattle, the Krause's were loggers and operated a sawmill in nearby Sobieski and co-owned Krause and Krause Sales and Service, farm implement dealership. The family also made their own maple syrup.

In 1903, Daniel Krause enlisted the help of a local stonemason, Wilhelm Mensenkamp, to use
fieldstones to build the barn. With unusual flair and in a style that harkens back to the great granaries of Europe, a stone barn like no other was erected that was so magnificent it would withstand the test of time.

In 1903, Krause drew up plans for the massive barn which mirrors the rich ethnic heritage of the family's homeland. Employing the services of local stonemason William Mensenkamp, the workers incorporated the indigenous raw materials of the area, using glacial fieldstones that added not only strength to the 16-foot tall walls, but also beauty and character. Ancient stones prominently displayed in the walls include granite, quartz, mica, feldspar, gneiss, gabbro, schist and horneblend.

"Any barn built before 1925 in this area have foundations made out of fieldstone. The first eight feet of most barns consist of the fieldstone foundation, but for whatever reason this German family went all the way to the peak in stone. They never put a board on the barn," Jaworski said. "It must have taken brute strength to build this. But the people that built this sure took a lot of pride in what they did."

The care and craftsmanship put into constructing the barn is evident both inside and out of the enormous structure. From the 2-foot thick walls (estimated to weigh two tons per linear foot), to the soaring roof rafters crafted out of tamarack logs, and the hand-hewn cedar beams holding up the floor of the large hayloft.

The barn is functional as well as evidenced by the massive arched entrances located on opposite ends of the barn. Each measuring 14-feet tall – the doorways were large enough to pull a wagon fully loaded wagon into the threshing and storage area of the barn where it was unloaded by hand into the elevated loft above the stable area, and then able to exit out the end of the barn.

The barn measures 100 feet long by 60 feet wide. The walls are two feet thick and are estimated to weigh 2 tons per linier foot. The barn was designed with two large arched doorways so you could enter through one end with a wagon full of loose hay, unload the hay into the loft, and then drive out the other end.

Change of hands

Just 17 years after the barn was built, the barn and the rest of the farm was sold in 1920. According to historical records, ownership of the barn changed hands 11 times between the time Krause retired and 1954. Although the barn has multiple owners, none owned the barn for more than six years.

Among those short-term owners was Dr. John Minahan of St. Vincent's Hospital, who purchased the farm as an investment. John's brother Dr. Edward Minahan of Fond du Lac, perished in the sinking of the Titanic.

Two bachelor brothers Casimir "Casey" and Stanley Frysh purchased the farm in 1954, intending to use it for raising heifers and in later years as storage for machinery. During the brother's 48-year ownership of the farm, other buildings on the property fell into disrepair and were later taken down.

The stone barn nearly fell to ruin in the early
1990’s when the massive north wall, which is
100 ft long and 2 ft thick, began to lean outward,
causing numerous cracks throughout the
structure. Not long after, a large wind storm
blew off part of the roof.

Saving the barn

While under the care of the Frysh brothers, the roof of the aging barn sustained damage in a strong windstorm in 1995, tearing off a 20- by 35-foot section of the northwest section of the roof. The insurance adjuster referred the work to Orvil Krueger of Marion, Wis., known as The Building Doctor.

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While inspecting the damage, Krueger noticed something more ominous. The entire sidewall was leaning 16 inches out of plumb.

"Over the years they had overloaded the roof and the rafters had pushed one sidewall loose and there were large cracks in the walls," Krueger said. "I told them it didn't make much sense to fix the roof if you don't straighten the wall."

The stone barn nearly fell to ruin in the early
1990’s when the massive north wall, which is
100 ft long and 2 ft thick, began to lean outward,
causing numerous cracks throughout the
structure.

Krueger's crew dug down deep under the footings and harnessed up the weathered stone wall and tipped it back into place. They then anchored the wall with large cables stretching across the top of the barn and mortared the large cracks in the corners.

Jaworski said the structural damage to the walls had been present for years.

"The Frysh brothers both believe there were cracks in the walls when they bought the building," Jaworski said. If Orvil wouldn't have fixed that, the whole wall would have fallen down."

Reaching their goal

The Frysh's niece Mary DuChateau inherited the barn along with 10 acres in 2002. Four years later she sold the property to real estate developer Harold Peterson. Understanding the desire and interest of the local community to preserve the barn, Peterson sold the building and the land parcel to the township of Chase for $150,000. 

Kristin Kolkowski who spearheaded the fundraising project, told media that the committee's goal was to raise $430,000. By raising $287,000 (two-thirds of the total) by June 30, 2012, the Jeffris Foundation of Janesville would contribute the remaining $143,000 in the form of a matching grant.

The walls of the barn were built entirely of stone and lime putty mortar. Many types of stones were used including granite, quartz, mica, feldspar, gneiss, hornblende, gabbro, and schist. Some of the stones are estimated to be over two billion years old.

Jaworski says it was a combination of grants, fundraising efforts, and donations from individuals and businesses  – over 360 donors from 16 states – that allowed the group to raise $530,000.

"It didn't cost the town of Chase taxpayers any money," Jaworski said. "We're real proud of that."

With the fundraising goal met, the committee was able to move forward with the restoration that would include tuckpointing the mortar, fixing the roof, doors and windows and placing a hard surface on the floor of the barn.

Jaworski says the group hopes to implement a museum feature on the property that conveys the history of the barn, the Krause family and the local community.

While touring other historical properties, Jaworski said the committee wanted to find a way to finance the upkeep of the property. 

The large, wide open space of the threshing area of the barn is conducive to large gatherings. For the past three years, the Chase Stone Barn has been available to the public for rentals.

The renovated barn is a popular venue for wedding receiptions.

"Almost every weekend during the summer the barn is rented out for a wedding at $2,500 for a weekend. And in the fall we convert it into a haunted barn. We've been able to raise $10,000-15,000 doing that," he said. "While it isn't being used for what it was originally designed for, we're able to use to for entertainment and hosting gatherings. Something the public really enjoys."