Former infirmary to be honored as Columbia Historic Preservation Commission's 100th building

Monday, February 4, 2008 | 9:27 p.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The residence at 1601 Stoney Brook Ave., owned by Greg and Linda Bartels, served as a farm during the 1800s. It is being honored by the Historic Preservation Commission at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — A modest, two-story red house with tin-metal sheet roofing resides in southwest Columbia. Four-foot stone walls guide the way to its front door, and the barn south of the home still stands.

The chicken barn has moved, and the cattle have been replaced with wooden replicas.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the home, 1601 Stoney Brook Ave., will be the 100th building honored by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission. Nine other Columbia buildings will also be honored at The Tiger hotel as part of the commission’s 10th year.

Owners receive a plaque for recognition.

“It’s not just the structures we’re looking at,” said Brent Gardner, vice chair of the commission. “It’s also the stories.”

But no one is sure of the story behind the Stoney Brook home, which may be the city’s oldest house.

Maps and property deeds dating back to the 1800s just begin to tell the story of the house now owned by Greg and Linda Bartels that once served both as part of the Boone County infirmary and, historians say, as a poor farm.

“I think the whole story of the county infirmary is an interesting one,” said David Sapp of the Boone County Historical Society. “As far as the origins and that kind of thing, I just don’t know any more.”

The first record of the land on which the Bartels’ home resides is the initial Boone County tax list from 1821. The list, which Sapp transcribed, contains a listing for a dwelling house owned by Henry Smith, Sapp said. The Bartels’ house resides in the portion of the land plot that Smith owned.

The Boone County Assessors’ Web site says the Bartels’ home was built in 1825, but Sapp warns that records on buildings that old aren’t completely reliable because the first records were based on unscientific guesses.

“People can’t take that as gospel,” he said.

Lower-than-average taxes for the home in the early 1800s indicates that there was a different home on the land before the house at 1601 Stoney Brook Ave. was built, Sapp said.

“Smith apparently had a house somewhere on this 160 acres,” Sapp said. “But it was not (the current) one.”

Boone County established its infirmary on the land in 1854, according to Boone County Commission minutes.

Sapp said the 1876 Boone County atlas shows the county employed the cottage model: one large home and five smaller houses. The large home probably housed some of the county’s poor farm occupants — maybe single woman and children as well as the farm manager, Sapp said. Families probably stayed in the cottages.

“It was a place where people could go if they didn’t have a place to go,” said Deborah Thompson, executive director of the Boone County Historical Society. “For some people, it was the last stop.”

There were many reasons why people lived at the county infirmary, Thompson said. Some were poor but worked off debts, while others may have been disabled, physically or mentally, or had just landed on hard times. The duration of inmates’ stay also varied, she said.

In 1898, Boone County sold the 18.5 acres of land that the infirmary occupied, and the poor farm moved north of Columbia, Sapp said.

Much of the information about the poor farm on Bartels’ property, though, still remains unknown.

“I was surprised by how little there was about the poor farm,” Thompson said.

After the infirmary moved, the land and its structures changed.

When young William McAllister Johnson and moved with his family to the house in the early 1950s, the only access to the house was West Boulevard South over a wooden bridge, Johnson wrote in a fax. He is now a faculty member emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Department of Fine Art.

“The area was decidedly rural,” Johnson said. “For us it was a home with sufficient land around it for quiet and privacy.”

Today, homes surround the Bartels’ house and paved roads lead the way.

The Bartels, who live near the house, purchased it in the mid-1990s and have since installed insulation, plumbing and electrical wiring. They also moved the former chicken house to another location.

“It was like trying to build a new house without building a new house, just working with what’s there,” Greg Bartels said. “It’s almost like a new modern house on the inside.”

He said much of the older antiquities, such as crystal doorknobs, had been removed before he purchased the house.

Johnson, who hasn’t seen the house for more than 10 years, reflected on his boyhood home.

“Even then, the big red house was a landmark, and we kept it that way despite comments that it should be painted white like other houses,” Johnson said. “One can never turn the clock back. The people are gone, the places changed, but the memories remain.”

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