Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 5, 2010
Landmark connects lives
I felt as if a piece of me was lost when I heard the news. The grand, three-story home - built more than 100 years ago by J.W. Barker - had stood at the south edge of Burns, Kan. and was the first house to greet people entering the village from that direction. In her 1970 history book, Burns resident Hazel Bruner described it as "an early-day showplace."
That showplace was destroyed by fire Feb. 12. Now the stone steps are all that remain.
As so often happens in a small town, every home is connected to almost every resident. My own family's history has been interwoven with the house and its owners for generations. My great-grandfather William Freeland was a contemporary of J.W. Barker, and they were among the first citizens in Burns to push for consolidation of the schools in the early 1900s. J. W. - Joseph Wesley - was a prominent cattleman in the area. He and his wife Mary were married in Illinois and they moved to Burns in the late 1890s. As their children grew up and moved from home, the couple took in boarders. Subsequent owners did the same.
When Mom was a young single teacher in the 1940s, she and two other teachers - Lois Betts and Cecilia Pirott - rented a third-story apartment in the house for about nine months. Mom remembers having fun painting and wallpapering the apartment. She and Dad had their first date with Mary Frances Trigg and Ralph Notz, the son of the home's owner at that time.
My first recollection of the Barker house is from the 1960s. My fourth-grade teacher Linda Bond took our class to her apartment in the home to watch the World Series. That sticks in my memory because such a "field trip" got us out of the classroom and provided a break from the routine.
Dad's cousin Stewart McCreight, his wife Lucile and son Larry owned it for awhile. Although my memories are a bit hazy, I seem to recall having celebrated at least one Thanksgiving there.
Classmate Bruce commented, "I lived on that street and McCreights bought Larry a motor scooter at a young age and I remember hearing him roar up and down the street continuously all day long ... The world gasoline shortage of the '70s was triggered by Larry riding his motor scooter around the damn block continuously in 1964."
Bruce added that there had been a "bit of a sharing storm on Facebook about the house ..."
"Did the whole thing burn down? ... At one point in time, I think the Schimpff family lived there ..." one woman wrote. "... I actually had the opportunity to go in the house while it was up for sale. ... so neat to see the beautiful old woodwork and architectural details. We knew Edith Barker really well."
Bruce responded, "Diana's comments reminded me of how on Halloween, Bob Phillips and I would go to Schimpff and Barker's house first because they always made popcorn balls. They ran out fast."
I smiled when I read Bruce's comment. I, too, had gone trick-or-treating there and savored those tasty popcorn balls.
In July 1973, when I was a summer intern for the local newspaper, I stood by helplessly as fire took out the top floor of that majestic structure. Much of the home's contents were damaged by smoke and water. But I was relieved that the basic core of the house was saved. Community members pitched in to move furniture and other belongings to a house across the street.
In the 1990s, another owner transformed the first floor into The Antebellum restaurant. My parents, husband, daughters and other family members ate several meals there.
But this recent fire couldn't be stopped. It was fortunate that the current owner and their six children all escaped unharmed.
Yet a part of me and a part of many other Burns residents is now gone. Still, the memories and connections tied to this landmark remain. For that, too, we are thankful.
Barker home photo from Bruner book (left) and after fire.