Most of you know the history of the BIG RED BARN, but I bet you didn’t know the whole history. The following will give you some information about the house and the Big Red Barn.
Mom and Dad (Lucie (Farmer) and Edward J. Rolenc, Sr.) decided in 1962 to tear down the Big Red Barn (known in Butler County Nebraska, as the largest barn in the county). They wanted to replace it with a new more modern barn to serve their needs better. Also the OLD Big Red Barn had some real bad rot problems. So Mom in her infinite wisdom decided to find out the history and here is what she wrote and found out. Also the article that Jack Tarr the editor of the Banner Press, the Butler County paper wrote:
July 7, 1962
David City, Nebraska
Enclosed you will find two letters with some information you can use for the story about the barn.
Ed measured the barn and found it to be 100 x 100 feet and 38 feet high. The beams were all put together with wooden pegs, as were the rafters. The foundation was white rock.
We bought the farm in 1943 from the Mutual Benefit Life Ins. Co. We moved here in the spring of 1944.
The first flood we had was in the spring of 1948. It was caused from heavy spring thaw. The water ran between the house and barn, and got into the cribs. In 1951 we had the worst flood caused from heavy spring rains. The water was 18 inches high in the cribs. We had between 1500 to 1800 bushels of ear corn and 15 ton of baled hay spoil. In the spring of 1957 it was almost as bad.
It weakened the barn and ruined the foundation. The roof sagged and most of the shingles were loosened. The barn spread where the pegs pulled out of the beams. The floor in the driveway had to be taken out in the year 1946, because a truckload of hay broke through.
The yard was raised 3 feet as you can see by the pictures you took. The ground will be raised for a new barn, so as to keep the river out.
At one time since we lived here, we have had 7000 bushels of ear corn in the cribs, 200 ton of baled hay stacked in there and 1500 bushels of small grain in the bins. 50 head of cattle and all the machinery was stored in there. The car was kept in the middle driveway. This was all in there at one time and there was still room.
I hope this helps you. I would like the letters back.
Thanking you, I am Sincerely
This is a letter from C.C. Smith:
June 28, 1962
Dear Mrs. Rolenc;
Your letter came today and I will hurry and write you a few facts concerning our old home place. You may use whatever you care to use. Would you please send me a copy of the paper with the article if it is used?
George Lewis Smith, commonly known as “G.L.”, was born in Indiana June 14, 1845, but was raised in Kirkville, Iowa. He enlisted in Sherman’s Army with the Union in 1864, and marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea and the to Washington D.C.
He came to Ulysses, Nebraska from Kirkville in the spring of 1869 and soon thereafter bought Section 16 on the Blue River. He lived there as a bachelor until 1880. Pete Hennigan and wife kept house for him. In 1880 he was married to Bella Cameron from Washington, Illinois.
The barn was built by Charles Sherwood, Contractor, in 1883, at a cost of $4,000.00. The house was built the following year. The barn was 100 x100 feet and was 38 feet high at the cone. There were stalls for 22 head of horses. I have seen 130 tons of loose hay housed in the loft. On the outside of the were built two corncribs 9 feet wide and 100 feet long. In case of storm 9 wagonloads of bundled grain could be driven in the driveway out of the weather. 132 head of cattle would be sheltered in the south driveway. It was by far the biggest barn anywhere in the country.
I hope this is what you wanted. The time is so short and I want to get this on tonight’s train. There might be much more said but perhaps this is sufficient.
Very truly yours,
This letter was from Helen Adams:
June 27, 1962
Dear Mrs. Rolenc:
I am sorry I do not have only my memory here with me as my keepsakes etc. are all packed and not with me. I can tell you the barn was built in 1883. The beams are fasted with wooden pins instead of nails. My father came to Nebraska form Iowa in August 1869 in a covered wagon soon after the Civil War where he was with General Sherman on the march to the sea.
He met my mother Bella Cameron while she was visiting her sister Mrs. Orville Patrick who lived nearby.
They were married December 1, 1880 and they lived on the home place until they moved to Ulysses in 1912.
This is the article that appear with a picture of the Big Red Barn, in the Banner Press dated July 12, 1962:
A Butler county landmark is giving way to progress and improvement after nearly 80 years of service on a farm just north of Ulysses.
The landmark is a large barn, 100 by 100 feet in size and 38 feet high at the cone, and described by a former resident of the farm as “….by far the biggest barn anywhere in the country.”
Mr. And Mrs. Edward Rolenc, Sr., who now own the farm, are tearing down the barn because it has been ravaged by several major floods and it is getting to the point where its utility has ceased and there is some question about its safety.
Mrs. Rolenc has contacted several old-timers about the barn’s history, and two of them, C. C. Smith of Torrington, Wyo., and Helen Adams of Burwell, have supplied her with information to go with what she already knew about the large structure.
The barn’s history goes back to George Lewis Smith, commonly known as “G.L.”, who was born in Indiana June 14, 1845, and was raised in Kirkville, Iowa. He enlisted in Sherman’s Army with the Union in 1864, and marched with Sherman from Atlanta on his march to the sea, and then to Washington, D.C.
He moved to Ulysses from Kirkville in the spring of 1869, in a covered wagon and soon thereafter bought Section 16 on the Blue River. He lived there as a bachelor, with Mr. And Mrs. Pete Hennigan keeping house for him, until 1880, when he met Bella Cameron, who was visiting her sister, Mrs. Orville Patrick, who lived nearby. They were married December 1, 1880.
The barn was built by Charles Sherwood, Contractor, in 1883, at a cost of $4000.00. The house where the Rolenc family now resides was built the following year.
In the barn were stalls for 22 head of horses. Mr. Smith wrote he had “seen 130 tons of loose hay housed in the loft. On the outside of the barn was built two corncribs, 9 feet wide and 100 feet long. In case of storm, 9 wagonloads of bundled grain could be run in the driveway out of the weather. 132 head of cattle could be sheltered in the couth driveway.”
The beams were all put together with wooden pegs, as were the rafters. The foundation was white rock, Mrs. Rolenc notes.
The George Lewis Smiths Resided on the farm until 1912 when they moved to Ulysses. Mr. and Mrs. Rolenc bought the farm in 1943 and moved there in the spring of 1944.
The first flood, which damaged the barn, came in the spring to 1948, the result of heavy spring thaw. The water ran between the house and barn and got into the cribs.
In 1951, the worst flood came, the result off heavy spring rains. Water was 18 inches high in the cribs, and between 1500 and 1800 bushels of ear corn and 15 tons of baled hay were spoiled. A similar thing happened in the spring of 1957.
Floodwaters weakened the barn and ruined the foundation. The roof sagged and most of the shingles were loosened. The barn spread where the pegs pulled out of the beams. The floor in the driveway had to be taken out in the year 1946 because a truckload of hay broke through.
As an illustration of the size of the structure, the Rolenc’s noted at one time they have had 7,000 bushels of ear corn in the cribs, 180 tons of baled hay stacked in the barn, 1500 bushels of small grain in the bins, 58 head of cattle, and all the farm machinery stored in the building. The car was kept in the middle driveway, and there was still room.
Note from Anita (Rolenc) Reid:
I remember how much fun it was playing in this Big Red Barn. Also finding where the cats had nest with their little kittens in them. It was a kick to chase the chickens out and find eggs, when we had chickens.
The geese loved to run through the driveway, especially with 4 kids chasing them.
I remember Mary Jo, Jean and Dad milking the cows and seeing who could hit the cats in the mouth with the milk.
Remember the flood of 1948 and watching Dad with a rope around his waist crossing in the water in order to feed the cows. How scared I was thinking that he was going to drown. I did not like floods from that day forward.
In 1951, I stood in my bedroom upstairs and cried watching my rabbits in their pins float away. I remember crying and thinking I would never raise rabbits again. And didn’t.
Remember fishing off the back porch and Mom telling us to stay on the porch or we would drown. But fishing off that porch was the ultimate! I was truly sad when Dad tore that porch off the house.
But the Big Red Barn was the most enchanting place to make stories up and live them out. You could play witches and goblins, you could go spider hunting, mice hunting (although the cats did a better job). It was a great place to play. If Mom was mad at you it was a fantastic place to hide. Many a day I did that and later in life Mom said she knew we were all hiding in the barn and she was at peace knowing where we were and also giving her a bit of peace and quite.
In 1997 after Dad died we burned the house down. According to the article in the Banner the house would have been built in 1884. This would have made the house 113 years old. Dad did a lot in the house, but the flood of 1964 was the topper. It knocked the house off the foundation and it was never the same after that. After Mom died in 1970, Dad let the house go. It was filled with mildew and went up very fast and was gone in about an hour. The heat from the fire was so bad we all had to move to the hill across the road in Eugene Kratochvils field.
Today the barn that Mom and Dad built using a lot of the wood from the Big Red Barn still stands and also the house that was moved on the property for a garage. The Kratochvil Brothers bought the farm in 1998.
It was a great place to be raised. Many a story can be told about life on the Rolenc Farm. If you have a story and want it on this page, send it to us. We will be glad to add it to the history of the Rolenc Farm.
Some Old Newspaper Clippings found for the Big Red Barn History. All dated 1883. Also one Dated 1962.