Sunday, May 21, 2017

Finding myself in Manhattan

On a recent trip over to Indiana I took the opportunity to travel some of the back roads of Illinois and happened to pass thru Manhattan. Manhattan, Illinois, that is. It's a quiet village south and east of Joliet which has one great feature that immediately drew my attention. It has a historic Round barn.

In 1893 Chicago hosted the Great Columbia Exposition which featured some of the most memorable buildings and attractions available at the time. Commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America, The exposition covered more than 600 acres of ground, featured over 200 buildings representing the cutting edge of American technology at the time. There was the worlds first and original Ferris wheel, There were three life sized reproductions of the "Nina", the "Pinta" & the "Santa Maria", There were moving pictures in the very first commercial movie theater. It had a "Travelator" a moving sidewalk people could either stand or sit on which traveled in one giant loop around the fair.

27 MILLION people attended the fair from May the 1st thru October 21st when the fair closed. One of the notable visitors was Helen Keller who toured it along with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. It was such a popular draw that Buffalo Bill Cody set up his wild west show just outside the fair grounds and entertained the masses. The cost of the fair was 1.5 Million dollars (38.8 million today). the fair made that money back within a few weeks of opening.

There are some notable survivors from that fair. The Field Museum of Chicago is one, the Museum of Science and Industry is one, The Art Institute is another. And then there's the story of the round barn.  The barn was not displayed at the fair. Rather the wood that the barn is constructed of was provided by the vast quantities of lumber that as left over after the many temporary buildings from the fair were disassembled. And so it was that John Baker purchased some of the lumber and constructed two round barns in 1898.

One barn is gone but the other survives to this day and is now a park and museum. There are five levels to the barn, level one originally used for horses and cows for a dairy operation but now consisting of horse drawn farm machinery. Level two was originally used to store hay for the livestock but now holds various implements which were used in the day to day running of the farm. The third level was once an apartment but now holds items that would have been used in the farm house itself. The fourth level is a good spot to view that inner workings of the framework and construction while the fifth level allowed air to circulate through the barn.

Nearly 100 years went by and in 1986 the barn was modified to be turned into a public museum, now called the Baker-Koren Round Barn farm park. They host civil war reenactments there, pioneer days, petting zoo's and more. A golf course is also on the property. If you ever find yourself down that way it is Well Worth the time to stop and marvel at another Round barn and soak in some of the history those walls have seen.

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