The Barn’s Story

Caleb and Martha Davidson arrived in Woodford County in 1831 after a rigorous trek from Kentucky. Caleb was a cattle rancher, and he soon had a thriving business. His farm was to the northwest of Eureka on Walnut Creek. Included in the property were an abundance of mature white oak trees. It was the quality of the old-growth trees that has given the barn its significant and lasting strength. In 1838 he hired Plinny Monroe to build the barn. Over the winter and spring, the barn took shape, being constructed without the use of nails.

Barn Construction

The barn is built on a slope, so that each of the two floors can be accessed at ground level. The original barn was 56×56 feet square. Caleb added an additional 30 feet to the west end in about 1845 to house his horses and a grainery. The total area on each level is about 5,000 square feet.

The barn was built with post and beam technology and a unique ‘swing beam’ which allowed a large open area supported by overhead trusses. Special attention was given to building the ‘threshing floor’ so that there were no cracks for grain to fall through.
Wagons of grain would have been driven in and dumped on the floor where the grain would have been separated from the chaff. This floor, when swept out, was ideal for gatherings, and it is here that services for the Eureka Christian Church were held, as well as any number of community gatherings.

Caleb died in 1870 and Martha followed in 1881. The farm was put into the hands of son William who managed it for the next 50 years. In 1930 William donated the farm to Eureka 2014-06-14-14-12-31College. One of the first improvements the College did was to install a metal roof on the barn to replace the wood shingles. Corrugated metal was also added to the sides. Although these “improvements” did not add to the beauty of the barn, they significantly increased the longevity of the structure.

The barn was used for agricultural purposes into the 1980s. The college sold it in 1958 and it has been in private hands since then. The barn sits on private land and is almost impossible to approach except by a long, winding driveway to the current owner’s home.
Steve Colburn, great-great-great grandson of Caleb Davidson, has a burning desire to see the barn saved. In 2005 he made arrangements with the owners at the time, the Heitzmans, to move the barn to another site. Most of the metal roofing had blown off the structure, and it was imperative that the roof be covered over. At first Colburn used blue plastic tarps, but after one year the tarps were falling to pieces. The current white ‘tarps’ are much better. They are a gift of Adams Advertising, and are the backs of used billboard signs. Colburn formed Barnstorming Inc. as a 501 (c)(3) organization that has been working to find a place and appropriate use for the restored barn….and funding to complete the project.

Lincoln Connection

beardless-lincolnCaleb’s son William was chief herdsman in the late 1840s. William was only a boy at the time; but he knew each of the cattle in the herd, so when a neighbor took a calf from the herd thinking it was his, Caleb sued the neighbor for damages. The case was lost for lack of evidence, so Caleb rode to Springfield and hired Abraham Lincoln and appealed the case. William (although he was very ill at the time) was the chief witness. The Davidsons won the case and the neighbor had to pay the court costs which amounted to $17, about $500 in today’s money.
Lincoln made several trips to the Davidson farm, not only to work on the lawsuit, but also as a stop-over on his travels on the 8th Circuit. The family noted the chair he sat in when he visited, and it became “The Lincoln Chair.” It will be placed in the barn on permanent loan when the project is complete. When he visited, Lincoln’s horse was stabled in the barn, so we can say, “Lincoln’s horse slept here.”

If you’d like more information:

“The Old Davidson Barn” by Annie Davidson, 1943

An Architectural Assessment of the Davidson Barn, Rural Eureka, Illinois, Woodford County

Video Interview with Lorraine Hinshaw (1915 – 2010), recorded in 2008.

“Autobiography of Benjamin Johnson Radford,” Eureka, Illinois, 1928, P 1-2