A Franklin County landmark is in limbo. The Bowers barn, built in 1894, is in need of a new prospective owner to restore it.
The Franklin County Historical Society Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week not to acquire the historic barn, located near the corner of Seventh Street and Eisenhower Road in Ottawa. In 2017, the Bowers family approached the Franklin County Historical Society about the possibility of donating the barn and some land.
Eric Duderstadt, FCHC board president, said the decision was heart-wrenching for board members.
“It was a very tough decision and one we did not take lightly,” Duderstadt said. “We spent a great deal of time and resources to evaluate the barn from several different angles and tried to consider all the different aspects of it before we came to the conclusion. It was very difficult because we like to see historical structures like that saved. We recognize the significance of it as a landmark in the community.”
The initial plan was to refurbish the barn to develop an agricultural museum and meeting space, Diana Staresinic-Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society, said.
Duderstadt said several factors came together in the board’s decision. Some of those factors were the significant work was needed to make the barn structurally sound, financial considerations, insuring the barn and the management and feasibility of owning such a property, he said.
The board hired a structural engineer and the report revealed significant structural flaws, Duderstadt said.
“The structural engineer’s findings were a crucial component in FCHS’s decision,” Duderstadt said. “It turns out that the original construction poses a significant threat to the structural integrity of the building. The building would require a substantial amount of work just to stabilize the structure.
“After studying the structural report and recognizing that we would not be able to use the building in the way we had hoped, we came to the difficult conclusion that the barn isn’t the right project for us,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to improve our ability to protect Franklin County’s artifacts and to serve our community and our concern was that this project would stretch us thinner without improving our ability to offer programming or interpret local history.”
The evaluation process included input from City of Ottawa and Franklin County officials, Staresinic-Deane said.
“Together, we studied maps of flood plains, utilities, and potential sites for an entrance to the property,” she said. “We hashed out the pros and cons of being annexed into the city. We could not have made an informed decision without their input. It turns out that the 500-year flood plain runs right through the barn and the 100-year flood plain laps at its feet. We knew then that we couldn’t use it for an agricultural museum because we couldn’t put artifacts — many of which are heirlooms donated to us by the [residents] of Franklin County — at risk.”
Deborah Barker, former FCHS executive director, made an appeal this past August to the community for funds to “mothball” the barn in order to slow the rate of deterioration and stabilize the structure while the historical society developed a vision and raised funds to restore the barn. One of those that stepped forward was Charles Gillette, a retired businessman and former city commissioner.
“We are incredibly grateful to everyone who reached out to us to express an interest in the barn and offer their support for the barn project,” Duderstadt said. “Franklin County has demonstrated an appreciation for our local history and we hope our community will continue to support our efforts. We really wanted it to be clear the [Bowers] family was great to work with through this whole process. It is our hope somebody will step up and be able to [restore] it.”