Reclaiming a treasure

Roger Hofer of Trinity maneuvers his self-propelled mower for another swath of tall grass.A couple of area Kansas history buffs joined forces with a cadre of volunteers from Trinity Mennonite Church Saturday to uncover a local historical treasure.

The group mowed grass and weeds, trimmed trees and bushes and picked up trash that was threatening to swallow the 19th-century property that served years ago as the Marion County Poor Farm, centrally located between Marion, Peabody and Hillsboro.Robert Crossland, Haysville, loads a branch onto a trailer for removal. He and 12-year-old son Caleb worked alongside the Trinity volunteers.

“I think it’s a very amazing sight to see all these people here working and volunteer­­ing their time,” said Robert Crossland of Haysville, who has developed a Facebook page, “Saving the Marion County Poor Farm.”

“I’m an urban explorer, so I drive around and explore abandoned places,” Cross­land said about his discovery of this property. “I found out about the cemetery, so I learned more about the poor farm and I just have loved it ever since.”

Crossland said he’s interested in developing an ongoing connection with the property, now owned by Nancy Marr.

“My goal is to be the caretaker,” he said. “I’m unemployed, I got into a wreck. Right now I can’t work because of my shoulder injury, so I’m in a good position where I can kind of take over and work as I live here and lead some historical tours.”

It was on Facebook where a second history buff, Car­men Friesen of Mound­ridge, discovered the property.

“I saw a posting on one of the Facebook pages, something called, ‘Old Abandoned and Interesting Places,’” she said. “It had a picture of the old poor farm. I was curious because I had never heard of it, never seen it. I’m from this area and I just got interested in it that way.”

Friesen soon contacted Marr, who agreed to give her a tour of the property.

“It’s just so impressive that the building is still there and for the most part in good shape, being built in 1890,” she said. “I’ve just always been fascinated with history and it just kind of struck a chord with me.”

Friesen took it upon herself to see if she could find some volunteers to help clear the yard of the overgrown vegetation.

“I thought (Marr) obviously needs help,” she said. “I just sat down at the computer and wrote out a list of Hillsboro churches and, one by one, emailed 10 to 12 churches, asking for volunteer groups—if anyone has the time, desire and equipment to just help clean up the yard because it was just a mess.”Trinity volunteers came prepared to go to work, including extra fuel for the day.

Norma Duerksen, Trinity’s pastor, was the only church representative who responded to the query.

“She was willing and they had the equipment and the time,” Friesen said. “She helped a great deal. Her group did a lot of work and it looks so much better.”

The volunteers showed up around 8 a.m. armed with mowers, grass trimmers, chainsaws and even a farm tractor with an industrial mower on the back and a loader on the front.

About 20 people participated in the project on a hot, sunny day.

Both Friesen and Cross­land plan to do what they can to help restore the property. Friesen’s priority is to get the site listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places, and has submitted an application for consideration to the Kansas Historical Society.

She said having the property listed would help protect it and possibly qualify it for some state grant funds, especially to put a new roof on the main house and perhaps replace windows to stop leakage during wet weather.

Friesen also wants to learn more about the second stone structure that stands near the main house.Vehicles of the volunteers line both sides of the road along Old Mill Road in front of the former poor farm property.

“I would love to save that building as well, but we’ve had a lot of trouble finding information about it,” she said. “I contacted the Marion County Historical Society three times and haven’t gotten anywhere.”

Crossland has a sense of urgency about the project, as well.

“I’ve heard there are only two, maybe three, poor farms still standing in Kansas,” he said. “I think Butler County has one that they live in or they use as a home. This may be the only original poor farm left.”

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