A Step Back in Time
BY SAMANTHA WARNER
As you pull into the driveway, you are immediately captivated by the tranquility and peacefulness of the property around you. Located seven miles outside of Butler, Mo. in Bates County, Poplar Heights Farm is a step back to a simpler time.
|Poplar Heights Farm is a step back to a simpler time.|
|A Century Farm provides a peek into the 1880s through living history.|
The Century Farm is an 1880s living history farm that has been completely refurbished over a 10-year span due to the generosity and foresight of the last owner and immediate family member who lived on the farm.
According to Brian Phillips, the executive director of Poplar Heights Farm, the land was originally purchased in 1848 by the Walker Family from Cooper County, Ky. When the Walker family moved to Missouri they became involved in politics. “Anthony Walker was a state representative, and his son John Read Walker was also in politics,” Phillips said. “President Cleveland asked John to be the District Attorney for the western region of Missouri, but it required him to move to Kansas City.”
“In 1884 the Seelinger family bought the property, and it has been in the Seelinger family every since,” Phillips said. “The last immediate family member to live on the property was Ruth Seelinger, who married John Paul Jones.”
Ruth was a top-notch businesswoman and built a thriving insurance business in Kansas City. Due to the nature and success of her business, there was no way for Ruth to live on the farm. “She had a small house built in the 1940s with the idea of it being a caretaker’s residence and an artist’s cottage. This is a beautiful piece of property, and she wanted artists to come paint the house and the property,” Phillips said.
Unfortunately, the plans for someone to care for the property never became a reality. The caretaker’s house was never finished, and the property was left vacant for over 50 years. However, Ruth had a special place in her heart for the property, and wanted to make sure it was returned to its true beauty. Before her death, she set in motion plans to make this transformation happen.
“After Ruth died, the property went into a trust, and a board of four trustees was designated to oversee Ruth’s plan. As part of the trust, she left a sizeable amount of money along with a 10-year plan to take the farm back to a working 1890s style farm,” Phillips said. “The goal was that the farm would be open to the public with educational programs for adults and kids.”
Renovations began over a decade ago, but Phillips said, “We are finally at the end of our 10-year restoration plan, and are about to write another 10-year plan to take us into the future.”
There are several structures located on the property – the main house, a summer kitchen, the caretaker’s house, a threshing barn, and a broom corn barn. Since the farm was unattended for so many years, a lot of restoration had to be done.
“The red barn was built in 1873, the same year as the house. It is a peg and beam style threshing barn. When I started, it had the galvanized metal roofing sheets and lots of boards missing. We took it down to the center A-frame and replaced the wings and the roof. The floor was replaced because it was rotting, and the catwalks were replaced,” Phillips said.
The broom corn barn was built between 1900 and 1905. At one time, the farm was a major producer of broom corn. Phillips said, “The white broom corn barn was built solely for broom making. It has drying bins which are big rooms with long slats the broom corn is laid across to dry.” This barn only needed some cosmetic work to restore. The house required more care.
When restorations began, the house was in disrepair. Windows were broken, plaster littered the floor, and wild animals took shelter in the house. “I took it down to the studs, insulated it and put in new wiring. We used period wallpaper, the floors are original, and we rebuilt the fireplace,” Phillips said. The house is fully restored and fully furnished with circa 1890 furniture. All the furniture, except for 10 pieces and the lighting, is original Seelinger family furniture.”
Besides these three major buildings, the summer kitchen and caretaker’s house were also finished and refurbished. The property itself underwent extensive restoration to take it from an overgrown forest to a beautiful yard.
The major renovations were finished last year. “Our grand opening celebration was last summer. In two days 3,500 people came through the property, which is significant considering there are a little over 4,000 people in the town of Butler. People came from all over because they were family members or a distant relative and wanted to see the property,” Phillips said. Phillips himself is a relative of the late owner. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was a Seelinger. In relation to the owner of this farm, she was my great, great aunt,” he explained.
Now that the farm has been returned to its original splendor, Phillips has many ideas for events to host and expansions to make. “We want to focus on the lifestyle from the time period, and we want to be more of an educational site than a true living history farm,” Phillips said. “I would like to try larger scale broom corn production; believe it or not, there is a demand for it. I would like to try a small apple orchard, so we can make hard cider. And, I would also like to put in a small vineyard,” Phillips said.
These additions will lead to more possibilities for events that can be hosted to accomplish the vision Phillips and the board has for the farm. Events that have been held in the past include a summer festival, Christmas celebration, and basket making class. “We want to host lots of events to get our name on the map,” Phillips said. Outside of hosted events, the farm offers private tours, locations for club meetings, and special events.
The renovation and location of Poplar Heights make it unique, but also present a challenge, “There isn’t another farm like it in a 75-mile radius. The closest is Missouri Town in Blue Springs,” Phillips said. At the same time, the location is not close to a major highway. Organizers will have to work harder to promote the farm.
This beautiful piece of property nestled deep in rural Bates County provides visitors a glimpse into a quieter, simpler type of living. The hidden treasure is carrying out the last wishes of Ruth Seelinger Jones to restore her childhood home, while at the same time educating adults and children about a piece of Missouri history.
Learn more about the farmstead and agricultural history at www.poplarheightsfarm.org.