Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Old Barn Stands Tall Owner Trying to Restore Luster to 1915 Structure

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Old Barn Stands Tall Owner Trying to Restore Luster to 1915 Structure

Article excerpt

THE LETTERS are faded and barely visible on the weathered wood of the huge old barn.

"Forest View Farms. 1915."

Sections of the white-pine siding sag and tilt in, as if threatening to collapse unless strong hands and new wood intervene. The roofline that rises as high as 44 feet above the ground is ragged and tattered, some of the boards rotting and the slate shingles broken or missing.

But the structure still hints at the rich past of what once was a thriving dairy farm just east of Edwardsville in what used to be known as Mont Station.

The current owner is working to preserve that history, and the barn.

Standing in the cavernous hay loft of what he believes to be the biggest barn in Southern Illinois, owner Lionel Portell marveled as he imagined the activities it housed just after it was built 80 years ago from a kit shipped by rails from Sears.

"It would be cheaper to tear it down and just start over," he said as he gazed across the oak timbers that support the expansive roofline inside. "But I love this old barn. If we can spend a few dollars and stabilize it, then we'll do it. After I'm gone, someone else can worry about it."

Portell, 63, and his wife, Rosalie, already have restored and enlarged the adjacent, turn-of-the-century farmhouse, turning into a showplace for her crafts, his wood working, and their antiques. They even conduct house tours during the Christmas and spring seasons, drawing many of the older residents who remember the farm's days producing hay, milk, beef and eggs.

Now the Portells are turning their attention to the barn, which catches the eyes of travelers along Interstate 55, barely a stone's throw from the center of what was once a 600-acre farm.

"Someone is always stopping by and asking if they can take pictures of this barn," Rosalie Portell said with obvious pride. "Anyone who drives to Springfield or Chicago along the interstate knows exactly which barn we mean when we describe it to them. We know it's the largest barn in Madison County, and we think it's the largest in Southern Illinois."

Lionel Portell - the former superintendent of streets in Granite City and the retired director of public works for St. Peters, Mo. - has owned the 59 acres surrounding the house and barn for 11 years. The Portells moved into the house and began restoring it after he retired from St. Peters three years ago.

Lionel Portell said the barn was built by the founder of the farm, George C. Rinkel, in 1915. It cost about $10,000 and has been described as a "prefab" kit from Sears, Portell said. It was delivered on railroad cars on the nearby tracks that cut through the farm.

But the Portells said photographs of the barn under construction appear to show not a pre-fabricated barn delivered in sections, but a kit in which the boards and trusses were pre-cut to be assembled on the site by Rinkel's hired hands. …

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