This 100-year-old barn in Wilson, Kansas that housed racehorses has returned home

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

WILSON - Barns normally stay put. But a century-old stable in Wilson has the distinction of moving twice.

The first time, was just after World War II ended. The second was last Tuesday.

The barn was first housed in the center of Wilson, Kansas. After a little less than half a century, it moved to rural Ellsworth County, and now it is back in town.

In 1906, this stylish structure wrapped in tin housed racehorses in the city center. When it moved to the country, it housed livestock. Starting on Memorial Day, this historic 40-by-60-foot structure will cater to humans.

Melinda Merrill, the owner of Wilson's historic Midland Railroad Hotel, purchased the building and had it moved to less than 50 yards from its original setting.

It now sits next door to her 1899 hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We're looking for an area where we can host meetings, weddings," Merrill said. Three weddings are already booked in the soon-to-be renovated facility.

Shifting an aging structure

Leon Ball speaks with Roger Hubert, from the Kansas Barn Alliance, about how he moved the barn behind them from a farm in Ellsworth County to downtown Wilson, where it was built during the early 1900s.

The moving process for the barn was months in the making. The stalls had to be disassembled and numbered. Round-headed nails were pulled. Each wall was measured several times and concrete was poured for the foundation.

"A structure this age needs a lot of care and respect," said Leon Ball, of Ball and Sons movers out of Belleville, the company that moved the barn. 

Ball has moved aircraft, churches, houses and barns. Working with his two sons to make sure the building remains intact is crucial. Years ago, he did the driving and steering, when he worked under his father and grandfather.

Century-old barn moves back home to the city of Wilson on April 6, 2021 after spending eight decades on a farm.

Weighing 138,000 pounds, the barn is formidable. Moving dates were changed several times - once for rain, and twice for wind. On the day of the move, winds gusted to 30 mph. Once the building made it to the hotel, the Balls decided to keep it secure on the moving equipment and not place it until the winds calmed down.

"When you're jacking it (in winds) everything is crazy," said David Ball, who drives the truck. "But when you're bolted up, it's safe. Nothing can go wrong."

Kansas and Czech culture intermingle

A painted Czech egg rests outside the recently-moved tin-skinned barn at the Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson.

Merrill is happy to have the barn home. Her great-great-grandparents immigrated to Wilson during the 1860s from the land now known as the Czech Republic. Others from what was once called Bohemia followed.

Wilson is known as the Czech Capital of Kansas. Merrill appreciates her culture and the city's historic roots in the Old World. Along with the hotel and her family's farm, she owns Czech Apartments in the restored grade school. 

From the windows of the Midland Railroad Hotel, the world's largest hand-painted Czech egg in the country is visible. As is the smaller orange egg, which Merrill placed in front of the new barn. The city has six other painted eggs sprinkled throughout its streets.  

World's largest hand-painted Czech egg in downtown Wilson measures 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

Merrill hopes her hotel's 27 rooms, which are restored to 1930s charm and 21st-century amenities, will continue to help the community thrive.

In addition to herb and vegetable gardens, the hotel offers guests a chance to visit with their chickens, along with a bar and restaurant, which serves Kansas beers and spirits and vegetables from the hotel's garden. Once a week, Merrill brings in an assortment of Czech food.

The tin-skinned barn

Century-old barn moves back home to the city of Wilson on April 6, 2021 after spending eight decades on a farm.

The barn was originally built in 1906 by H. Frantz for George Levitt and was known as one of the best-arranged barns in the state. The tin sheets, which were made to resemble brick, were once painted red. 

According to Roger Hubert, who grew up just north of the city, this barn was not too far from the city's racetrack. In 1946, the stable was purchased by Franc Princ and moved to the Princ Farm on the east edge of Wilson, where it served as the family's livestock barn.

Moving a century of history

"Every barn is definitely worth saving," said Steve Christy, president of the Kansas Barn Alliance. "Creating a new life for it is helping save history. The Midland Hotel has given it another job."

Members of the Kansas Barn Alliance celebrated the barn's arrival at the hotel. Several, who come from all parts of Kansas as well as Nebraska, helped with the pre-moving process. 

"It's (Wilson) kind of a walk back in time," Merrill said. "It's a lifestyle that you can't replicate."