Gage county barn steeped in history

Published: May. 19, 2020 at 5:08 PM CDT
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The Elijah Filley Stone Barn offers a pastoral scene from a distance. And up close, the view is nothing short of remarkable.

The barn is named after Elijah Filley, who was an early settler in Gage County. Filley came to Nebraska from Illinios in 1867, and settled on a piece of land he called Cottage Hill Farm. "In his life there we know that he was a stone mason," Megan Sothan with the Gage County Historical Society said. "As far as we know, he and his family came here, following the American Dream. They actually took advantage of the Homestead Act, which had been established in 1862, where you could claim 160 acres and prove it up over a period of five years." It turns out, Filley and his family did prove up the claim, and did quite well. "At one time, Elijah Filley was one of the larger livestock producers here in this area. He at one time had around 1,200 acres of ground, so the family prospered and did quite well here," Sothan said.

The Elijah Filley Stone Barn is one of the more unique barns in our state, and what makes it even more interesting is the story about how it was built. "In 1873, there was a financial panic that hit the country," Sothan said. "A lot of new railroads were coming in to business, and many banks were trying to finance these railroads. One of the biggest financiers-- J. Cook and Company-- filed for bankruptcy in 1873, and it caused a massive domino effect of other banking houses going out of business." History experts say that left farmers to face not only financial concerns in the area, but massive drought in 1874. "Elijah Filley who had been doing quite well and built up a name for himself in this area, was able to weather this financial panic better than most," Sothan said. "But he could see a lot of his fellow farmers here in Gage County struggling, and he wanted to find a way to help keep people here in Gage County." So, Filley hired local farmers to help him build this barn. "And so in the summer of 1874, people came from all over the county, and actually camped on the property to help raise this barn," Sothan said. "It was enough to help these people get through the financial crisis and economic disaster that was going on, and it was just enough to help keep people here."

You could say that this barn was an economic stimulus package.. and it was finished by November or December of 1874. "As far as I know, this is the oldest limestone bank barn that exists in the state of Nebraska. A bank barn refers to its architecture, its the way it was built," Sothan said. "The barn is built into the side of a hill, so on the far end you have two stories. You are able to enter the lowest story at ground level, but on the opposite end of the barn, there is a bank built into the side, so that way you can drive vehicles and such onto the second level."

The architecture of this barn is amazing. But perhaps how this barn will truly be remembered is for how the owner once gave local farmers a second chance with its construction. And the goal now is to preserve it for the future. "I believe it is really important to save these structures, because they help teach us about our past, and with our past it also helps us shape the future," Sothan said.