There are more comfortable seasons in southwest Missouri than late summer, but the revelers didn't mind. It's no exaggeration to say the crowd was transported to another time when Poplar Heights Farm had its grand opening as a living history farm and nature conservancy August 14 and 15.
Poplar Heights Farm, near Butler, Mo., restored to 1880s glory.
Visitors parked their modern buggies and were taken to and around the fully restored late 19th century, 640-acre working farm in Percheron-drawn wagons; toured the restored 1870 main house, 1870s threshing barn, summer kitchen/root cellar and 1895 broom corn barn; saw felting, dying, looms, weaving, spinning and broom-making; sampled quark and heirloom vegetables such as turn-of-last-century tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, summer and winter squash; and watched sheepherding demonstrations, a master stonecutter, blacksmiths, quilters, hay jumping and Nadine the cow.
(Percheron horses were a prized breed; these sturdy horses could be ridden cross-country and jump fences, then turn around to plow and harvest. Quark is soft, white, un-aged cheese, distinct from cottage cheese or ricotta. Heirloom variety plants are crops common in earlier times, not used in modern large-scale agriculture. The trend of growing heirloom plants has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe.)
Drive and determination
The living history farm and conservancy was the fruit of dozens of individuals' hard work and dedication, but none more so than Helen Bartlett Kling '35, one of four sisters who attended Christian College at the height of the Depression. Kling, now 94 and nearly blind, threw herself into the restoration of her family's farm by supervising carpenters, planting heirloom vegetables and acting as secretary/treasurer of the farm foundation.
Kling freely credits Christian, now Columbia College, with instilling in her the drive and determination to restore the farm. The family also plans to apply for federal national historic site status.
The sisters were:
Helen Bartlett Kling '35
Esther Ruth Bartlett Rice '37
Agnes Magdalene "Jerry" Bartlett Bishop '32
Royce Bartlett '41
Kling is the only one of the four still alive. Kling was also editor of Microphone, the Christian College student newspaper.
According to her daughter, Melissa Kling Phillips, the project began more than a century ago. At her grandmother's wedding party in 1909, Phillips writes, "the sisters were lamenting how much everything was changing... Technology had brought electric lights, steam engines, the telephone... Their county had suffered terrible devastation during the Civil War and was well on its way to recovery with tremendous growth brought by the new railroads, coal mining and commercial business."
The women insisted there must be a way to hold on to this rapidly vanishing way of life.
"Women can be determined folks," Phillips, a long-time elementary schoolteacher for Johnson County , Kan., who now runs the family's memorial business, writes, "and over the years, as weddings, funerals and other family gatherings brought them back together, they remembered, wrote stories of their childhood, set aside family photos, treasures and planned" for Poplar Heights Farm. Eventually the old farmstead became vacant, but the family kept the property up. The farm passed into a charitable foundation in 1997, and that's when Helen Bartlett Kling's work really began.
A daunting task
"She promptly took charge of guiding the development of Poplar Heights Farm," writes Phillips. "She turned down the chairmanship, instead insisting she would be secretary/treasurer. At 82, her new job was to ensure the family dream became reality."
It was a daunting task: Farm buildings needed complete and historically accurate restoration, educational programs had to be developed, staff hired, gardens planted, budgets developed and investments tracked. It took an entire year just to clear the brush. Kling poured tens of thousands of dollars of her own money into Poplar Heights Farm.
At 94, Kling uses a cane but still makes nearly daily trips to the farm to check on everything, magnifying glass in hand. "Her mind is sharp as a steel trap and her energy is unbelievable," Phillips writes.
"She often credits Christian College for her successes in life. She told us repeatedly when we were growing up that the college made her ready to face any future, that education was paramount to success and that diligence, perseverance and imagination were essential in life's endeavors."
For more information about Poplar Heights Farm, go to www.poplarheightsfarm.org.
For more information about how Columbia College can help you achieve your life's vision, go to www.ccis.edu.