Saving a Coal Shed and Piece of History

Alan Easley attempts to salvage an old coal shed built in 1875 on his family’s property.

| August 2015

The old place about 5 miles south of Columbia, Missouri, where I was raised has been in the family since the 1840s. The house was built in 1872. According to my mom, the newest building on the farm was built in 1939. Most of the other outbuildings were built before 1900 with logs that were cut on the farm and sawed into lumber on a sawmill that was located in a creek bottom south of the farmstead.

Chance to salvage a shed

I raised cattle on the place until June 2014, despite the fact that the farm is now surrounded by the city limits of Columbia on three and one-half sides. Great Circle Boys and Girls Town is on the north, a city park with a 40-acre fishing lake is on the east, and a new Catholic high school and homes in the $700,000-$800,000 range are on the south. Across the road, a new 66-house subdivision is under construction. A 1/8-mile section of road frontage still connects the farm to non-city property. Other than that, it is completely surrounded by Columbia. Combine all of that with the fact that the fences I was continuously repairing were the same old fences that I helped repair when I was a kid, and I finally decided it was time to let my cattle go.

Shortly after I sold the cattle, my sister and I entered into negotiations with Boys and Girls Town to sell them 20 acres for a new school and administration building, where the old house and outbuildings were located. Since all of the buildings were to be demolished, I was told that I was welcome to salvage anything that I wanted before the closing date.

Reconstructing a relic

There was an old coal shed on the property. It measured 8 feet by 20 feet and had a 12-foot lean-to on the south side. I’ve been parking tractors in the lean-to since I was old enough to drive one by myself, probably when I was 7 or 8 years old. I decided that I wanted to save the old shed, and since I knew I couldn’t handle the project by myself, I called my longtime friend (and some sort of distant cousin), Sandy Cunningham of Cunningham Construction.

The building originally sat on limestone rocks with a dirt floor. We poured a concrete foundation of the proper size at my place and filled it with gravel. Sandy’s crew removed the lean-to, then sawed the main part of the building into sections and hauled them to my place, where the sections were assembled and the lean-to was reattached.

Best — not cheapest — solution

According to my grandpap, who was born on the farm in 1862, the coal shed was built in 1875 entirely with rough-sawed oak lumber. Built mostly of pine, the lean-to was apparently added at a later date. The pine didn’t last nearly as well as the oak, and all the rafters had to be replaced. Also, the split white oak posts that supported the lean-to had been used up for years, so I cut some good cedar posts off the old farm to replace them. A lot of siding was missing from the lean-to’s south wall, so my son Jeff and I salvaged rusty metal roofing from an old hog house to use on that wall. Jeff salvaged oak siding from the old barn on the farm to splice any boards that were rotten on the bottom; most of them were.