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Go West


“Go West, Young Man, Go West.” Horace Greeley is often attributed for this famous quotation, though he may not have said or written it…yet he supported the sentiment, urging for westward expansion as the country developed.

Many did indeed go west, and soon, the wild prairies were divided and tamed. Communities formed across the land, and farm houses and barns dotted the plains. Some of these old homesteads still stand today; some have transformed over the years, while some crumple into the prairie, the paint dilapidated, the wood exposed and weathered.

Not all barns were made equally, however, and on this date in 1904, H. C. Hoenft, from near Pingree, shared information with the Hope Pioneer on how to build a concrete barn.

The process was simple enough. “Two important things in the construction are plenty of stones and an abundance of good coarse creek gravel; if these two materials are close at hand concrete buildings can be put up cheaper than any other kind of building and they are far more durable,” Hoenft said. The creek gravel was coarse sand washed free of all clay. With any clay in the mixture, the walls would collapse.

Box concrete forms were filled with stones of varied sizes, followed by mortar that was liquid enough to fill the spaces between the stones. After a day, the boxes were raised higher and the process repeated until the wall reached the desired height.

The proportions of materials needed for the cement were a barrel of lime, a barrel of Portland cement and twelve barrels of the aforementioned creek gravel. All of this was mixed thoroughly in mortar beds, and then added to the boxes.

These cement barns were advantageous. They were sturdy, wind proof, and stayed warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. They could be painted easily enough, if so desired. Most importantly, to the savvy pioneer, it was inexpensive to build – Hoenft guessed that the cost, “figuring labor at $1.50 per day, should not be over nine cents per cubic foot.” Although a dollar bought a lot more in those days!

These cement buildings may not have been the typical barn, but they were a smart addition for prairie life…and one might think that Horace Greeley would approve.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Hope Pioneer, September 22, 1904 – p3