Willow Springs Garden, a love to preserve our past and have fun

By Ed Marek editor

October 25, 2010, updated January 31, 2012 thanks to inputs and corrections by Chris Revie, whose great uncle once owned the barn.


Ken Christian grew up in Wausau, left a long time ago, and has lived in London for some 19 years, but comes back to Wausau a couple times each year to visit his brother. He came across this web site and conveyed how he loves to roam the countryside here and take images as well. He alerted us to this round barn on 60th Ave., just off Hillcrest Drive in the town of Maine, outside Wausau in Marathon County. I went out to take a look, and it was fun.

This barn was moved in 2006 from its original location about a half-mile away and is now part of Willow Springs Gardens, a growing effort to preserve our history. This barn is over 100 years old and is undergoing a rehab effort. Lots to show and discuss. There is much more to Willow Springs than most know.


Willow Springs Garden offers is own web site. We commend it to you. Its history section needs beefing up, but the site has great photography and is informative.

I've made a few trips out there to try to help beef up the history a little bit. Arguably the best trip was where I found Lee Christian, brother of Carl Christian. Lee filled in some gaps for me and I hope I can do justice to what he told me. You'll hear more about the Christian family in a moment.

In 1895, Carl and August Tisch built a large round barn on their property outside Wausau, on what is now 60th Ave.

Building round barns was very much in vogue during the period 1880-1920. The movement began with octagonal barns and then in 1889 the era of the round barn began. The view at the time was that the round barn offered greater efficiency when compared to rectangular barns: greater volume, they required less materials, they were structurally more stable, their construction was more simple, and the cows could all face the center, saving the farmer steps when feeding. All that said, they never really caught on. Some of their attributes were overstated, and new technologies eliminated the labor-saving attributes of the round barn. So they are now hard to find, though they still exist. Frankly, I find it fun every time I spot one. For example, back in 2009, we did a story on the Schuster Round Barn.

On April 28, 1944, William and Martha Christian purchased the property and divided the property in half for their sons, Floyd and Maeward. Maeward received the section with the barn on it. Maeward had four sons, Bob, Lee, Carl and Ken and two daughters, Nancy and Ruth. Carl farmed the land around the barn and owned it when he donated it to Willow Springs for renovation. It was then moved.

I'm going to stop here for a few moments and fast forward to 2001. I'm not sure when, but the Town of Maine decided it needed a new Town Hall. So something had to be done with the old one.

Right about at this same time, Dennis Griffin and his wife Peggy purchased property on the corner of 60th Ave. and Hillcrest Drive with a view toward establishing it as a site that would preserve local history.


Moving the Maine Town Hall to the Griffin site, 2001. Presented by Willow Springs Garden.

I do not know how the subject came up, but the Griffins' first preservation project was to move the old Maine Town Hall to the new site. The site they bought had been known as Willow Springs, so the Griffins retained that name. They had an idea to decorate the property with gardens and added that as well.


The yellow arrow points to where they placed the old Town Hall at Willow Springs. Presented by Willow Springs Garden.



These latter two photos show the Old Town Hall in place at Willow Springs Garden. It's a marvelous building, and its setting is even better than that. The Griffins and all who helped them must be commended for preserving it.


This is the Town of Maine's new town hall. I guess it meets the town's needs, but it sure lacks character. Bravo to the Griffin team for saving the old one.

Now let's fast forward a bit more to 2006. As mentioned earlier, the Christian family owned the property that had a round barn on it. You will recall that this round barn was built by the Tisch family in 1895. I took a photo of this area from a display inside the round barn. I'll show you the full photo to help you get the lay of the land, and then divide it up a bit to point out a few things.


First, the circle roughly outlines the Willow Springs Garden area. The yellow box within the circle shows the location of the Old Town Hall after the Griffins moved it. The arrow pointing downward on the left points out Hillcrest Drive, while the arrow near it pointing upward highlights 60th Ave. The yellow arrow in the top left shows the location of the round barn on the Christian property. If you look closely within the yellow circle, in the upper left quadrant, you will see a dark round circle which marked the location to which they would move the Christian round barn.


I've zoomed in on the Willow Springs Garden property. It's a polygon, but shaped close to a triangle. In the lower right you can see the entry way and a circle, and then the Old Town Hall labeled here as the "existing building." The future planned location for the round barn is plainly visible. As we go forward with modern-day photos, you will see the entryway from Hillcrest, and there are also entryways from 60th Ave. Corn is grown in multiple locations, a specialty of the owners, the Griffins.


I had hoped this would be a little more sharp, but you can see the round barn and the residence on the Christian property.


Chris Revie, whose great uncle was Maeward Christian, provided us with this photo of the old barn before she was moved.


This photo, presented by Willow Springs Garden, shows moving the barn to its new location, 2006.

This photo shows the old barn being moved from the Christian to the Griffins' property. These are the two main structures being preserved at Willow Springs. As you might imagine, donations are appreciated.


When I stopped at the Christian residence, I met Lee Christian who told me this was the location of the round barn. I have to say the setting is fantastic. Note the slope. We'll talk to that later.


I was so taken with the beauty of the setting, I shot a photo of the Christian family's great home.


I'm a nut when it comes to older buildings. This one stands on the Christian property as well.

Well, let's now take a look at Willow Springs Gardens at it exists during mid-2010. My photos were taken in the summer 2010 and in the fall, 2010, both terrific Wisconsin days.


There's the round barn in its new location. This photo is among my favorites.


A lot of work has been put into restoring and renovating the old round barn. Here you see that she is on a new and firm foundation that forms a basement area. Also please take note of the cupola on top. I'll talk to both these features later.


Fortunately for nosey people like me, I could drive right up to the barn and peer inside. This is the opening through which the cows would be driven to eat and be milked.

I want to focus a bit on the how the barn is built. It's at times like this I wish I knew something about architecture and building. I've done a little research and will be doing some slightly educated guessing here. You pros please feel free to pile on and correct me where I'm wrong.

I need to say at the outset that there's a lot of work yet to do on this round barn. I'm going a bit out on the limb and say that when she is done, she'll have three floors, even though at present it looks like she has only two. That said, the barn only had two floors, the main floor and the basement. It is my understanding it will remain s is, unless Dennis and Peggy Groffin have other plans as they remodel it.


You are looking at the center silo. It provides the building structural strength like the hub of a wheel that supports the spokes. It also was used to store hay silage and could further provide a place to store corn.

The main floor of the barn was used to store loose hay and grain, and later baled hay. Wagons would be pulled through the main doors and unloaded inside the barn. Loose hay would be picked up by a hay fork and pulled into the ceiling of the barn and then dropped onto horizontal beams that extended from the silo like the spoke of a wheel. The hay would pile up on the beams and then spill over onto the main floor of the barn where it would be pushed through trap doors in the floor to the basement below to feed the cows and other animals. The silo was typically used to store corn silage.

Chis Revie, mentioned earlier, provided us with these next three photos of the basement of the barn.




The basement of the barn was used to house the cows and other animals. The cows faced inward, toward the silo, with each cow having its own stanchion for milking and feeding. The circular design of the barn made it easier to feed the animals from the center silo; it was also faster as the smaller circumference of the center of the barn took less time to walk around feeding the cows from the silage in the silo. A gutter was built into the floor against the outer foundation where urine and manure from the cows would be out of the way of the farmer. The manure was then loaded into a manure bucket that hung on a track from the ceiling; it was pushed outside and dumped into the barnyard for disposal.


Finally, please think back to the cupola. It was decorative, but more important, it provided ventilation into the silo. It was located atop the center silo inside. Fresh air could flow into the hay to keep it dry and reduce the risk of spontaneous combustion. Not all round barns had cupolas.


This shot shows the many vertical beams providing the frame against which the outer wall was built. You see the heavier structural vertical and horizontal beams adding the required structural support to the building and, I believe, forming the framework for a top floor, the haymow.


You can see the new block foundation-basement area below the main wooden structure.


Returning to the photo showing the original barn prior to being moved, you will see how the barn was placed on the original site with the field stone foundation. You will recall when looking at the old site for the barn that it was sloped. Quite often barns would be built into the side of such rises in the land.


The siding here, or planking, to me is amazing. Some round barns would be double-planked. This one is single planked. I would estimate its thickness at about an inch.


I do not know the builders made the planks bend around the round barn. I'll guess that they limited their length, they were only about an inch thick, and you can see how close the various columns of nails are to each other.


As you can see, lots of work to do to restore the outside of the barn. Note how the beams of the floor are resting on the newly installed block foundation. You'll see more of those beams from underneath next.

Let's go down to the barn's updated basement. Some interesting things to see.


You can see how a new block silo base has been built. The main item of interest, though, is to look at the bottom of the original barn. New horizontal and vertical beams are holding her up. Note the beams are following the circular array of the round barn's floor.


Another look.

Now to change subjects a bit. While looking around, I spotted some neat old things being stored inside the round barn. Let's take a look at them.


I spotted this horse drawn wagon inside. This wagon is not the original. It is used to give visitors tours of the Willow Springs grounds. Its chassis is from an old hay wagon and the new frame is custom built for moving people.


Horse drawn buggy.


Well, this is some kind of machine, but I don't know what it does. It looks like the pulley mechanism you see on the outside is hand cranked.


Another buggy, but this one looks top drawer!

We'll now switch gears. First, let me show you a Mapquest aerial shot of the area.


You can see the entry from Hillcrest Drive, which runs horizontally across the bottom of the photo. You see it lead to a parking area, and you can spot the Old Town Hall. The round barn is also clearly visible. Note the fields around the barn seem to have paths cut through and you even see the words, "Thank you for the Memories" cut out. So what's that all about?

Since 2002, Willow Springs Garden has been holding a Corn Maze Fest. The 2010 edition ended on October 24. I believe the photo above is the work that was done for the 2008 fest.

I got to Corn Maze 2010 on October 21, before opening hours. So I had a chance to walk around freely and take a bunch of neat photos. I was like a little kid!






Children's maze entrance


Adult maze entrance


Be my guest!


Should I go this way? Nah, going to the right.


Tee-eye-rrific, now what, which way, straight ahead or left? I'm going left.


Well wow, a long straight-away. Good or bad? Being alone and an old geezer here before hours, I decided to quit here and head back out before I got lost!

Also available for fun is the petting zoo.






And finally, several of these available as play areas for the kids.


One final look on the way out at the corn maze and the Old Town Hall.