Many of the most historically significant barns have disappeared from the Wabaunsee County landscape throughout the 20th century, leaving a remaining few relics of their heyday scattered at the sites of former homesteads and Flint Hills ranches. At one time, the barn was the central feature of a livestock operation; and often, the size and design of a particular barn demonstrated the success of a particular rancher’s enterprise.
The loss of these historic barns has various origins. Some have collapsed from years of neglect, often driven by the increasing lack of usefulness of the barn in ranching. Other barns have fallen victim to the elements, and in that respect, the Kansas wind which often spawns high winds and tornados has been a major culprit. In the end, metal buildings and pole barns have replaced the iconic hay barns of the Flint Hills.
William Horne, born in Baden Germany in 1833, came to Wabaunsee County with his wife, Sophia and their infant son, William August, in 1859, staking a claim and settling on Spring Creek, ten miles west of Alma, Kansas. Initially, the young family lived in a small log cabin that the Hornes built, but after a few years of successful farming, the ever-growing family moved into a sprawling two-story stone house, constructed on the home site. As circumstances allowed, a massive new hay barn was constructed just southeast of the Horne home, to store hay for the winter feeding of livestock.
The barn was classified as a bank-barn, being built on a slope with a full basement level which provided space for livestock stables. The entire upper floor of the 120-foot barn was occupied by a hay mow where the summer’s harvest was stacked to the rafters and then fed out the doorways located on the south side of the barn. After the hay mow was emptied of its contents, the barn was not infrequently used as a venue for barn dances attended by friends, relatives, and neighbors.
In the days before Rural Free Delivery of the mail, William Horne served as postmaster of the community between 1880 to 1886. Mail was left at the Horne’s house for residents of the area to retrieve. The Post Office was named Elvenia in honor of the Horne’s daughter, Alevena.
After living on their Wabaunsee County farm for fifty years, William and Sophia Horne sold their farm to their daughter and son-in-law, Otto and Mary Grunewald. The Grunewalds raised their four children on the Washington Township farm, along with one of their grandsons, Glenn D. Grunewald. In 1951 Glenn Grunewald married Eloise Evans of Alta Vista, and the young couple raised three children on the family farm. In 1979, Glenn Grunewald passed away after spending his entire lifetime in the Spring Creek community. Eloise remained on the farm for a number of years before finally moving to Alma in the early 2000s.
In the 1990s a severe thunderstorm, not uncommon at any time of the year in northeast Kansas, passed over the Grunewald farm. Strong straight-line winds were so powerful that they swept the massive Horne barn from its foundation, moving it 4-6 feet to the north, leaving it teetering on its footings. The barn could not be saved, despite it being virtually intact.