History abounds in Kankakee and Will counties, where Momence and Manhattan Illinois hospitals and local history buffs’ efforts to preserve traditions have resulted in some great recent restorations. In Manhattan, the Baker-Koren barn (ca. 1898) has recently been acquired as the centerpiece of a new park which the Manhattan Park District is developing. This round barn – typical of late nineteenth century farm structures – has clapboard siding built on a balloon frame. The barn is one hundred feet in diameter and over sixty feet high, making it one of the biggest round barns in the state of Illinois. It was built by John Barker from lumber which he salvaged from the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
John Barker was the son of Clarke Barker, who settled in Manhattan in 1850 and eventually came to own over one thousand acres of land. He was a successful farmer and also served as Manhattan Township judge for twenty-five years. The round barn was eventually acquired by cattleman and farmer Frank Koren, who in 1986 turned it into the Round Barn Farm and Museum, working with the forest preserve and the park district to preserve the farm – over a hundred acres of green space in the rapidly growing urban area of Manhattan. According to his daughter, Koren loved showing his place to visitors, especially children. Koren was also director of the Chicago Joliet Livestock Marketing Center. He died in 2004, but not before establishing a joint venture with the Manhattan Park District to preserve the farm and barn forever.
Another local preservation effort is the Momence Railroad Depot Museum, located near Momence Illinois hospital. The Railroad Depot was constructed ca. 1890, but has not been used as a railroad station since the Second World War. For many years the Dixie Lumber Company used it as a storage building until the company closed down. In 2000 the depot, together with the 40′ x 300′ strip of land on which it sits, was purchased by Bill Munyon for thirty thousand dollars. Munyon had been married earlier that year, and the restoration of the railroad depot became his and his wife Phyllis’ honeymoon project.
The initial restoration used seventy gallons of paint on the exterior and interior walls, in order to restore the old railroad depot to the glory that Munyon remembered from his boyhood. Over the past eight years the Munyons have collected old photographs of railroading and Momence history which are displayed in one room of the Depot Museum, and also photographs of local servicemen and veterans which are displayed in another room. The Museum is located near Momence hospital, at 691 North Dixie Highway, and is open from May through September Saturdays from 9 am to noon (or by appointment).