The Joseph Askew Homestead (part 2)

In my original post on this topic, I used the legal document recording Joseph Askew’s homestead and combined that with aerial imagery to locate the exact location and extent of the Askew homestead from 1875 until the 1890s. In some of the recent images, at least five buildings and a grain silo could still be seen standing, giving me hope that I might be able to glean at least a little insight into what the original buildings may have looked like.

In what appeared to be the most recent aerial photo, however, all of the buildings except the silo appeared to have been destroyed. I decided that on my recent family history trip to Wadena, I would have to go check the homestead myself to see if the buildings really had been destroyed, and to see if I could still learn anything about the layout of the original homestead.

I’ve now returned from my Wadena-area family history research trip and I’d like to share with you what I learned about the Askew homestead.

My wife and I met with Gordy Askew, my great-great-granduncle, and his wife Geri and their grown children (my first cousins, twice removed) Steve, Rita, and Teresa, on Saturday afternoon. Gordy and Geri are getting along in years and due to health considerations had to move out of their house and into an assisted living facility. Their daughter Teresa, knowing that we were coming, had generously gone through her parents’ house looking for any items of historical interest and put them all in a box for me to borrow and examine over the week we were there.

In that box were two unexpected homestead-related objects: one was a two-sided mounted photograph of the Askew homestead, dated circa 1895. Below are scans of the front and back side of this two-sided mount:

The main house is visible at the viewer’s left, a cluster of people are standing in front of an outbuilding, and there are two barns and a windmill visible in the background.

In addition, there was also this oversized (9 x 16½ inches) mounted panoramic photo of a similar set of buildings that was labelled “Askews renting the Button Farm, 1894,” a composited scan of which can be seen below:

My wife and I drove out to the location of the Joseph Askew homestead, and found that the buildings were, in fact, destroyed.

The photo below shows our first glimpse of the ruins of one of the buildings (the main house), with my wife walking towards the ruins.

The buildings did not appear to have been brought down by the 2010 tornado, as I had supposed in my original post; rather, they appear to have all been burnt to the ground. The image below shows the ruins of the burnt-out basement.

The main ruins have a cement-lined basement, into which ruins of the structure above collapsed.

One of the first things that I noticed was that these ruins represented multiple building styles, probably indicative of multiple building and remodeling episodes over the lifetime of the building. Cinder blocks were juxtaposed with the charred remains of robust (9 x 9 inches) rough-hewn timber beams.

Comparatively modern foundations were present in some areas.

The basement itself is lined with old, coarse concrete walls that were created with wooden forms consisting of approximately 6-inch-wide boards.

While the large-dimension, rough-hewn beams hinted at a fairly old date for some of the structure, the discovery of square-profile, hand-forged nails was strong evidence that at least a portion of the structure dated to the 19th century.

There were hundreds of such nails, scattered uniformly over the middle third of the basement rubble. The sizes of the hand-forged nails varied, with three predominant sizes: 5 inches, 3½ inches, and 2½ inches. The majority were the two larger sizes. The smaller nails were found on and directly adjacent to the foundations, which made me think they were finishing nails for windows, siding, and lathe. All nails were in bad shape from age, exposure to the fire, and exposure to a couple of seasons of snow and frost.

The building had apparently been lived in fairly recently, as there were modern items among the rubble, such as weightlifting plates (not pictured) and the remains of a CRT television (below).

The floor of the basement was made of the same type of concrete as the basement walls, and in cross section (below) it looks quite unlike 20th century concrete pours.

The remains of a chimney are evidenced by the yellow fire bricks seen below.

Outside the basement, my wife found a broken piece of concrete that appeared to have the date “1901” or perhaps “1907” written in it.

A semicircle of decorate bricks frame the front steps and front door.

Beneath this charred tree are the remains of a much smaller structure, possibly an out building that served as a kitchen.

The old foundations of this out building are broken but easily visible.

I decided to explore the small grove of trees behind the house to see what traces I could find in there.

I found a pile of old foundations, dug up and piled here at some point. These are the same sort of foundations I saw at the site of the out building, but here I could see their bottoms, which provided another clue as to their age.

Taking a closer look, broken glass and ceramics litter the bottoms of these foundations.

I didn’t find any pieces of either bottle glass or ceramics that were obviously diagnostic as far as date goes, but they did appear to be quite old.

 Of the four structures we investigated that day, the structure adjacent to the silo was the only one that had no obvious signs of an earlier structure. This structure appears to be comparatively recent and was made of cinderblocks on a poured concrete slab.

Besides the remains of the structures, there were remains of old fences.

From an examination of the hardware, specifically the flat head wire nails and the zinc anodized wire, it is clear that while this fence is old, it post-dates the Askew homestead.

This scenic decaying gate is likewise old, but not as old as the Askew homestead.

A view of the same gate, but from the front.

We noticed a number of trees along the boundary lines of the Askew homestead. This one was near the site of the ruins, along the western boundary of their property.

Taking a closer look, we can see more recent fence posts and part of what might have been an old treehouse made of a shipping pallet. Not being from the area, I don’t know just how old this tree might be. If it is more than 110 years old, it might be from the same time period as the Askew homestead.

A view of the driveway north to the main road. This driveway would have been parallel to and very near the Red River Trail, which passed through the Askew homestead (see this earlier post for a tidbit about the Red River Trail and Askews).

Looking from the ruins northeast across the gently rolling farmland, I gained an appreciation for how large an 80 acre farm is, when working the land without modern machinery.

Here’s a 360 degree panorama of the land surrounding the Askew homestead, taken several yards south of the ruins of the main house:

We followed the boundaries of the property (now marked by a wood and wire fence), and at the northeast corner, we found a single large stone. This was the first stone we had seen that day on the Askew property. It’s impossible to know just when this stone was placed here, but it’s tempting to think this may have been the earliest marker of the corner of the property, placed here by the surveyor or the Askews long before the current fence was built.

The southeast corner of the homestead was marked by another large tree, one that appeared to be about the same age as the one adjacent to the ruins of the buildings.

Looking through the fallen branches and tall grass, I found another large, single stone.

When I removed the obscuring vegetation, I saw that it was slightly larger than the previous stone, but just as anomalous in what had so far proven to be a stone-free property.

As I walked along to the southwestern corner of the homestead, I found another boundary tree and several smaller stones. One of these “stones” was actually an old, hollow concrete object that appeared to be something like a chimney flue. It was too large, heavy, and well-buried in frozen soil (it was 14° on this day) for me to remove and examine it.

So there you have it. There’s nothing conclusive, but there is some strong evidence—in the form of large timbers, hand-forged nails, and early glass- and ceramic-littered foundations—which indicates that part of the former buildings were built in the late 1800s, when Joseph Askew and family built the buildings on their homestead.

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