The Old Stone Barn, Chokio, MN

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Another Minnesota hidden gem that I’ve had on the radar for the better part of a decade is the ruins of an old stone barn, found on the flat plains of western Minnesota. The barn was built in the early 1900’s and has since fallen into disrepair. It stands on the side of a dirt road, magnificent, deserted, and silent.

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Image Source : Stevens County Historical Society via MNopedia

Frank Schott was a Czech immigrant who came to America from Europe in the late 1800’s and ended up near Black River Falls, WI. He later resettled outside of Chokio, MN (west of Morris), where he homesteaded on the flat prairie.  When his wooden barn was damaged in a windstorm in the 1920’s, he began construction on the stone barn and other concrete outbuildings on the property. The barn originally looked as it did in the above photo, which was taken around 1985.DSC_1304

The barn took almost 20 years to build and was in use until the late 1970’s.  It fell into disrepair after that and has sat empty and abandoned since. The barn features towers on each corners and the architect’s signature etched into one of the columns.  The roof collapsed in the 1990’s, but the concrete interior walls and stone exterior aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Nowadays, the barn is home to some barn swallows and a few stray beer cans litter the floor.

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To find the old ruins of the barn, you must travel west of Morris, between the small farm towns of Chokio and Johnson.  You then go further off the grid, 5 miles down a dirt road which rarely sees much traffic.  Only a couple miles into this stretch you can see the big, imposing barn off in the distance. It’s an amazing sight to see. And unlike the Sinking Barn near Zimmerman, (which recently collapsed), Frank Schott’s Stone Barn will likely stand for many more years to come.

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When I visited on a bright, clear, Saturday in January, the road hardly even appeared to have been plowed and there was not another soul in sight, and I got the feeling I wouldn’t see anyone else anytime soon. It really is that far out there.  And there it will continue to sit, an abandoned fortress on the lonely prairie.

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While in the area:  Morris, MN, is home to some good old signs, homes, and architecture, and tiny Johnson (6 miles away) also has some great abandoned structures.  Otherwise, there isn’t a lot near Chokio.

10 thoughts on “The Old Stone Barn, Chokio, MN

  1. My home was also built by Fran Schott and is made of stone and cement like the barn. It is in the city of Chokio, MN.

  2. I was the last Doctor to see Frank when he still lived in Chokio They moved to southeast MN about2000

  3. Frank Schott was my great grandfather, however he didn’t come to the US in the late 1800’s but instead in the early 1900’s.

    He was born to Joseph and Margaritae Schott in Lestkov, Bohemia (yes, Czechia) but raised in Hagen, Germany. His father and grandfather were stone masons and from them he learned his trade.

    He was drafted into the German Army and felt they were always at war with its neighboring countries and didn’t want to be a soldier. While on leave, he told his family he was going to travel to America. He found his 95 year old grandfather working on a church steeple, who called down to him “wait, we’ll have a beer before you go”. Frank’s mother gave him a spoon to take with him because she thought Americans were all heathens who ate with their fingers only and didn’t use utensils.

    He left Bremen, Germany at the age of 27 on a steamship called “Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm” and took about a week to make it to America. He used a fake name “Han Puchta” and passport, arriving in New York on July 21, 1907. When he arrived in America, he showed the American officials his real passport and paperwork explaining he was an AWOL German soldier. He immediately traveled to Seymour, WI (not Black River Falls) where he worked with his uncles (Mother’s brothers) who ran a blacksmith shop. He stopped in a restaurant in town to eat where he met a young waitress by the name of Sophia Barth (it was her father’s restaurant) . He worked in Seymour, WI for about 2 years.

    Frank and Sophia eloped to Morris, Minnesota where they were married June 25th, 1909. Sophia loved farming, Frank knew nothing about it, he was a stone mason by training and trad, so his neighbors had to teach him to farm. Sophia and Frank rented some land Northwest of Chokio for a couple of years and in 1911, they bought 80 acres of land southwest of Chokio. They had to stay on the rental property while a house was built on their new land. This is where they would raise their family and retire from farming in 1950.

    Frank became a naturalized citizen on March 6th, 1923.

    He built this stone barn with the help of his two young sons, William Schott (my grandfather born in 1910), and Anton “Tony” Schott (Born in 1912).

    Frank began building the barn when William was 13 years old. It is 50′ x 33′ with 18 inch thick concrete walls and took over 20 years to complete because he was a stone mason and was gone so often to other jobs that paid the bills. The stones were all collected from fields and rock piles from neighbors (who were quite glad to be rid of the rocks). Many of the rocks were broken by a stone hammer so only the smoothest edges would show on the outside. Stone masons have the same talent as a diamond cutter when it comes to shaping rocks. Frank knew just were to hit a stone to crack it as he wanted.

    One rock in particular, the large one below the hay loft door, was so heavy it required four draft horses and his Farmall 10-20 tractor to drag it to the construction site and lift it into place using a block and tackle.

    Another special rock is the corner-stone that you can see in the historical society photo. Look directly from the left of the two women and at the base of the closest tower.

    Frank was very particular about the sand he used and would sift the sand to make sure the grains were never larger than a specific size. He and his sons hauled sand from the lake bed of Lake Hattie, located about 9 miles away from the build site. Frank knew when cement slurry was ready by taste, and would adjust its lime content until the balance was just right.

    The ‘towers’ as you described are hollow and part of the ventilation system. There are holes in the base of the towers on the outside you can see in the first 3 photos. Those served a dual purpose of being rain drainage if rain was driven into the ventilation towers and to help facilitate the movement of air up and out of the towers. This was to clean the air in the barn so there was always fresh air for the draft horses that were kept there and because this barn would be otherwise effectively air-tight when the large wooden doors were in place (by design to keep the most amount of heat inside during the winter months).

    There is another feature in this barn that you can not see in the photos: A spiral staircase that winds up to the second floor. The interior walls and staircase are made out of cement. Even the second floor is made out of cement which is supported by iron I-beams that run the length and width of the floor. Iron I-Beams inside the barn (which are covered with cement themselves) help support the interior. The center of the floor is 8″ thick at the center and tapers to 6″ thick on the edges. It is estimated the second floor weighs about 75 tons. ALL the interior cement is smooth and un-cracked yet to this day.

    Now, when Frank decided to retire, he offer the barn to his eldest son, who turned down the offer to buy it as the requirement was the draft horses must be cared for and stay with the barn for a number of years after it was purchased. My grandfather was a farmer but had no interest in the horses, while my grand-uncle loved the huge work horses. Tony purchased the barn and land from Frank and Frank hand-made the cement plaque in the 5th picture. It used to read (before part of it broke away in the late 2000’s) “F. Schott 1923 – Arch. 43 T. Schott – Owner 1943 ”

    This means, Frank began construction of the barn in 1923, Arch mean Architect. The ’43 was to mean when the farm was sold. Anton (Tony) Schott became the Owner in 1943.

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