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Mark Twain National Forest officials want ways to preserve historic sites
Mark Twain National Forest officials want ways to preserve historic sites

National Forest Service officials want to find a way to preserve the historic Forner house and other Missouri properties.
BROWNFIELD/SLABTOWN, Mo. (Dec. 17, 2009) — Want a house that’s about a hundred years old, hasn’t been maintained for years, has partially collapsed, but is eligible for historic designation on the National Register of Historic Places?

If so, personnel at the National Forest Service want to hear from you.

On Monday, Charlotte Wiggins from the Mark Twain National Forest administrative office in Rolla announced that her agency is seeking proposals to redevelop five properties, including what’s known as the “Forner property” in far southwest Pulaski County near the Laclede County line and the “Kofahl Farmstead” between Big Piney and Slabtown just south of the Pulaski County line in Texas County. Both are eligible for a number of historic preservation tax credits and grants which, according to Forest Service officials, “can reduce restoration costs.”

None of the other properties are in the immediate area.

National Forest Service personnel are searching for someone who is willing to use private funds to preserve or restore the historic properties and would receive a special license for use, but they’re not available for sale. The Forner property includes a 1920s-era home and various outbuildings that have fallen into serious disrepair since they were sold by family owners to the National Forest Service in 1998. The Kofahl farmstead is described as a “rare and unique example of early farm life in the Ozarks” with a dwelling, four barns and one crib “built with whole hand-hewn logs,” as well as five additional outbuildings and minor structures. The barns and crib, and possibly some parts of the house, were built in the late 1800s but most of the residence were probably built in the early- to mid-1900s, according to the National Forest Service, which acquired the property in 1980 from previous family owners.

“(Forest Service officials) will consider issuing a special use permit to the partner who provides alternative uses that most preserve and rehabilitate the properties while maintaining their historic integrity,” Wiggins wrote. “While full retention of historic fabric and complete in-kind restoration is preferable, Mark Twain National Forest will consider all reasonable proposals including partial restoration, relocation, stabilization and material salvage. Potential partners must present a creative vision for the proposed use, have a track record of creating and managing successful alternative use projects, and have a history of timely project completion. All proposals from qualified private development companies, nonprofit groups and individual developers will be considered.”

The proposal deadline is Feb. 15, according to Wiggins.

Buildings on both properties suffer from significant deferred maintenance, rodent infestations, and structural problems, and are considered unsafe to enter in their present condition. That’s a common problem with historic buildings on National Forest Service property, according to the requests for proposals for private alternatives to demolition.

“National Forest lands are home to many of the nation’s historically significant buildings. However, since historic preservation is not one of the U.S. Forest Service’s primary missions, cultural resource managers struggle to secure funding necessary to maintain these resources,” according to the proposal. “With most agency funding devoted to fire and fuels management, recreation development, and timber management, appropriated budgets rarely fulfill historic preservation needs. In turn, historic buildings suffer from the effects of deferred maintenance and often become costly liabilities and safety concerns. In the absence of historic preservation funds, Forest Service cultural resource managers are often forced to demolish buildings that become health and safety hazards.”

The two properties share a similarly dilapidated condition and picturesque scenery near rivers, but are otherwise quite different.

The Forner property is on a ridgetop overlooking the Gasconade River “and features an expansive view of the valley to the north and east,” according to National Forest Service officials, and while “past cultivation and landscape improvement can be observed throughout the property, the land is quickly reverting to its natural state.” The two-story Forner house is the primary surviving structure on that property; it has a side-gabled rectangular construction, a hall and parlor design, and a central staircase leading to the second floor of the 36-foot by 16-foot main house. A smaller kitchen addition has since collapsed.

“The house is in a serious state of disrepair from years of weathering, deferred maintenance, and vandalism. It suffers from interior and exterior rot and rodent infestation. However, some of its original lines and proportions along with architectural detailing remain visible,” according to the National Forest Service proposal.

The Kofahl farmstead is just southwest of the Big Piney River and has a variety of buildings, but according to the National Forest Service, none of the buildings are currently usable for any practical purpose other than storage.

“Several buildings, including the house, are structurally unsound and need immediate, total restoration to avoid collapse,” according to the Forest Service document. “The only structurally sound resources remaining on the property include three of the four barns and perhaps the garage and cold storage buildings. All the buildings at the farmstead suffer from deferred maintenance … the house is in a severe state of disrepair and, due to poor structural integrity and rodent infestation, is not safe to enter.”

Unlike the Forner property where the house is the main historic structure, the Kofahl house has been extensively remodeled over the years and four log barns known as Log Barn, Double Saddle Barn, Big Barn, and North Barn are considered to be the most historically significant structures. The Big Barn is approximately 45 feet by 45 feet, while the remaining three barns are each 30 feet by 15 feet; all four have load‐bearing walls constructed of square hand‐hewn logs.

According to the National Forest Service, converting the farmstead into an economically viable use will be challenging but not impossible.

“Due to the site’s close proximity to popular recreation areas, it is possible that the buildings could serve recreation visitors from both local and distant markets. Furthermore, because of its uniqueness and historical significance, the farmstead presents a possible interpretive opportunity as a special interest area,” according to the Forest Service Report. “A viable and appropriate business scenario could include offering outdoor recreation activities and lodging related to available recreation such as canoe rentals and launching, temporary horse boarding for recreational riders, hiking, outdoor guiding, bed and breakfast accommodations, and historical interpretation.”

Additional information on both properties is available on the Mark Twain National Forest website at http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/marktwain/projects/.

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