This Booklet was distributed to commemorate the public opening on April 27, 2013
(Here's the story inside)
From Code Violation to Museum
A history of Gladstone, Missouri's Atkins-Johnson Farm and Big Shoal Cemetery
Compiled by Susan Ratliff
Edited by Chris Cox and Richard King
The pioneers who settled on the eastern edge of Gladstone, Missouri, never would have dreamed that one day their
homestead would become the City's first historical preservation project.
And hardly anyone would have guessed that a museum would result from a building codes violation.
Today- April 27, 2013 - marks the capstone in a labor of love that began in 2004: The public opening
of the rescued and restored Atkins-Johnson Farm and Museum
The property, accessible until recently only from Pleasant Valley Road, had for years fallen in disrepair - foliage and overgrown trees obscured the once-stately two-story house. But even those living there
in early 2004 found the house itself uninhabitable. The Palmer family, which had been renting the property,
called in a codes violation of the property to the City of Gladstone.
Inspection of the property fell to Alan Napoli, Gladstone building official in codes enforcement.
After his inspection, he alerted Assistant City Manager Scott Wingerson about an amazing discovery:
Buried under layers of siding was what Napoli believed to be a log cabin.
Before proceeding any further, the City knew it needed more information on the cabin and the history of the farm.
Susan Richards Johnson and Associates performed the due diligence review and confirmed much of the cabin's history.
The property dates back to a federal land grant awarded to William Allen in 1824 for 240 acres of Clay County land.
It isn't known how much Allen improved the land or how long he stayed. The property changed hands when
John Hightower bought the farm in 1831. Hightower, it is believed, built the log cabin sometime between his purchase and 1834.
In 1834 he sold the property to Jonathan Q and Mary Atkins of Kentucky, which began their family's 70 year ownership.
During the family's tenure, nine children were reared and the cabin was enlarged in the 1850's to its present basic shape.
The Atkinses raised livestock and crops, carded wool, and owned a smithy and wagon-making venture.
They were entrepreneurs in the true sense.
In 1904, Rudolph Schroeder purchased the farm from the Atkins family, and sold it 16 years later
to Mary Johnson; the Johnsons remained on the farm more than 80 years.
Mary and John Johnson reared five children - one of whom, son Emmett, bought them out by 1934 - and they
operated a truck farm and raised livestock. It was during the Johnson family's ownership that the house
was enlarged to its current size and amenities such as electricity, natural gas, and indoor plumbing
were introduced - with plumbing not arriving until the mid-1960s.
Once the farm's history and significance were established and documented, it became paramount for the City to purchase the property to ensure its preservation. But before and deal could be struck with the Johnson family, Gladstone had to seal the house and protect it from vandals; late in 2004, security lighting and fencing was installed and the windows were boarded.
The City Council - which comprised Wayne Beer, Bill Cross, Joe Evans, Carol Rudi, and Les Smith - finalized the purchase of the house, two acres of property and some outbuildings on Feb. 18, 2005. Gladstone was now in the business of preserving history.
A Farm Task Force was formed to determine the best use and presentation of the historic property to the public.
Panel members Tom Atkins, Brian Blake, Vern Drottz, Rosie Forsman, Martha Horton, Charlie Johnson, Dave Reynolds, Brittany Sanders, David and Linda Smith, Gladstone Economic Administrator Melinda Mehaffy and Council Liason Rudi developed a master plan in late 2005 that gave rise to the farm's vision: that by utilizing exhibits, programs, and events, the Atkins-Johnson Farm would be transformed into a vital and vibrant historical and educational venue for future generations.
Among the first steps toward that goal was the property's placement on the National Register of Historic Places
which occurred in November 2007. To protect its investment and improve the structure and its surrounding land, the City replaced the house's leaky roof, shored up the west chimney, restored the integrity of the south porch,
and cleared away years' worth of overgrown brush and trees.
Two things became apparent in 2008. The first was that the exterior of the house, which was in deplorable shape, was in dire need of repair; plans were implemented to start the renovation as soon as funding permitted.
The second was that a core of dedicated volunteers would be necessary to bring the vision of the farm to fruition.
In October 2008, the Friends of the Atkins-Johnson Farm was formed to raise awareness of
the project and funds for the farm's operation. By the end of December, more than 65 volunteers
had become Charter Members, and more than 100 had joined in total.
The year 2009 proved to be pivotal in terms of preservation. The historic Big Shoal Cemetery, carved from land donated by early owners of the farm eventually came to be acquired by the City. The Cemetery, which over its long history had housed a church and a school nearby, had fallen into disrepair and been damaged on numerous occasions - headstones that hadn't been toppled by time were turned over by vandals. When it became apparent that care of the Cemetery wouldn't come from a nearby neighborhood any longer, the City began researching the Cemetery's ownership, which had long been in question.
No ownership could be determined through due diligence review, so the Missouri Attorney General's office
awarded the deed to Gladstone.
Gladstone purchased an additional 20 acres of land surrounding the farmhouse in 2009, along with right-of-way for the eventual realignment of Pleasant Valley Road. The land purchased ensured that the line of sight from the house's front porch to the historic Cemetery would be preserved. With the extra acreage the City now could ensure - between the Cemetery and the farm - proper preservation and protection of the irreplaceable sites: as a result, the Big Shoal Heritage Area was created.
Soon after deeding of Big Shoal Cemetery to the City, rehabilitation started in earnest. A new, historically accurate fence, designed to resemble the few pieces of wrought iron that were left on the Cemetery's perimeter, was installed first.
But righting the toppled headstones would require the help of expert professionals, and in 2010 the City partnered with
SI Memorial of Parsons, Kansas, to lift and reset 12 monuments. To make sure that proper care could be given to the other headstones, Friends of the Atkins-Johnson Farm and City staff were trained to clean, level, and maintain them by a restoration expert. Additionally, the City began determining and documenting all those interred in the Cemetery through the use
of the Internet website Find-A-Grave, the Clay County Archives, and with ground-penetrating radar;
to date, 165 marked and unmarked graves are in Big Shoal.
Exterior restoration of the farmhouse finally began in early 2010. Initial removal of the shingle siding revealed a surprise: clapboard siding of cherry and walnut, probably cut from trees on the farm. the siding was removed and retained, with some being refurbished for use again. But a much bigger surprise awaited - the log cabin, rising one and a-half stories, now stood uncovered for the first time since it was covered over in the 1850s.
The revelation of the cabin presented one of the project's more unique challenges: how to best preserve and protect the logs. After extensive study and photography of the cabin, the logs were specially treated, wrapped in protective material,
insulated and re-covered with historically accurate yet extremely hardy clapboard siding - which returned the house
to it's original, Register accurate appearance.
The farmhouse's windows were removed and repaired to ensure weather-tightness for years to come.
(In 2012 they would be specially coated with ultraviolet light protection film to eliminate damage to exhibits within the house.) And for the first time in its long history, the house received a highly efficient climate-control system, powered by
four 200-foot deep geothermal wells. Installation of the new system proved challenging in itself,
with at least 112-inch-thick interior timber being cut to accommodate the new duct work.
Special care was given to the two chimneys during the exterior renovation as well. The structures had pulled away from the house over the ensuing years and needed to be straightened and stabilized. Special care was taken to install new bases and anchors for support; once back in line they were tuck-pointed and sealed against the elements.
Capping the exterior renovation was the addition of sidelights-windowed panels - on either side of the front door, which were part of the house's appearance during much of the Johnson's ownership. Each step of the exterior restoration carefully adhered to standards required by the home's listing on the National Register.
In September 2010 a new driveway from Antioch Road - to improve access to the property - and a parking lot were added. Restrooms for the public were added in fall 2012, and they were designed to resemble the chicken coops that once dotted the property. A new walkway from the parking lot to the house also was installed, as well as specially designed railings for the front porch and a ramp for wheelchairs and walkers - making the house accessible to all.
In June 2012 the City hired Erica White to serve as museum manager at the farm, bringing a much needed full-time staff member to the project. Among her first duties was to help oversee the restoration of the farmhouse's interior. Work included stabilization of the second story, removal of a bathroom in one of the downstairs rooms, installation of new lighting, building of a replacement fireplace mantle and renovation and painting of all the walls. The project was finished in October 2012
and various areas were prepared for exhibits: The museum's permanent displays will be housed in the Living Room;
a static display will stay in the Dining Room, which reflects styling between 1900 and 1910;
rotating exhibits will occupy the Parlor; and a gift shop will be placed in the Kitchen.
Part of the Living Room's permanent exhibit - and sure to be considered the house's "wow factor" - is a specially designed
truth window: a cutaway view of the interior cabin logs. These logs, unlike those described earlier, are not covered
with insulation or protective wrap but are revealed in their rough-hewn glory. Another truth window panel shows the
layers of wallpaper as they existed on the Living Room's interior.
This year - 2013 - holds further improvements to the Big Shoal Heritage Area. A walking trail between the farm and cemetery will be built, with special signage along the pathway explaining the area's history and significance. And Big Shoal Cemetery is getting it's own facelift: special signs detailing the history of the site and it's interred, benches and kiosks have been added,
and a doorway to the Big Shoal Primitive Baptist Church - it's foundation still present from construction in the 1820s -
is being erected near the location where it stood for years.
"This preservation project has provided the community and those who visit a glimpse of the past and where the people who settled this area came from," said Rudi, president of the Friend of the Atkins-Johnson Farm at the museum's opening. "It also provides the ability to learn how this history can help us shape the future"