Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I went to Alert Indiana and found a round barn--and a state bank.

Alert, Indiana, sits at a lonely crossroads in the southwestern corner of Decatur County.  There's very little reason to visit.  Once you find, it you can see why not many people live there. My father, who has lived all his 82 years in the county and now spends a good portion of his time with my mother on daily "country drives," says it's been 60 years since he last drove through Alert.  We drove there yesterday to look for a building shown in the 1882 Atlas of Decatur County.

Alert was important enough to merit its own map in that Atlas (that's it above).  In 1882, it was a town of about 100 souls (probably triple the number who currently call it home), the second largest in Jackson Township after Sardinia, which had twice as many residents. The town had one local merchant, J. W. Spears, who was also Alert's biggest  landholder and a breeder and purveyor of fancy chickens.  Spears' general store, shown in the 1882 lithograph below, no longer stands. Though his house appears to still be the one that's falling down in the spot shown on the lithograph.
The location of the former Spears store is now occupied by a Masonic lodge constructed in the 1920s when the town still had enough residents to populate Alert Lodge #395. Sadly the lodge building has been worked over extensively and badly in the years since it membership died off or left town.

But there are a couple of buildings in Alert that are cool enough to justify the drive there. 

The first is a round barn right at the edge of town (of course the edge of town is only four buildings from the center of town).  Sitting on a rusticated concrete block foundation this barn must date to around 1910.  It's horizontal siding could use a coat of paint but look at those great 9-light windows, not to mention the fabulous cupola on top. Its original owner must have been proud of the state-of-the-art choice he made when he opted for an innovative cutting-edge round barn. Perhaps he was sold on the idea by Benton Steele, Indiana's renowned round-barn designer/builder/promoter. In 2011, the shiny new standing-seam metal roof is a happy sign that someone feels proud of this beauty again.

A round barn was a representation of modernity and innovation in agriculture. Just a couple of doors north of this barn is Alert's other interesting building. On the main street of this town centered on one rural intersection, this bank building was a built environment metaphor for growth and potential when it was constructed around 1900.  The limestone frieze in the bank's brick facade announces it the "Alert State Bank."

Nowadays,  the Alert State Bank is someone's house--a nice reuse of the town's fanciest remaining building---aside from the round barn, that is. 

In this tiny corner of Decatur County, Indiana, be Alert, there's interesting stuff in unexpected places.