This beautiful structure, built by settler John Carter Dickinson and family before the Civil War, has stood southeast of Robinson, Kansas, for a century and a half. Today it is of interest to photographers, artists, sightseers, and lovers of the history of frontier life on the Plains.
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John Dickinson was born in Lee County, Virginia on February 15, 1803, and died at Robinson, Kansas, in 1880. He is buried in the Robinson cemetery.
John was first married to Rebeca Pitman (1800-1828) in Virginia. One son was born to this marriage, John Carter Dickinson (1826-1893). John’s second marriage was in 1829 to Lavina Nottingham (1813-1882), born in Virginia. She was a descendant of Lord Nottingham of England. She is also buried in the Robinson cemetery. John and Lavina had eleven children together, six boys and five girls, all born in Lee County, Virginia: James Kerr Dickinson (b. 1829), Samuel Patton Dickinson (b. 1832), William Boyd Dickinson (b. 1835), Martin Brownlow Dickinson (b. 1837), Rebecca Ann Dickinson* (b. 1838), Susan Cox (b. 1840), Selecta Arlena Dickinson (b. 1845), Louisa Matilda Dickinson (b. 1846), Virginia Elizabeth Dickinson (b. 1847), Daniel Dickinson (b. 1849), and Benjamin Franklin Dickinson (b. 1852).
During the early 1850’s, with rumors of a Civil War spreading and the opening of new land in Kansas, John and Lavina decided to move their family. Land was being offered for a dollar an acre and each family was allowed a thousand acres of land, most of which was in prairie grass. They traveled by oxen and wagon into Kansas and located a half-mile south and three miles east of Robinson, where they built and lived in a sod house, which was located across the road from the present stone barn. They taught school in the winter at a prairie school to help pay for the land. John and his older sons decided to try and raise wheat and oats. To do this they would need a place to store the grain and hay for the cattle. They decided to build a stone barn.
They located river rock near Atchison and hauled it home by wagon. Then they put it together with mortar. The walls are two feet thick and the beams came from timber nearby. It was hand hewed and joined with wooden pegs. The lower level was used for horses and mules. The second level was used for grain and hay, and the third level was used to store ears of corn for seed for next year. The bins in the second level have vertical ventilation slits for the grain storage.
Later a large T-shaped house was built for the family and completed before 1861, the year of the Civil War. One son enlisted in the Confederate army and one went to the Union army. They both returned home after that war was over.
John and Lavina continued to live on this place and both died there and were buried in the Robinson cemetery. The farm remained in the possession of their descendants until 1979. The barn still stands as a monument of the work of John Dickinson and his sons. Construction began in 1852 and was completed in 1861. The barn is 46’ by 30’.
Since 1979 the Tietjens’ family has owned the farm. They have done substantial work on the farm with drainage tile and also keeping the old rock barn in repair. A new roof was put on in 1981. In the late 1980’s a tornado removed most of the west side of the roof.
On the east side of the barn, a dirt ramp once came up to the bottom of the sliding doors so horses could pull wagons right up into the second floor of the barn, bringing hay and grain to be stored and fed to the livestock, who were on the ground level. The ramp had to be removed because it was putting pressure on the barn wall, causing the wall to bow inward. Also the dirt was keeping the mortar damp, causing damage to the wall which can be seen on the lower level inside the barn’s east wall.
Thanks to Matt Tietjens for his historical research.
* Thanks also to Shana Callan, great granddaughter of Rebecca Ann Dickinson Mills, for additional genealogical information.