Here's how a historic pioneer farm became a classroom for preservation

It's kind of an adventure to get there, but you can still go visit the site.

In 1860, just two years after Minnesota became a state, a family started putting up a house and a couple farm buildings along the river near Shakopee. 

It was a whole lot of work, especially since they quarried the limestone for the buildings themselves. 

When the land was sold more than a century later, those original stone buildings were still (mostly) standing. The wooden ones built in later decades? Already crumbling.

The buyers in that 1979 land sale were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which made the property part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

They tore down the remnants of the wooden buildings. But the agency decided the cluster of old stone ones near the river should be kept around as a kind of time capsule showing Minnesotans how the state's early settlers lived, historic preservation officer James Myster told GoMN.

The problem

Here's the thing: the Fish and Wildlife Service has a ton of knowledge about fish. And also wildlife. But taking care of historic buildings? Not so much. 

So over the years a couple of the old buildings on the site – named the Jabs Farm after one of the previous owners – started really showing their age.

The roof started caving in on the granary. The barn was already crumbling, but more of it kept falling. Only the old one-room farmhouse was holding up well. 

The solution

As they saw the granary and barn falling apart, the Fish and Wildlife folks realized something: their friends over at the National Park Service know all about historic preservation and even have a training center on how to do it. 

A light bulb popped up over somebody's head. And this month three people from that training center headed to Shakopee – two of them specialists in masonry, the other in carpentry.

During their weeklong visit they not only stabilized and restored the Jabs farm, they also showed Fish and Wildlife people how it's done. 

Chad Lawson, who already helps take care of the trails on the refuge, says he feels ready to look after the buildings now, too. 

"Now that we've learned how to match up the historic aspect, I'll be able to come out here and assess what needs to be done maintenance-wise," he told us. 

The Minnesota Valley won't be the only refuge benefiting, though. 

Just like the Jabs farm, historic buildings are scattered on wildlife refuges around the country. So the Fish and Wildlife Service had a handful of staffers from other regions of the U.S. come to Shakopee to get in on the lesson from the experts. 

'Not trying to make it a Disney thing'

Of the three stone buildings on the Jabs Farm, the barn was the one that was really falling down. And after 150 years it's entitled to do that. 

So the preservationists didn't try to rebuild it. Instead they focused on stabilizing the ruins, James Myster explained. 

That means shoring things up so the barn won't completely fall apart. It also means making sure people who want to see the old building can get near it without rocks falling on their head.

Look closely and even novices like us can see where repairs were made. But that's on purpose. In historic preservation work, Myster says, you actually want to be able to see where the modern fix-ups are.

"We don't want to bring it back to where you can't tell the difference between old and new – because that's sort of disingenuous," he says. "We're not trying to make a Disney thing or make it exactly the way it was. We want you to see how it is today and see what we've done to it."

Little is known about the builders

While it's known as the Jabs Farm today, the Jabs family were not the original owners. 

Actually the original owners of the site were a Wahpeton Dakota band. As new Americans moved west, though, the tribe signed an 1851 treaty giving up the land. 

After a couple false starts by other settlers during the 1850s, the Riedel family bought the site in 1860 and constructed the farm buildings over the next 20 years. 

Myster says the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't know much about the Riedels and wants to hear from anyone who can fill in their story.

How to visit

The Jabs Farm is in a part of the refuge known as the Louisville Swamp. 

There's a map of the whole refuge here and you can see the Louisville Swamp trails here. You can drive to the refuge, but once you're there you'll have to park your car and hike to it on foot.

It's more than a mile down a path called the Mazomani Trail, which Myster says is named after a chief of the Dakota village that used to be there.

One other thing to know: after rains the trail is sometimes closed because the Louisville Swamp area is ... kind of swampy.

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