Saving Oklahoma’s Prairie Cathedral

Driving along Highway 177 in north-central Oklahoma, your eyes wander across seemingly endless stretches of open prairie and sky. So it may come as a surprise when they fall upon an oversized barn made of rock. You can perceive the outline of this local landmark miles before you actually confront it; and when you finally do, you’re met with walls 55 feet high, expertly cut and mortised of local sandstone, with two of the stones cut in heart and diamond shapes—more the makings of a cathedral than a barn. The space inside the barn is lofty—capable of holding up to 60,000 bales of hay—with pine and hemlock-fir trusses that make up its intricate, arching skeleton.  It’s the largest free-standing rock barn in the state, and possibly the world.

Deconstructed, the barn contains enough lumber to stretch for 9 miles, and enough stone to build some authentic looking mountain cabins. These facts did not go unnoticed by the barn’s owners, who saw more profit in knocking it down than letting it remain on the 66.8 acres of grassland it had stood on since 1941, when it was built by a banker named Richard Schultz. Unless, of course, there was a way they could make a profit by selling it.

Determined to preserve the historic site, Bret A. Carter and members of Preservation Oklahoma teamed up to, in Carter’s words, act as a “gratis Realtor for the owners.” In an entry for PreservationNation’s blog, Carter recounts how he and his team “fielded phone calls from eccentric Californians, and waded through the high grass and weeds to show the building to anyone interested” in an effort to ensure that the barn, deemed eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, would continue on as Oklahoma’s own prairie cathedral. The team also received help from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s BARN AGAIN! program, which promotes the use of historic barns and agricultural buildings in modern farming practices.

Though not involved in the final sale of the barn and the surrounding property, Preservation Oklahoma received word from the owners that their efforts had not been in vain. In the informational packet that Carter and his team composed for prospective buyers, they imagined varied futures for the barn. Proposed uses included a venue for equestrian training and boarding, a resort, an entertainment center, a hunting lodge, or even a church organization. But Carter gratefully maintains that from all appearances, the barn will continue to serve its original purpose.   

Location:  Highway 177, Red Rock, Oklahoma

Photo: Courtesy of Inter-Mountain Funding