The Barn at Kill Creek Farm began as a glimmer of promise for promoting and celebrating community.
Perched on 30 acres at the northwest corner of K-10 highway and Kill Creek Road in Johnson County, the farm has been owned and operated by the Zimmerman family since 1949.
The Zimmermans have shared Kill Creek Farm with the public since 1994, when the first Harvest Festival brought families together around locally grown pumpkins, honey, and farm goods. The festival was so popular that it became an annual tradition.
What the place needed was a barn.
Owner Darrel Zimmerman placed a simple ad in the De Soto Explorer: “WANTED TO BUY: A repairable timber frame barn, large posts and beams joined with wooden pegs … to relocate to a historic farm site in De Soto, Ks.” (You see, preserving old barns is part of our legacy—it’s the farm’s mission to “maintain the rural heritage of Johnson County.”)
As he’s been known to do, Darrel struck up a conversation with the owner of the Earnest Waitzmann barn just seven miles south, and immediately formed a personal connection. The family let him have their old barn for free.
The 39- by 58-foot timber frame barn—originally constructed in the 1880’s by the White family—featured 150 oak pegs that held the mortise and tenon joinery together. Amish tradesmen from Jamesport, Mo., disassembled the structure and moved it, in pieces, to Kill Creek Farm.
Darrel and a crew of local volunteers reconstructed the barn in just four-and-a-half months. It quickly became a focal point for the farm, and a landmark for the people of De Soto. In 2002, the White/Waitzmann barn was the recipient of a Kansas Preservation Bronze Medal for the efforts of the group of locals who loved old barns and sought to preserve that heritage.
It soon became apparent that the red-and-white barn was to become more than a place to store straw and sell pumpkins. One of the first public events to be held at the barn was a dedication dinner for those in the community that had so willingly given their labor to restore it. One of the stated goals at the time was to make sure that the barn would be a place of shelter, a place of learning, and a place of joyful gatherings.
And so, joyful gatherings commenced!
Couples have said their “I do’s” at the barn since the early 2000s, and weddings have become a regular part of the farm, along with other celebratory events. The Barn also became known as the site for the Fresh Promises Farmer’s Market, featuring only fresh foods, flowers, and fibers, all locally grown. This, too, was a way to bring people together in community.
But all of this community activity came to sudden halt in the night of May 12, 2010.
Around 11:20 p.m., high winds traveling in a northeasterly direction hit the area around K-10 highway and Kill Creek Road. Dee Mandich, Zimmerman’s daughter, was at the farmhouse next to the barn when the winds hit. “The whole house was shaking,” she said. “It sounded like the end of the world.” She and her husband ran into the basement to take shelter.
After the storm passed, Mandich looked out the window to see trees down, but no real damage to the house. But something was off. She grabbed a flashlight and went outside. “There was something different out there,” she said. “When I looked out … there was no barn.”
The true extent of the damage wasn’t known until the sun came out Thursday morning. That’s when the family fully grasped how much they had lost. As Darrel inspected the land surrounding the barn, he saw trees along the valley southwest of the barn completely uprooted and a clear path of destruction heading northeast of the barn.
He is almost certain it was a tornado that had come through the area, although he didn’t hear any sirens. “I just heard this screaming wind,” he said. “I turned on the TV to check the weather, but I didn’t see anything.” Mandich began calling people who had reserved the barn for a special occasion to inform them what had happened. The barn had been rented each weekend for the next nine weeks for weddings, reunions, and graduation parties.
Throughout the day, a steady stream of people from the community stopped by to survey the damage, check on the family, and see if there was anything they could do. A sign-up sheet was started for people wanting to help in the cleanup and possible restoration of the barn.
Darrel, who was of retirement age, could’ve easily taken the insurance money and staged a nice, comfortable retirement. But the community had given so much to him that he just had to give back.
“There’s been enough support in the past for what we do and enough encouragement that we will move forward and search for a similar structure that we can put back on this foundation,” he said in 2010. “It will never be exactly the same, but I would like to come back with a structure that was similar to it.”
Soon the family determined that a new event barn would serve the community well, and Darrel made sure the timber frame could be constructed in a similar manner to the previous barn. To this day there are no metal screws or nails in the timber framing of the barn—it maintains a wood peg construction with mortise and tenon joints.
True to form, Darrel and his wife Ruth Zimmerman made sure that Kill Creek Farm would be enjoyed by those all around the region for years to come.
The couple secured a 99-year lease for the land the barn sits on so that the community icon will be around for generations.
Guests who rent the barn today help to pay it forward. Set up as a nonprofit organization, the Barn at Kill Creek Farm Association uses rental fees to offset the cost of using the barn for civic groups, church groups, and other nonprofits—encouraging the community to continue to use the barn as “a place of joyful gatherings.”
Come and help us continue building a legacy … at The Barn at Kill Creek Farm.
In 2002, the Barn at Kill Creek Farm was the recipient of a Kansas Preservation Bronze Medal for the efforts of the group of locals who loved old barns and sought to preserve that heritage.