The official photographer of an old dairy barn planned for demolition to make room for the construction of an office building on the Parkland Health Center (PHC) campus has made an archeological find that appears to indicate an earlier date for the first settlement of what later became the city of Farmington.
Dr. Ryan Johnston, D.C., 42, spoke about his recent historical discovery, which began on that former farm on Liberty Street, when he served as a guest speaker at the Farmington Regional Chamber’s business and community luncheon held last month at Centene Center.
In her introduction of Johnston, Chamber Executive Director Candy Hente said, “He came to a city council meeting recently that I attended and was talking about some new archeological finds that he found right here in St. Francois County, and he’s been doing some additional work in history here.
“You may recall the Harrington Barn was dismantled through Parkland Health Center, and Dr. Johnston took the pictures of that, and they were shared at the library. He’s also written a book on the history of Farmington that is currently in the genealogical room at the library called “The History of Farmington.”
Johnston thanked the chamber membership for their interest in his discovery and added that he doesn’t normally speak about history.
“A little about me, I’m a Farmington High School kid. I graduated from Farmington High School in 1999. On my way to chiropractic school, I stopped through Mineral Area College, doing some prerequisites. As in training now, it’s what I do, I’m a chiropractor. I don’t have a practice open right now. I’ve shifted over more to teaching. While I was in my first year of chiropractic school, September 11th happened. I pulled out of chiropractic school to go serve in the military. I did four years in the Air Force, specialized in C-130 heavy equipment airlift, and then used the GI Bill to come back and finish up chiropractic school when I was done with service.
“I met my wife while I was in the military. She had the same job I did. She ruptured a low back disc while we were on our deployment in Iraq, and she’s been my patient ever since. While we were in private practice, after completing chiropractic school, we set up in Hospice, Arkansas, and we were there for about 10 years. While in practice, I developed a patent for a therapy tool that doctors use when they’re doing muscle therapy. And that’s what I do now. I’m teaching and have switched over to that side of things.”
The Harrington Barn
Explaining how he came to take photos of the historical Harrington Barn, Johnston said, “Me and everybody else that went to high school, knows this barn from driving in front of it every day. It had cows in it all the way through until, like, 2019, I believe. When I saw the fence go around the outside of it and then the hospital purchased it, as a doctor, I know they don’t do a lot of farming in hospitals, so it was probably going to change scenery.
“I sent a letter to the administration and asked if I could get in there and take photos of it before whatever was going to happen, happened. And that way, we have the history of it preserved. So, they went ahead and gave me permission, which was great. I didn’t get the police called on me like I would if I was sneaking in to see what it looked like inside, and I get to share it with everybody.”
Admitting to the crowd that his favorite part of the barn was the hayloft, Johnston shared a bit of its history.
“This barn itself was set up for loose hay,” he said, “so, this is pre-tractor kind of farming. The track that runs down the center there is for loading loose hay on hay carts. When they built this barn, they actually expanded it. It was built around the turn of the century, 1900. The hay trowel system was patented in 1903. So, between 1903 and when that farmhouse was built in 1910, is when we believe the barn was built.
“The center part of that hay floor has an opening here you can see in the roof of what is the manger. When they were feeding the animals, they would just take that loose hay, they’d drop it down that chute, and then they would distribute it here. You’d probably have draft mules on one side and dairy cattle on the other. They would feed out of the center manger there, and then they’d have the doors open for whichever pasture they were going to.”
Mr. Harrington was the last to own and operate this barn. He devoted most of his life to running dairy out of that barn. When he bought it, he extended the back third of that dairy barn to facilitate the dairy that he was running out of there. He cared about it enough that his family put the image of that barn on his headstone. His headstone is over east of Bonne Terre. There’s a cemetery out in that direction that their family’s buried in out there.
Johnston explained that there was a farm on the land that predated Harrington’s farm called the Alexander Homestead.
“It started with William Alexander, a Revolutionary War veteran,” he said. “He was in one of the founding cavalries in the country during the Revolutionary War in North Carolina. He was a captain, which put him as a commander of a group of between 100 and 200 people at the time. After the war, he moved out this direction. He lived in [Jefferson] County for just a little bit before moving south to here in 1821. He purchased a 750-acre farm here on the edge of Farmington. Their family are mostly buried in this Alexander Cemetery, which is back behind the old helicopter pad behind the hospital and would have overlooked what was the Alexander Homestead.
“There were several houses involved in that the Alexander family owned this for about five generations before the Harrington family purchased it from that fifth generation. The block in the center, kind of lower left, is a 50-acre mine bottom property that they also purchased at the same time. And the road running through that, is depicted on this map as the Plank Road that would have run from St. Genevieve all the way out to Iron Mountain. During this period, the plank road crossed their property at three points. That is now Columbia Street, basically.”
In examining William Alexander’s will, Johnston found some interesting information.
“The history on him prior to this research was that he died in 1835 to 1840,” he said. “We were able to find his actual will down at the courthouse and read through that. We read how he broke up his entire estate to two different kids. He signed that will on November 18, 1831. During a prolonged sickness, he actually wrote in the doctors as payment when he passed away to liquidate part of his farm and then pay off his bill to the doctors. His son filed that will on February 7th, 1832.
“He was a state senator at the time and probably would not have left that state in question for very long. But the window of his death would have been in that time from November ‘til February of 1832, which is a little earlier than the other sources are quoting him as having died between 1835 and 1840. But based on his own signature and his probate of his will, it’s pretty definitive when he passed away.”
DeLassus Land Grant
According to Johnston, the Alexander farm was bought from the DeLassus family.
“Pierre Charles Dehault DeLassus Deluzieres, Commandant of New Bourbon, was the French equivalent to a knight who was driven out of France during the French Revolution,” he said. “To save his head from the guillotine, he came to what ended up being New Bourbon. He set up shop over there. In exchange for coming to this end of the world — which had not much at the time — he was given several land grants.
“He got the approval from the Spanish government on April 1, 1795, for that land grant. It was given to him by the Commandant of Ste. Genevieve, Francois Valle, on April 15, 1795, and then was surveyed by the famous Surveyor General of Upper Louisiana, Antoine Soulard — that’s the Soulard Market guy. So, Soulard came out here December 14th, 1799, and did the survey of that.”
According to Johnston, Soulard performed around 710 land surveys, as listed in his historic Registered Date Appendage.
“This was one of those historic surveys done,” he said. “These dates were also run through because, at the Louisiana Purchase time, the Congress could have stopped all the land grants from being approved because they were handing them out left and right. So, to determine which ones were legit and which ones were not, Congress got involved, and this didn’t actually get approved until the Supreme Court made their decision in 1835 on the case of Delassus versus the United States and upheld these dates.
“Soulard was like a second son to Mr. DeLassus. He came over with his family down the river to St. Louis. When he did the land survey for the French knight, he was for sure gonna do a good job of it. But when he did these maps, Soulard was notoriously a little off. He wasn’t a surveyor; he was a Navy officer. He just happened to know how to use a compass and a scope, so they stuck him out here.”
Because Soulard’s notes were written in French it was a little bit more difficult for Johnston to translate them so he could find the original starting point of the survey, but he was finally able to figure it out.
“This starting point is out on St. Joe’s State Park property now,” Johnston said. “It is super hard to find, I’ll tell you that, because it is a hike in and a hike out, and you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. It still has the original carving. When he placed it, it would have had the landowner DL’s initial for DeLassus. So, that’s still in place in its original location, surrounded now by a field of wild daffodils that were probably placed there by the DeLassus family because they’re French daffodils that you can’t buy.
“And while we were still exploring that same land grant, we found a second survey stone. This one is a little closer in and is in a high-traffic area, so I won’t tell you exactly where this one is because it’s a little bit riskier and will probably be part of a preservation project with another organization here in town to interpret the significance of that as well. A little over 2,000 acres are now incorporated in city limits from that. That land grant was originally one league square, which is about 6,000 plus acres — so it was a significant, large land grant.”
Johnston discovered that the survey starts at the left corner in the St. Joe’s State Park area, goes down to Doe Run in the lower left, then over to the Farmington Regional Airport in the lower right, and over by Lowe’s at the top right corner.
“It’s a very large land grant with a big chunk of Farmington now incorporated as a part of that,” Johnston said. “And with Farmington’s current date of establishment being 1798, based on the Murphy’s land grant and establishment of that, this land grant actually predates that.
“As the commandant of New Bourbon, he would have placed the Murphys in their settlement adjacent to his land grant to help bolster his land grant’s value as well. This might potentially end up pushing the establishment data Farmington back from 1798 to 1795 with the establishment of this new land grant. It wouldn’t change any of the names of the Murphy settlements or any of that as being a significant part of that, but that’s where things at.”