CHARLESTON -- An old red barn turned out to be "something very significant" and could help a local historic site with something on its wish list "since day one."

The group that oversees the Five Mile House southeast of Charleston wants to raise money to move the 137-year-old barn to the site.

Once it's there, the barn could be the location of a replica blacksmith shop. A blacksmith did work at the location years ago so having that represented has been a goal "since day one," said Tom Vance, president of the Five Mile House Foundation.

The barn would serve another purpose, as well, as there's really no place for exhibits or storage at the Five Mile House now, Vance added.

"It would increase our educational opportunities," he said. "It could act somewhat as a visitors center."

The foundation has worked for several years to renovate and improve the Five Mile House site, thought to be the location of the oldest structure in Coles County, and its grounds. The original structure at the site was built in 1840.

The house's name comes from its location at the intersection of Illinois Route 130 and Westfield Road, about five miles southeast of Charleston. Through much of its history, the location served as a stopping point for people traveling through the area.

Vance said the foundation considered other buildings for the site but they were the wrong size or the wrong configuration. The group was close to deciding to construct a new building when someone suggested the barn, he said.

Though money will be needed to move the barn, obtaining it is another matter. Vance said current owner Dallas Nichols is willing to donate it for the effort.

The barn was built in 1880 and is located about three miles east of the Five Mile House, also along Westfield Road. Vance noted that its unusual configuration includes "scissored" or crossing rafters in its roof.

It was built by a local farmer named Commodore Perry Davis. "Commodore" was his actual first name, not a title, and he came to the area in 1829 and farmed all his life.

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"It turned out to be something very significant," Vance said of the barn.

Trillium Dell Timberworks, located in Knoxville near Peoria, does restoration work across the country and specializes in disassembling old barns and reusing the lumber.

Vance said the company indicated it could relocate the barn and reconfigure it to fit in the northeast corner of the Five Mile House lot. He said the work would also address some areas where the barn's deteriorated.

A rough estimate of the cost of the project is around $150,000 but a firmer figure hasn't been determined yet, Vance said.

He said the foundation will look at possible grant funding and conduct a fundraising campaign through the summer and fall. If it goes well, the barn could be in place at the site by late this year, he added.

The foundation's annual newsletter is scheduled to be sent out at the first of the month and will include requests for and information about donating, Vance said.

There's also a donation link on the foundation's website, www.fivemilehouse.org, and Vance said they can also be mailed to the foundation at P.O. Box 114, Charleston, IL 61920.

Meanwhile, the foundation is also gearing up for the site's annual open house schedule. It starts with an event on May 28 that features demonstration on cooking practices of Civil War soldiers.

The open houses will feature a variety of demonstrations and activities throughout the summer, foundation member Dick Hummel said.

"The whole point is to encourage interest in local history," he said.

The open houses are scheduled for every other Sunday from May 28 to Aug. 29 with the site's annual fall festival set for Oct. 9.

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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