Local business owners are restoring a historic stone barn

Ponca City boasts a long and storied history, but the constant march of time can devastate even the strongest of structures. Such was the fate of the Four Arches Stone Barn at 2101 Lake Road until Russ and Tracy Didlake stepped in with Keller Williams Select.

In 2013, the Didlakes purchased the 120-acre property from a descendant of the Evans family. 40 of the 120 acres, which included the stone barn, were converted into a small business park complex. The Didlakes bought the property to salvage what was now left of the original 2100 square foot barn.

“The lady I bought [the barn] I had to promise her that I would do everything in my power to preserve the barn that was here,” said Russ Didlake. “Everyone knew this barn as the old rock barn. It has always been iconic.”

In 1925, EW Marland planned the construction of a barn-like limestone building on his 1,000 square mile property, then known as “The Refuge”; This square mile was kept by Marland as a sanctuary for game, feeding dove, quail and pheasant. Here limestone would be quarried, cut and trimmed to build his forthcoming mansion a little further north-west.

Limestone was quarried at the northeast end of the Evans’ original homestead. At the quarry was a large 12-foot diamond-embedded pruning saw that ran in the water. This saw blade could cut a stone five and a half inches thick.

The stonemason George Wittmer was the son of John Wittmer, a German immigrant. John moved his family with nine children from Ohio to Kansas and then to Ponca City, settling east of town in the 1900’s. This area is now known as the Wittmer Estates on Lake Road. During this time, George married and moved his family to the Ponca City area.

Marland hired George Wittmer as the lead stonemason for the Marland Estate. He worked hand in hand with architect John Duncan Forsyth to design and lay the stone for all of the original buildings, fences, stairs, walls and walkways on the Marland Estate. George was to run the quarry and oversee the cutting and shaping of the limestone.

When the stone barn building was constructed, Marland instructed the masons to include four arches as a practice for the stone arches that would be needed in the mansion.

When the Didlakes bought the building, it was in a state of disrepair with structural damage and a collapsed roof.

“What was required was extensive work and we decided to tackle it in 2015,” Didlake said.

The Didlakes assembled a team for the renovation including John Weaver, John and Gage Watson of Watson Construction and Richard Winterrowd and Sally Talley of WT Architects. Didlake also discovered a family connection in his team, as the Wittmer family were the ancestors of John and Gage Watson.

“So the relationship of who builds [the barn] and who redesigned it is a very cool story,” Didlake said.

After two years, they were able to repair the barn’s rock structure, even though it didn’t yet have a roof.

“We had to rebuild about 60% of it,” Didlake said. “After that, we let it sit knowing it was in good shape and there was always something we could do later.”

Phase 1 of the project consisted of removing wood from the stables, mapping stones to rebuild the barn’s structure and adding several new stones in addition to the originals. An arched timber construction was built to rebuild the stone arches.

It’s essentially a brand new building set into a rock face.

Once the stone structure was complete, approximately 4 feet of dirt and cement were removed from the building’s surface. To meet Code standards and achieve the 10-foot ceiling the Didlakes desired, they had to dig down and remove the cement and dirt underneath.

Rock was purchased from a local quarry in Kaw City. Didlake designed the layout and Eddie Whitfield completed the rock walls.

“We’ve done everything we can to preserve the look of the original barn,” Didlake said.

The new renovations include many other historical features from the Ponca City area. Didlake bought lanes from the bowling alley that was closed across from the barn. These sheets have been repurposed for use as counter/table tops.

Larger windows were added for light and views of other parts of the building.

The structure is now the home of Keller Williams Select and at 2:00pm on Monday November 14th the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce will have the ribbon cutting for the facilities.

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