CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Northwest of Carthage, in a barn well over 100 years old, couples are saying their wedding vows, church families are gathering and kids are having exciting birthday parties.
Bruce and Chris Westwood, who migrated in 2001 from Utah to Southwest Missouri, purchased the 73-acre Civil War Arena ranch property in 2012 and started restoration of the barn, converting it into a rustic events center. The two-story structure that Chris “fell in love with” originally held 16 horse stalls and a huge loft.
It had not been used to house animals in several decades. The barn apparently had been built to last because other than cleaning it out, the Westwoods only had to do a bit of patching, put in some windows and light fixtures, and add a new floor to the loft to make it usable as an event venue. The seating capacity is about 150.
On my visit last week, I was given a friendly and enthusiastic greeting by some cute baby goats and two young blond females of the canine variety — a Great Pyrenees/Labrador mix.
Although the exact date of the original construction is unknown, the Westwoods found a clue in the loft. Several dated signatures ranging from 1894 to 1907 were found (and preserved) on a door leading to a small closetlike structure that housed a pulley. Chris said she is puzzled as to the use of the closet because the hole in the floor was not large enough to pull anything through. “I’ve never been able to find anyone that could tell me what it is,” she said.
The Westwoods also added an upper deck to the back of the barn that overlooks a large pond, well stocked with all kinds of fish. A portion of the barn interior was used for restrooms, and dressing rooms for brides and grooms. There are no cooking facilities, but there is a prep room with a refrigerator and sink for caterers to use.
The Westwoods’ niece, Lena Baron, and her family are current caretakers of the ranch, living in the 1930s house on the property. As my first tour guide, on our way to the barn, she led me past three huge gnarled trees that are easily over a century old. They were beautiful even in their leafless condition.
The one nearest the barn is dubbed the “Wedding Tree,” because it serves as a backdrop for outdoor ceremonies. Around it are the foundation remains of a scale that was used to weigh grains; several artifacts have been found near it.
“It’s so serene and beautiful here,” Baron said. “It’s been really neat to restore it.”
There are outbuildings that Chris said were built later than the barn, but on old stone foundations. A large corn crib next to the barn works as a storage area, and a lean-to on the crib will be used to house a “lending closet” for decorative materials customers might want to use for their events.
It’s a sort of a “pay it forward” philosophy. “They can use anything in there without charge,” Chris said. “We just ask them to leave something when they’re done.”
The ranch actually has two venues. Toward the back of the property is a huge building formerly known as the Civil War Arena where previous owners featured rodeo events, even including bull riding. It has tiered seating and an inside track for go-kart races that are held every other Saturday through April. Chris said competitors come “from all over,” and spectators are welcome.
Eventually, that venue may be turned back to some purpose that again features livestock, Chris said. The main goal now, she said, is to sell the home they currently live in so they can move into their house on the ranch.
Civil War Ranch is closed on Sundays, but the venues may be rented any other day of the week for small or large parties, and for full or half-days. It is a great location for seniors to take their graduation photos. Carriage rides and fireworks displays over the pond may be added for a fee. Rates are posted on the website civilwarranch.com.
The first event was held on July 4 of last year. Since then, there have been dozens of weddings and family reunions. Chris is hoping that despite the severe winter, Mother Nature will bring refreshing rains and warm sun to encourage all the bulbs she has planted to bloom in time for the first wedding of the year, slated for next month.
ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.