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Simmons Stable receives grant as historic ‘district’

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from The Mexico (MO) Ledger.

by Jami Hunt-Williams

Ledger Staff Writer

October 28, 2005

Bobette Balser Wilson did not want to appear overly confident at the prospect of her pet project, the Simmons Stable Preservation Fund, being awarded a Save America's Treasures (SAT) grant.

With First Lady Laura Bush as the honorary chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a high profile grant such as the SAT seemed to
Wilson to be a long shot - until she got a promising phone call.

"The woman who was working on the grant for us, Becky Snider, called me and asked if there was information and history available on all of the buildings surrounding the stable,"
Wilson explained. Wilson sent all the information she could gather concerning the stable, the maternity barn, the blacksmith shop, the Hook barn and the house. "She told me that all of the buildings met the guidelines to be considered as a district."

That made Simmons Stable unique and that uniqueness began to work on the mind of
Wilson and others who have worked for years to ensure the stable and surrounding buildings would be preserved as the important part of history they are. "I began to think the fact that it was an entire district might help us," she said. "I don't know of many districts, entire districts that are on the register."

It caught the attention of someone important because the Arthur Simmons' Stables Historic District is the only site in
Missouri that received an SAT grant, to the tune of $250,000.

But that is no reason for
Wilson and others involved in preserving the district to sit back and relax. "It's a matching grant," explained Martin Jones, who along with Wilson, Mary Littrell and Paul Day are just a handful of the people involved in the preservation efforts. "That means we have to raise money to get money."

One of the simplest and most low-maintenance ways for the group to raise funds is through the state government's Neighborhood Assistance Program. The program, also known as a NAP credit, allows any individual who makes a donation of at least $500 to the Simmons Stable Preservation Fund to write off 70 percent of that donation. "It is so important that people understand how this works,"
Wilson emphasized. "For example, if a person gives $1,000 to the fund, then $700 of that can be written off as a tax credit."

The preservation fund can receive a total of $350,000 in NAP credits by August 2007. With an estimated cost of reconditioning the district standing at $1.5 million, the fund will be almost to the halfway point of the expense if all of the NAP credits come through, which would make all of the $250,000 grant monies available, for a total of $600,000.

First priority for the grant money will be stabilizing the frame buildings in preparation for restoration. Work on the stable has already begun and according to the contractor, the stabilization of the main stable is complete.

Manny Burkholder, owner and operator of Ex-Amish Specialties in
Columbia, is the man in charge of stabilization. "We chose him because as a former member of the Amish community, we figured he would have working knowledge of the structure of these buildings," Jones explained.

Burkholder, who left the Amish community years ago, owns the company with his brother, Joe. He began the placement of canvas over the entire stable structure on Thursday. "The stabilization is done," Burkholder explained. "Now we’re putting the canvas up in order to keep it dry so that the stabilization doesn't begin to rot."

Along with the deterioration of the building, those who seek to preserve it fear that as the structure goes, so will the wonderful history surrounding it. "Several presidents bought horses from those stables," Jones said. "President Roosevelt, President Taft, those are just a couple," he said.

And then there are the celebrities, most notably William Shatner known for his role as "Captain Kirk" on the television series Star Trek, who have traveled to
Mexico to purchase Saddlebreds from the best in the nation. "Every horseman in the Saddlebred arena knows Mexico," Jones said.

The stable was also a supplier of horses to major metropolitan areas who relied on horses for their police departments.
New York City and Chicago were just two cities that boasted Simmons Saddlebred horses on their force. Horses and mules from Simmons Stables were also sold to the U.S. government for use during World War I.

According to the nomination information for the National Register, the Arthur Simmons Stables Historic District is one of the oldest, largest and most significant horse training facilities in the U.S. "At the center of the district is the old Clark and Potts Combination Sales Barn constructed in 1887," the form reads. "The 242-foot long stable housed hundreds of champion American Saddlebred horses and was instrumental in the development of the city into the "Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World."

In 1949 Arthur Simmons purchased the old barn and expanded the facility to include two other stables, several support buildings, two training tracks and a private residence.

The residence had
Wilson worried for a brief period of time. "In order to be declared a district, the cutoff date was 1954," she explained, meaning that the house had to be at least 50 years old. "I called John Simmons and asked him what he knew about the house and he told me that his parents built the house in 1951 and moved in shortly thereafter."

has grown accustomed to that kind of drama with the fund's struggle to preserve the historic site. "I've stubbed my toe a million times throughout this process and had to back up and go a different way," she laughed. "But when I received notification that we had definitely gotten the grant, I was floored."

The district is considered to cover approximately six acres and contains eleven resources. Included in the district, according to the National Register, are a large gable-roofed frame horse stable, two smaller frame horse stables, a one-story stone veneer house, two frame outbuildings, two practice tracks, two metal grain bins and a wood fence.

The original stable was built in 1887 and contains 36 stalls. The maternity stable, located to the north of the main stable, was built in 1949 and contains 16 stalls. Two frame outbuildings, both located to the north of the main barn, were once used as a farrier's shop and storage.

The Hook Barn, located to the east of the main barn was originally built for breeder/trainer John T. Hook in the mid-1930s. It contains 30 stalls and was purchased by Arthur Simmons in 1951. Flanking the main barn on the east and west are two practice tracks. These tracks are surrounded by white wood fencing which extends around a yard to the east of the maternity stables and is counted as one contributing structure. The one-story house was built for Arthur Simmons in 1951.

For more information on the NAP credit program or other ways to contribute to the Simmons Stable Preservation Fund, contact treasurer Paul Day at (573) 581-5510.


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