Posted on 10 October 2014.
The old Stout horse barn, behind Solon Township Hall. Should it be torn down or the roof repaired?
By Vicky Babcock
There is a controversy brewing—a decision to be made, studies to be done, directions to be given. At the heart is the Stout horse barn. Its fate is in your hands.
Tucked away behind the new Solon Township offices, at 15185 Algoma Avenue, the barn is easily forgotten, hacked away by the needs of progress—neglected for lack of funds. Yet, this barn has a story to tell.
Is it a historic presence? If time is a factor in writing history, one could argue that it is not. In the scope of time it is a young relic, dating back only some 30-40 years. But if love, ambition, memories, events and dedication play a part, it is pure gold.
It was somewhere around 1971, when Leon and Billie Stout purchased the old Mactavish farm, the land where the stable now stands. They had raised horses before, but traded country life for the city when daughter, Katherine, was conceived. That all changed when Katherine caught the (horse) fever. At age 9, she began taking riding lessons through 4-H and, through her enthusiasm, the bug spread to the rest of the family. Before long, a 23,000 sq. ft. breeding and conditioning facility, Katherine’s design, was constructed; the Stout Barn was the culmination of a dream.
Built by Standard Lumber, the facility became one of the leading breeders of quarter horses in the area, spawning champions such as Smooth Speed, Smooth Splendor, Comet’s Chip and Liberty Jet Line. The stable became a hub of activity in its heyday, for both horses and horse lovers. It hosted pig roasts and music, 4-H and Mountie training and one memorable auction. There were cattle as well, though these were likely not housed in the stable. And there were visitors from around the world.
Leon did not come late to horses; he grew up with them. He owned his first horse at age nine and he bought and sold horses as a boy. At one time, he even built and owned his own race track, through the combined efforts of a group of friends and a bottle of whiskey, the price for grading the track. The site was the host for the Red Flannel Derby in the late 50’s.
The farm had peacocks at one time, escape artists who wandered to the western edge of the property on a regular basis. The tail of the peacock is another story—ask the barn—it knows. It was there when the prize bull went through two fences to visit the ladies.
That bull, a favorite, was one of the Galloways that the Stouts raised, beginning with 30 head of registered cattle purchased from a neighbor. At auction, that number totaled around 500. The quarter horses, numbering around 65 at one count, were sold off privately for the most part. It was a sad day for the Stout family.
For the barn itself, it was the beginning of an end. No longer in the Stout hands, its new stewards fell behind on its upkeep. Hard times and the economic downturn have taken their toll. For a brief time, it earned its keep as a rental, housing other people’s horses. But it was not enough. With no funds to put back into its upkeep, the Stout Barn, once young and proud, was losing its battle against the elements. Time and apathy became insurmountable barriers—its fate seemed inevitable.
When the property—less than half of what it once was—came up for back taxes, Solon Township picked it up with a new township office in mind. Under the township’s stewardship, the stable and arena has heard the laughter of children once again. Horses—Ford and Chevy, enjoyed respite from the sun’s relentless rays in its vast shadowed interior. Solon Market had its birth there, and continues to use the stable for events today. It has seen a wedding, and it has sheltered a camper and a wagonload of hay. It is available for storage now. And still its roof continues to decay. Without some necessary repair, this chapter of history will end.
Only a barn? Some say so. But listen with your heart and you’ll hear a child’s laugh, the call of a new foal, the gentle wicker of its dam, the challenge of its sire. You may see the vibrancy of a young girl with determination and spunk as she graciously speaks of her passion—and of her champion horse, Big Boy—and of her crown. There is joy here and pain, life and laughter, smiles and tears and memories of a lifetime. There is pride and potential and hope. So much hope.
Vicky Babcock is a resident of Solon Township.
The Stout Horse Barn awaits the Township’s decision to either repair the roof (which the insurance company has agreed to pay for) or to tear it down. The Township needs your direction. Tear it down? Repair the roof and look into viable uses for it? It’s your call. Please come to the next Township meeting on Tuesday, October 14, at 7:30 p.m. and voice your opinion.