The son of German immigrants, Louis Cristof Beisner never went by the name Louis—throughout his life he was always known as Lou or L.C. Therefore this story is in honor of Lou Beisner, a little-known Natoma, Kansas architect and contractor who happened to invent a building concept that would revolutionize all Twentieth Century structural engineering.
Lou Beisner was born on September 29, 1871 in Waverly, Iowa. The son of Henry and Minnie Beisner, he moved with his family in 1879 to a homestead near Laton, Kansas.
There are two stories told by Lou that have been passed down in the Beisner family which give us a glimpse into Lou’s boyhood days.
One story Lou related told that the favorite way to initiate a “greenhorn” to pioneer life was a sport called “snipe hunting’. On the coldest and darkest night possible, the “greenhorn” was given a blanket and taken to a draw or creek bank. He was told to hold the blanket while the rest of the party went up the creek and drove the “snipes” into the blanket. Sometimes the victim would wait for two or three hours before realizing he had been tricked and would stumble back to the house, frightened and freezing, a full-fledged member of pioneer society.
Another story Lou delighted in telling was about an Indian family living nearby with boys about the age of Lou and his brothers. One morning after a light snow, the Indian boys came by and wanted the Beisner boys to go quail hunting. The boys said they couldn’t because they were not allowed to use the gun. The Indians assured them they would not need one; that they would flush the quail, which would then dive into a snowdrift to hide, and by throwing their bodies over the spot they would then reach underneath and grab the quail. Naturally the Beisners couldn’t quite believe this story, but one morning after a light snowfall, Lou took two of the Beisner brothers quail hunting out at the “home place” with the Indians. Soon afterwards, they returned with 23 quail, 12 of them still alive. The Beisners were convinced.
In 1891 Lou left the homestead and moved to Natoma, where for the next four years he and his brother Henry were in the furniture and coffin business. In 1893 they built the first business buildings on Elm Street, Natoma’s principal business street in those days. On July 25, 1895, Lou married Ellen Galer, another child of German immigrants, and the couple would become the proud parents of seven children: Harold, Henry, Louis Jr., Morris, Myrtle, Gladys, and Irene.
Soon after their marriage Lou gave up the furniture business and went into the construction business to which he devoted the rest of his life. Sometime after 1895 Adam H. Pohlman arrived in Natoma and the two went into business together. They remained partners for four years when Lou formed Beisner Construction and went out on his own.
Early in his career Lou conceived a design that he called simply the no-sag roof. The no-sag roof idea redesigned the traditional roof rafters for large buildings by adding more wood and braces to the rafters. These then took up the weight of the roof, rendering the vertical posts or columns, standard design structures up to that time, no longer necessary to hold the roof up. The Mack-Welling lumberyard in Natoma made a blueprint of this design and it was distributed to all associates in the Long-Bell lumberyard chain, and from there eventually to the majority of the lumberyards in the United States. This new concept completely revolutionized structural engineering from that time forward and is now a basic component in all modern architecture.
Over the next 50 years Lou became the senior member of the firm Beisner and Sons, and along with his sons built churches, schools, theaters, and city and farm homes in Osborne, Rooks, Ellis, and Russell Counties, including the Codell, Kansas schoolhouse twice. After the first tornado hit the community of Codell on May 20, 1916, Lou had the new building partly completed when it was destroyed by another tornado on May 20, 1917. The second building withstood a yet third tornado that hit Codell, again on May 20, 1918.
Among the many fine homes and buildings that Lou built were Osborne’s Masonic Hall, the former Covert Grade School, and the architectural landmarks the Koelling House and the United Presbyterian Church, both in Natoma. The large barn on the Orville Pruter farm north of Natoma and the United Presbyterian Church both stand today as excellent examples of Lou’s no-sag roof concept. The church, constructed in 1898, was patterned after a church in Scotland. It is considered to be one of the finest Carpenter Gothic architectural structures in Kansas.
Lou was active in community affairs and later in life enjoyed notoriety as the city’s oldest resident. He attended the Natoma Methodist Church and was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows for 48 years until his death on August 31, 1950 at his home in Natoma.