PERU, Ind. — Historic barns that a man once known as “The Lion King” built in northern Indiana to house circus animals are set for demolition this spring once crews salvage artifacts from them.
The Indiana Department of Transportation recently began delivering demolition equipment to the former site of the Terrell Jacobs Circus Winter Quarters. The agency said two deteriorating barns and five other buildings must come down because they pose a public danger.
But crews will work with the International Circus Hall of Fame to salvage and preserve historic items from the decrepit buildings, which sit along U.S. 31 near Peru about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Indianapolis, said INDOT spokesman Hunter Petroviak.
“We recognize the history of these structures and are doing our part to preserve what history we can by working with the Circus Hall of Fame to remove items that can be saved from the buildings,” he told the Kokomo Tribune in an email.
INDOT has already reconstructed a large historic circus banner recovered from the property, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. It has also financed roof repairs to the Circus Hall of Fame and Circus City Festival building in Peru.
That funding was part of a mitigation process that is triggered when taxpayer dollars are used to demolish a historic property.
During the $332,000 demolition, which should be finished by June, all of the structures at the site will be razed except for a slaughterhouse.
The barns were once the winter home of elephants, tigers, leopards, monkeys and other animals featured in thousands of national circus shows. But they are collapsing after sitting unused for decades.
The property’s history dates to 1939, when Terrell Jacobs, a famed wild-animal trainer known as “The Lion King,” initially built a barn to house the “strange beasts” he had collected, including tigers, lions and leopards, according to a 1941 Peru Republican article.
Jacobs later erected other buildings at the site, including a barn to house and train elephants, living quarters for his circus staff and a slaughterhouse to provide meat for his big cats.
The state first reported plans to tear down the buildings in 2018, after the property owners agreed to sell the land to INDOT for an effort to improve U.S. 31′s safety by limiting driveway access points.