PERU — The Indiana Department of Transportation has launched a three-month project to demolish the historic circus barns along U.S. 31, while salvaging as many artifacts from the buildings as possible.
INDOT this week began delivering equipment to the site that formerly housed the Terrell Jacobs Circus Winter Quarters, located on the east side of U.S. 31 near the intersection of Indiana 218 West.
The state first reported plans to tear down the buildings in 2018, after the property owners agreed to sell the land to INDOT as part of an initiative to improve safety on U.S. 31 by limiting driveway access points.
Now, it’s the beginning of the end of one of the most unique pieces of circus history in the country that highlights Peru’s deep connection to the big top.
The history of the property dates back to 1939, when Terrell Jacobs bought the land and built a barn to house the “strange beasts” he had collected, including tigers, lions and leopards, according to an article published in 1941 in the Peru Republican.
By that time, Jacobs was known around the world as “The Lion King” and considered the greatest wild-animal trainer of all time by the circus community.
Jacobs later built another barn on his Miami County land to house and train elephants, along with living quarters for his circus staff and a slaughterhouse to provide meat for his cats. The barns also housed hippos and monkeys.
However, over the years, the barns that played a unique behind-the-scenes role in thousands of national circus shows became unused and idle for more than 30 years and eventually began to collapse.
The property was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 2012 after Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit that seeks to protect unique and historically significant properties, placed the Terrell Jacobs barns on its 10 most endangered landmarks list.
INDOT said the buildings now pose a risk to the public. All the structures will be demolished except the slaughter house at the back of the property. The project will cost $332,000.
But not all the history will be lost.
Hunter Petroviak, public relations director for INDOT’s northeast district, said the state will work the with International Circus Hall of Fame through April to preserve and salvage as many historical items as possible.
“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 said in an email.
INDOT has also reconstructed a large historic circus banner recovered from the property and provided funding for roof repairs to the Circus Hall of Fame and Circus City Festival building in Peru. The funding was part of a mitigation process that’s triggered when taxpayer dollars are used to demolish a historic property.
Petroviak said there are currently no plans to develop the property or construct a road project there.
Work at the site should be done by June. Motorists should watch for trucks and heavy equipment entering and exiting the site during demolition, and slow down when needed, INDOT said.