Farm Horizons, May 2005

Local barns included in book about trials of farming

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Emmet and Clara Anderson arrive in north-central Minnesota on the train. They have brought from Iowa ten Duroc sows, some cast-off farm implements, a few household things, and their two small children, Joseph, two, and Emma, a baby. Land is still available and cheap this far north in lake country, the southern edge of the cutover region.

The soil is sandy loam, nothing like the heavy, dark Iowa earth of Clara’s father’s farm, but here at least they will have their own place. On this they have agreed.

The quarter section Emmet has bought includes 60 acres of open land with another 80 or so of cutover brush, plus twenty of timber. At sight of the farmstead and its dumpy log buildings, Clara cries and turns away. The house was an old log cabin, really; Emmet had described it in somewhat nicer terms.

“How can we ever . . . ?” Clara begins, but her voice breaks.

And so it began. The story of a young family venturing north to start a farmstead of their own.

Like so many of our own family histories, the story by Will Weaver and photos by Doug Ohman paint the picture of what it was like in the “old days,” and follow the Anderson family through the ups and downs of having a family farm, and ultimately, like so many farms of today, the sale of the land.

Barns are featured from Carver, McLeod, and Wright counties, and Wright County is mentioned in the book’s story line.

“That barn is probably the oldest barn in the book,” said Ohman about the barn pictured from Wright County. “It’s not very attractive, but it’s interesting.”

He said the barn was built in an era when Minnesota was producing more wheat than any other state in the country, and had not yet reached the dairy era.

Ohman explained the barn, called a threshing barn, was built with no windows or basements due to the fact there were no animals that needed natural light kept in the barn.

In many instances, barns like that would be used for threshing – inside the barn. He also noted the high ceilings of the barn, and the fact it did not have a second floor. The barn was built with several “owl holes” toward the roof so owls could get in and take care of mice and rat problems.

The barn, located near St. Michael, north of Interstate 94, also was built with vertical siding, rather than the later barns that have horizontal siding.

Book features McLeod County’s pink barn

Pink in color since the barn was built in 1904, a barn between Glencoe and Brownton catches people’s eye just off Highway 212.

“The barn has been pink as far back as they know,” Ohman said. “They’re going to keep it that way, too.”

Currently, Ohman said the barn is used for boarding houses. The property owners have also painted all of their outbuildings the same pink color to match the barn, and have also put a basketball hoop on the side of the barn.

In Carver County, a western-style horse barn with a green tin roof is featured. Ohman said the barn is located north of Waconia.

“I took the photos about two years ago, and the folks weren’t home,” Ohman said. “I liked the new roof. It’s a very well-maintained barn.”

He said the barn has a “gothic” style roof, which was commonly used while building barns in the 1940s.

“It’s truly a gothic barn,” he said. “With the row of windows, you can sure tell you’re looking at a dairy barn.”

Putting it all together

Ohman has been photographing barns across the entire state for several years, and said he never set out to photograph any particular barn, but rather looked for photos to help illustrate Weaver’s storyline.

“Minnesota’s barns are remarkable testaments to a midwestern way of life, one centered on the land, work, family, ingenuity, and perseverance,” according to the Minnesota Historical Society. “Many think of barns as breathtaking landmarks along the byways. Others have their favorite barns—the well-kept, red dairy barn near St. Cloud, the faded horse barn on the way to Faribault. Still others know these structures more intimately: barns are as integral to their lives as family and home.”

Ohman’s photographs capture the beauty of the barn from the outside in. Will Weaver’s evocative story illuminates the life of the barn from the inside out.

Readers witness the making and breaking of one barn as it plays into the life and sustenance of several generations of one family who settled the land in 1922 and who farmed into the age of agri-business.

Ohman, from New Hope, is a photographer who specializes in historic structures and community landmarks. His photographs have been featured in the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit Barn Again! Celebrating an American Icon.

Weaver is an award-winning author whose works include “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” which won the Minnesota Book Award for fiction, and a forthcoming novel, “Full Service.” He is a professor of English at Bemidji State University.

“Barns of Minnesota” can be purchased from the Minnesota Historical Society at www.mnhs.org/mhspress.

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