Our Old Barn by Janet Keyes

Our barn had a great history.  Reportedly it was once the carriage house for the large white building at the corner of Main and High Streets, next to the Walker Funeral Home.  Many years ago, probably before 1910, it was moved all the way to its current location at the end of Colorado Avenue. To move it the new owner (probably Bruno Hartmann) had to dismantle it completely, then move it board by board and beam by beam on horse-drawn wagons.  The old construction involved pegs in addition to nails.  The round wooden pegs and the old-fashioned cut nails were carefully removed, then re-used at the new location.  I’m not sure what the wood was.  Chestnut was the most common old wood, but this was likely something else.

Bruno Hartmann had a small farm, maybe about 70 acres, and he kept a few cows and sold milk to his neighbors in that small German community. The barn was about 30 by 30 with two large lofts connected by a smaller loft at the front of the building.  The barn had to accommodate two or three cows, two draft horses, and lots of hay in addition to a small space for grain, tack, and tools.

Bruno and his brothers, the chemist and the machinist (Rob and Max), owned the property a long time. During World War I they were informally restricted to the farm because of their alleged admiration for the Kaiser.  A kind gentleman named Alphonse Patnode would go into town and buy groceries and other necessities for the family, which included a sister Anna. Neighbors would come to the farm to get their milk.  Down on the hillside there were a couple of small buildings which were probably chicken coops. I assume at least one of those belonged to the Hartmanns, as it was falling into extreme disrepair by 1960. The Hartmanns went back to Germany after the war, and gave the farm to Mr. Patnode in thanks for his kindness.

The barn has stood sturdy and strong for many years.  When I first knew it, there was an old “office” room at the front, with many prize ribbons left there by a horse owner, George Patnode.  There were two large box stalls with half-doors scarred along the top by the “cribbing” of the draft horses. (Bored horses chew the wood on their doors.)  The walk-through door leading into the office still worked.  The lofts were being used as storage space for old furniture, an old ice sled, some scrap lumber, and more obscure treasures.

Over the years the barn has leaned a little to the east.  At one time we jacked it up and added bracing to reinforce the strength of the building.  Now when it tries to lean, it actually tightens the bracing and becomes stronger.  We even got the walk-through door working again.  Then in more recent years we got busy.  Allan had some health problems, and we built a house on the other side of town.  The barn started leaning aggressively to the east, pushing the walk-door into the ground.  The west end of the barn started to buckle a little, and panes of glass have popped out of the windows on the south side of the barn.  Occasionally a slate from the roof falls off, and Allan slides a piece of metal roofing into the space. Squirrels like the way the trees north of the barn have grown larger and longer branches, making it easy to include the barn in their daily route.  Squirrels are bad for buildings, and we have seen larger and newer chewed-out holes they have created to improve their traffic flow. An expert tells us our barn could still be jacked and saved, but we are not there to use it.

We have been trying to sell the place on and off for several years, and we realize the barn’s deteriorating condition seriously detracts from what realtors call “curb appeal.” Last year we talked with a man who will take the barn down in exchange for the salvaged materials.  Old barn boards have value even if they aren’t gray.  Varying shades of worn and faded red are also desirable. Late in the fall he told us he had not forgotten us and would see us in the spring.  Spring came very late and now the man is putting on an addition to our daughter’s home so her mother-in-law can move in with them.  I guess we’re not the only procrastinators who overbook our time.

Two years ago we removed a lot of stuff from the lofts.  Allan’s Red Ryder BB gun was there, to his surprise. His oldest bike had been stolen.  Our cellar now has the double-rip sled, the ice sled, several chairs in need of re-building, and boxes of old tools and glassware.  We gave a lot of old metal stuff to my nephew to sell for scrap. Allan still wants to remove the horse stall doors to use again, perhaps in the cheap new barn we hope to build behind our new home.  We have fond memories of the horses we kept in that barn, but Allan likes his memories reinforced with souvenirs.

Our computer still stores the last good photo of the barn, taken when the barn looked presentable.  The barn appears as a dark red shadow, softened and framed in falling snow.  I’ll enjoy remembering it that way.

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