The Soul of a Barn

by Mary Henneke Miller
(Henneke Family Farm near Ottawa, Illinois)


by
Mary Henneke Miller

The old barn fell down. It caved into the sloping ground on which it was built years ago.

The faded siding and ancient timbers had been leaning to the east for several years. One March afternoon it came crashing down onto itself during a roaring westerly windstorm on the Illinois prairie.

I was not there at the exact moment of the collapse. As I drove home on the highway that day, I glanced toward my place across the vacant field waiting the spring planting of soybeans. I had the realization that something was missing in the familiar setting, but my mind could not comprehend the reality for several seconds.

The landscape had altered subtly and yet forever monumentally.

The large white barn was gone.

Perhaps it was for the best that I had not been present when my barn fell. I can only imagine the groan of the breaking timbers, the snapping of the pieces of siding and bracing long ago fitted perfectly by wooden pegs and square headed nails.

Over the next few days, I went through almost a period of bereavement. Family, friends and neighbors stopped by and sadly stood looking at what remained of the barn. I was reminded of the wake of a dear old uncle or grandfather. We spoke of the strength that had once been ever present, the hours of toil that had been witnessed, the loving comfort of the secure building that protected cattle from winter's cold and allowed children to swing from ropes over its rafters.

After a time however there were subtle questions about my plans to dispose of the barn. There were not so subtle suggestions involving the toss of a match to the broken framework.

But it was my heart that spoke most clearly to me.

For as long as I can remember the barn has been here at the farm. Although no records of its beginnings are available, the original structure was probably built after the first owner obtained the northern Illinois property around 1845.

A barn expert once told me it appeared the barn had been added onto and "remodeled" post Civil War, due to the stonework foundation and the large hay door which would open downward to receive bales of hay and straw.

As a young child I remember following my dad out to the barn to do morning chores. The door pulled open on a track to reveal stalls for the Hereford cattle, a set of wooden stairs leading to the hay loft and the huge expanse of timber frame beams overhead. There was a basement where the cattle could find shelter from cold and snow. Trapdoors were ingeniously installed to drop feed to the animals.

Over the years I spent many hours in the barn. My brother and I continually built and rearranged pens for our calves, the pony, sheep and one precocious goat.

We witnessed births of kittens and lambs. We laughed at the antics of Mushy the goat and cried when a favorite cat was found dead from distemper.

The Easter Bunny left colored eggs in nests of straw that my brother and I carefully arranged throughout the barn. My dad told us that every Christmas Eve at midnight all of the animals in the barn knelt on their front legs in prayer. Even though I could never stay up that late to check, I knew that it was true.

Throughout my childhood years of growth, learning to expand my thoughts, being allowed to pursue my dreams, I always knew the barn and all that it represented was standing, solid and strong.

The barn had its own presence and personality; it had its own soul. The barn was standing tall when my grandmother as a young girl moved to Illinois with her parents from Nebraska. My father grew up on the same farm. The barn was his workplace and refuge from a complicated world after World Was II.

Now the faded white siding which showed soft red paint of earlier days, the massive beams attached in a patchwork puzzle with wooden pegs, and the aged tree trunks used as support under it all had somehow also become part of my soul, a very real part of who I have become.

Now it is my responsibility to decide the fate of my graceful old barn. There are those who look at the pile of splintered boards and flattened roofing and see something that needs to be destroyed. I see something that has aged and that has had its original purpose diminished.

But the framework is still visible to me. I see the old red paint clinging to the shattered siding. I see the years of wear on the support posts where the cattle rubbed their sides and backs. I can still see the simple outline of the roof which protected and nurtured so many souls for so many years.

The decision is clear. I have begun the huge task of picking up the broken pieces of barn boards and salvaging what is possible. Of course much of the building has been lost, but I feel the spirit of the old barn as I sort through ravaged wood and suddenly uncover an unscathed brown bottle that served years ago to hold medicine for a sick animal.

I discover a decades old horseshoe lovingly tacked to a cross beam. I scrape away old bales of matted hay and realize that although this particular barn has been changed forever, the sense of a purpose still creaks in the wooden floorboards.

The demise and disappearance of the barn is seen on many farms throughout the country. The world has of course changed. American farms have declined in number as suburban sprawl continues.

But perhaps it is time to reassess our values, especially those regarding lessons learned from family and life on the farm (if fate was kind enough to have allowed you that privilege).

I will rebuild my barn using what I can of the old timbers and boards. I might (will!) be writing for advice and support during this process. My barn might not be as massive in size as it once was. It might not be used to store hay and give shelter to cattle. But its purpose will be revealed to me as I again see the barn rise. My barn has shown me that memories are everlasting and are always the foundation of a dream.

Comments for The Soul of a Barn

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Jan 05, 2017
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Always sad NEW
by: Anonymous

It is always sad when a barn goes down you can always thing of the story and history it could tell.

Jan 05, 2017
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Sad NEW
by: Anonymous

IT is always sad when you see a barn go down and when they do you can think about all the story's a barn could tell.

Oct 15, 2013
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Our old Barn NEW
by: Douglas Baker

My family had a 100+ year old barn we lost in a record wind in 1962. It seemed to have been constructed using the same methods and materials as the barn in this story.
We rebuilt using as many of the huge beams and perfect rafters as survived.
It is not as lovely as the original but is standing proudly while carrying on the soul of the orginal in the minds of our family members.

Oct 14, 2013
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
yes indeed NEW
by: Lynda in Ohio

I too recently lost an old barn, and I know all too well of what you so eloquently have described. Old barns do indeed have souls, or so it seems. When they come down it is like losing an old friend. I also saved bits and pieces of my barn, a slate shingle, the hay door, old hand-hammered hinges and door latches, old windows and hand-forged mule shoes long discarded. Not enough to replace the barn itself but some memories anyway.

As far as wondering about why the old barns are allowed to deteriorate to the point of falling down, I imagine in many cases it is a financial hardship to maintain them and sometimes the deterioration is not immediately noticeable and by the time it is apparent, it is too late (as in my case).

Good luck to you in resurrecting your old barn and I hope you are able to keep the memories alive anyway.

Oct 11, 2013
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Question NEW
by: Anonymous

Hi, I really liked your article. I can totally understand how you feel about your barn. My question is, though, why did you let your barn rot away before your eyes in the first place? I mean no disrespect, but I've never understood why so many farmers let their barns just collapse. Is it a financial reason? I feel so sad when I see an old neglected barn. So many memories attached to each one, I'm sure, and probably soon to be nothing more than a distant memory once the barn is destroyed.

Oct 11, 2013
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Thanks for the memories...Texas barns NEW
by: Linda Meuth

Oh my...what a beautiful words! Words that bring memories and visions of my own experiences of the "family barns." My grandfather's barn in Corpus Christi, Texas was a sight to behold for a 10 year olds memory and the stories it held. It fell during Hurricane Cecilia in 1970. Memories of the smell of fresh cut hay, as we stacked it in the barn built from my great-grandparents home, Bastrop County, Texas.
Thanks for the memories!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Your Barn Stories.


 ***Please note: Our full barn kits are only available within a limited shipping area.  We are sorry if you are out of that shipping area, we are working on solutions for you that would include, hardware packages, templates for cutting your own timbers, lists of local timber suppliers, lists of local contractors, etc.  Sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date on the progress of these resources.  



How to build the 20x30 sugar Shack for under $12k!  


Recent Articles

  1. 30 x 44 bank barn + 18x24 barn - Dewitt/St Johns MI

    Sep 20, 17 08:50 PM

    Looking for general quotes on removal of an old bank barn and an old small barn (formerly used for a granary), along with their foundations (concrete,

    Read More

  2. 1860's Barn 30x40 Millstadt IL

    Sep 09, 17 12:23 PM

    Our 1860's homestead has a dilapidated barn. The stone house on the property was built in 1867. We determine the barn to be the same period. Roof collapsed

    Read More

  3. 36x46 Gable barn for sale - NE Kansas

    Aug 27, 17 10:39 PM

    It's a stately old 36x46 wide barn that has been weathering gracefully most of it's long life. It's waiting for someone who would humanely disassemble

    Read More

  4. Chicken Chateau

    Aug 19, 17 04:28 PM

    My wife decided we need some chickens for our little farm so I told her I'd build her a coop. After looking at multiple designs I fell in love with the

    Read More

  5. 40x50 Krol Barn in Clinton County Indiana

    Aug 15, 17 02:39 PM

    Timeless Barn Company, LLC has for sale a circa 1850s timber frame barn. This barn is located in Clinton County, Indiana and must be moved as the land

    Read More

  6. 22x14 Timber Frame in Frankfort, Indiana

    Aug 09, 17 09:33 AM

    Timeless Barn Company, LLC has a 22x14 timber frame up for sale. $15,000 plus shipping to your site. Timbers are clean, sound and ready to go. Rafters

    Read More

  7. 24x24 Small Barn in Southern Indiana

    Aug 04, 17 02:02 PM

    For sale: Melvin's Cabin Melvin's Cabin is a 24x24 small barn with 8x14 hand hewn beams. It was built in the 1800s and is reputed to have been a one

    Read More

  8. 1870's 40 x 60 Barn -Shelby, Ohio

    Aug 03, 17 04:06 PM

    **Ohio Valley Barn Salvage** Barn conversion frame for sale at Ohio Valley Barn Salvage. True 40'x60' 1870's all handhewn barn frame. Bent layout is 14'-14'-16'-16'.

    Read More

  9. 5k Board Feet Weathered Grey and interior brown Reclaimed barn wood

    Aug 02, 17 12:31 PM

    We have 5,000 board feet of Barn Wood available for $2.50 per board foot. Widths range from 6 inches to 14 inches. Colors range from solid weathered

    Read More

  10. Old 32X40 Barn Plymouth IN

    Jul 31, 17 09:38 AM

    Our barn has a haymow and several stalls with thick planks. 32x40. Roof received some damage last Fall so the sooner the barn is used the better. We

    Read More

  11. Raising Chickens for Beginners

    Jul 31, 17 08:24 AM

    Welcome to Raising chickens, for beginners, in this article series I will be going through all of the basics and answering questions that many people have about raising chickens.

    Read More

  12. Protecting Your Chickens

    Jul 31, 17 08:19 AM

    Welcome to protecting your chickens, an article in my series raising chickens for beginners.

    Read More

  13. Natural Chicken Health

    Jul 31, 17 08:16 AM

    Welcome to Natural chicken health, an article in my series Raising Chickens for Beginners.

    Read More

  14. Getting A Rooster?

    Jul 31, 17 08:12 AM

    Welcome to Getting A Rooster? an article in my series Raising Chickens For Beginners.

    Read More

  15. Chicken Breeds How to Choose the Best One

    Jul 31, 17 08:10 AM

    In this Guide to Chicken Breeds, I'm going to be taking you through the very basics with everything you need to know about getting started with your first chickens.

    Read More