Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I love old barns December 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:46 PM

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up has been basically abandoned.

Nature has taken its toll on the old barn as seen in the weathered wood.

“NOTHING DEFINES RURAL Minnesota more than a red barn.

Whether nestled among the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota or anchored to the earth in the wide open spaces of the west, red barns symbolize the hope, the fortitude and the dreams of generations of Minnesotans.

For inside the walls of our barns, farm families have worked together, pitching manure, stacking bales, milking cows, building a livelihood as much as a lifestyle. Strong work ethics have been birthed here, life lessons taught.

While many red barns now stand empty, their roofs sagging, their paint peeling, they remain a symbol of all that is good about life in rural Minnesota.”

Several years ago, I wrote those paragraphs for a feature, “Color my world,” published in the fall 2005 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine. The story focused on creating crayon color names—barn red among them—that speak to the uniqueness of Minnesota.

Of the dozens and dozens of stories I’ve written for this Minnesota publication since 2004, I rank this feature as perhaps my most creative and fun.

Clearly, I love old barns.

During my childhood, I spent as much time in the barn as anywhere on my family’s Redwood County farm. I scraped manure into gutters, pushed wheelbarrows full of ground feed down the barn aisle, scooped silage, bedded straw, carried pails of milk from the barn to the milkhouse, fed calves, tossed bales of hay and straw down from the haymow…

I understand barns.

And I enthusiastically support barn preservation efforts, like those of Campbell’s Soup and Friends of Minnesota Barns. See http://HelpGrowYourSoup.com and http://friendsofminnesotabarns.org.

Campbell’s is undertaking a project to restore five barns selected through a voting process. One of the 10 finalist barns is a late 1940s or early 1950s dairy barn at The Farm on St. Mathias near Brainerd. You have until January 5 to cast your ballot for this Minnesota barn that has already been partially-restored with a new roof, dormers, cement floor and hay mow. See the above Campbell’s website to vote. (I had to laugh, though, at the error on the soup website stating that The Farm on St. Mathias is affiliated with the Crow Wine County Future Farmers of America Chapter. That should be Crow Wing.)

Friends of Minnesota Barns recently selected winners in an annual contest aimed at barn preservation. Top honors went to David and Marlyce Logan of Pipestone in the farm use category. Carl and Wanda Erickson of Hawley won in non-farm use. See the Friends website for additional information.

For those of you, who, like me, grew up on farms, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that barn preservation ranks high in importance to a major company like Campbell’s and to grassroots organizations like the Friends of Minnesota Barns.

Farm implements and fields, set against the backdrop of the prairie sky, stretch beyond an open side barn door.

Inside the barn where cows once stood and where I spent many a day feeding cows and doing other chores.

A broken window in my childhood barn reveals a patch of dandelions like those I often plucked for my mom.

The vintage baby stroller that once carried me and some of my siblings around the farmyard now sits abandoned in the barn.

The milkhouse attached to my childhood barn in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Barn photos were taken in the spring of 2009.)


16 Responses to “I love old barns”

  1. Hi, I stumbled upon your web site through a google alert on Barns. I share your passion for old barns and your interest in photography.
    Your web site is wonderful. Keep it up.
    I’m a city boy, but I have a passion for old barns. So much so, in fact, that I have devoted the last three years or so to a recently published book, “Wisconsin Barns.” And I maintain a web site of my barn photos, http://www.ernestjschweit.blogspot.com
    I am interested in developing a network of “barn people.” I hope I can add you to my list.
    –ernie schweit

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ernest, I’m glad you stumbled across my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog via a Google alert on barns and enjoyed my posts. I am passionate about writing. Readers, check out Ernest’s barn photos on his website. He has an eye for capturing the character of old barns and the natural settings that enhance their beauty through his remarkable photos. For those of you interested in Minnesota barns, check out Doug Ohman’s Barns of Minnesota.

  2. Dorothy Bowman Says:

    I just can’t believe that is the barn I know! Not in use it just goes down hill. We have the old movies of the barn with your Dad standing in the doorway. That farm is just like old times when the old house had no bathroom and we had to use the outhouse! Where has the time gone? Dorothy

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It is sad about the old barn, Dorothy. I spent many hours in that building feeding the cows, scooping manure, etc. I especially remember climbing into the silo to throw down silage, only to find the pile disappearing. Seems my brother Doug was stealing “my silage” to feed his cows. As for the outhouse, I certainly don’t miss those dozen years without an indoor bathroom. Yup, that’s right, Minnesota Prairie Roots readers. In my formative years, the bathroom was an outhouse in the summer/fall and a pot in the porch during the early spring/winter.

  3. Niki Says:


    Two lovers who are engaged to be married are looking to rent your ( or if you have any suggestions/ideas) beautiful barn/farm for our celebration of love this August. Dates and prices are negotiable. We want the ceremony and reception to be at the same locale. Looking for a large space that can accommodate about 250 people. We of course will compensate and provide all of our food/beverages. If you are interested in helping out two deeply, madly, insanely in love people who desire to spread our love to everyone else, PLEASE contact us. You will not be disappointed in helping us create such a beautiful day. We are looking for someplace within 60 miles of the Twin Cities. Thank you for your consideration!!!

    Much Peace,

    the lovers

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, can you help Niki find a barn/farm for an August wedding? Location must be within 60 miles of the Twin Cities. If you have a rural locale or know of a place that would meet this couple’s needs, submit a comment with details and your contact information. I won’t publish your comment, but I’ll pass your suggestion/offer onto Niki.

  4. Kristy Says:

    I too am looking for a barn to rent for a wedding in May of 2011. Can anyone help me get in contact with someone that would be willing to rent me their barn and land for a day? I’ve looked at all of the local farms on all of the wedding sites, but they just aren’t what we are looking for.

    We would love to just use someone’s space for a fee and plan everything ourselves. Please let me know if you know of anyone!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Can anyone help Kristy find a barn and land to rent for her May 2011 wedding? If you have such facilities, send me a comment, and I’ll pass the information along to her.

      Kristy, you may wish to check out the Friends of Minnesota Barns Web site. Maybe someone associated with that organization can help you.

      • Kari Benson Says:

        I am a city girl that now lives and loves small country town… Looking for a barn to have a wedding and reception in next July 2012.. We live in the Redwood Falls area… Would love to talk details with someone… Please help me…

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Alright, readers, specifically those in southwestern Minnesota, my hometown area, can any of you help Kari find a barn for her wedding?

        Kari, I grew up about 20 miles to the west of Redwood, in Vesta.

  5. Bernie Says:

    I too love the old barns. Thank you for giving a tour of your old barn. I loved the captions and the story.

  6. Amanda Says:

    It seems a lot of people are in the same position I am in. I am looking for a barn to rent for our wedding in June 2012. We would purchase event insurance to try to ease anyone’s concern about renting out their barn. I love the rustic feel and was born and raised in North Dakota, so I feel very “at home” in a barn setting. It just seems a perfect locale for a relaxed wedding atmosphere. I just read there are 27,165 barns in MN and I am hoping to just find 1. I live by Monticello but am fine with any barn in the surrounding hour and a half radius. Please help me find my dream wedding location.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Amanda, yours is the fifth request I’ve received from brides-to-be about renting a barn for a reception. I do not know of any that are available for rent. Readers, if you know of any Minnesota barns for rent, please submit a comment. Brides are searching.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I had not thought of this previously, but the Friends of Minnesota Barns organization has a listing of several barns that offer event rentals. Follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page:


  7. Mike Nistler Says:

    Hi, My husband and I have a hobby farm located outside of St. Cloud which we converted into an event center complete with a refurbished dairy barn.Weddings are our specialty. Check out our web site at Boomervillelodge.com. our # is (320)293-4058 thanks Sue Nistler

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sue, this is great to know. Thank you for telling us about your barn event center. As you can see, I’ve had numerous requests from brides-to-be seeking a barn for a wedding reception. Now I finally know where to direct them.

      Just a note to you readers. This Mike Nistler is NOT the Mike Nistler who publishes Minnesota Moments magazine for which I am a writer.

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