Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Saving barns November 9, 2010

EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NOT lived in the country since I was 17, I still define myself by my rural roots, my Minnesota prairie roots.

Those formative years of connecting to the land shaped and defined me as a person and as a writer.

Picking rocks, walking beans, doing chores, tending the garden—all taught me the value of good, honest labor. I will always appreciate my rural upbringing.

Clearly, I value the family farm. I also value barns, which possess a nostalgic hold on me. I love to photograph them, even if only in passing from a car window.



I photographed this barn in the Hammond/Zumbro Falls area along Wabasha County Road 70 in October.




Another Wabasha County barn.



A quick shot of a barn along Minnesota Highway 60 somewhere between Faribault and Wanamingo.


Unfortunately, many barns today are falling into piles of rotting lumber. Landowners cannot always afford to maintain them or choose not to maintain them.

But many barns have been beautifully-restored, sometimes converted to new uses. Organizations like Friends of Minnesota Barns support efforts to save barns as part of our rural heritage.

This Saturday the FoMB will hold its annual Barn of the Year Awards Reception from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the historic Brandtjen Farm Barn, 16965 Brandtjen Farm Drive, Lakeville. The 80-year-old dairy barn has been renovated as a clubhouse and community and recreation center for the Spirit of Brandtjen Farm housing development.

Barns contending for the 2010 award are owned by Paul Anderson of Pope County, John Lavander and Nan Owen of Isanti County, Eric and Shelly Liljequist of Wright County, and Lyle and Ann Meldahl of Fillmore County.

If you’re interested in attending this event, which includes a social hour, a tour of the Brandtjen barn, a talk by Minnesota Secretary of State and FoMB member Mark Ritchie and presentation of the Barn of the Year Awards, visit the FoMB website. Reservation deadline is November 10.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “Saving barns”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Great photos- this upcoming Friends of the Barns meeting will be great!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Mark. I was considering attending, but I’m tentatively scheduled to be elsewhere that day.

      FYI, readers, I wrote about the Friends of Minnesota Barns in the January/February 2009 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine. I can appreciate any organization that strives to preserve this important part of our state’s rural heritage.

  2. Michael Says:

    My children and their friends have memories of the rope and hay piles in our old hay mow. The barn roof blew off years ago so our old hay mow is no longer there, but the memories linger.

  3. I just stumbled across your site while reading the Country Mouse blog and just wanted to comment on your thoughts and photographs about barns. I grew up on a small farm in Sibley County and have always loved barns and remember a time when the barns on all the small farms were the life blood of those farms. About 5 years ago I discovered how many of the barns in the little township that I grew up in had disappeared over the years. That was when I became obsessed with photographing the barns that remained in the township and then all those that I could find in the entire county. I found about 1100 barns but that was only about one third of the barns that were there 60 some years ago.And about 90 percent of them no longer housed any dairy cattle. That life has nearly disappeared completely and the need for those lovely old barns has disappeared too. They are costly for farmers to repair when there is no real use for them anymore. It is always sad to see a barn falling to pieces before your eyes, especially when you know how much it meant in the lives of the people who lived and worked there. Keep taking the photographs and find the stories that belong to those barns. They will be only memories soon and then even the memories will be gone.
    Harriet Traxler

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for visiting Minnesota Prairie Roots and for your efforts to preserve barns via your photos.

      I have heard of you and your book about barns. I am going to contact you directly about considering your book for review.

      Coincidentally, my paternal great grandparents lived in the rural Henderson and Arlington areas before moving to Redwood County in 1896.

      My first newspaper job right out of college was with The Gaylord Hub.

      Be assured that I will continue photographing barns. I will contact you separately about your book.

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