Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Feeling blue about the iconic Sugardale barn along Interstate 35 July 14, 2015

The front section of the barn was being painted as we drove along Interstate 35 Monday morning.

The front section of the barn was being painted as we drove along Interstate 35 Monday morning. In the center section, you can see a faint oval shape wherein Sugardale was painted.

“THEY’RE PAINTING THE BARN BLUE!” I gasped as I swung my camera lens toward the front passenger side window. So surprised was I by the in-process flashy hue application to the Sugardale barn along Interstate 35 north of the Northfield exit that I could barely compose a photo.

You can see how the barn looked before it was painted blue.

On the left side of the barn, you can see the as yet unpainted section. The barn needed paint. But blue?

“It’s NAPA blue,” I hissed to my driver husband, who works as an automotive machinist at the NAPA store in Northfield. He knows how much I dislike the shade of blue that represents this automotive business.

I continued to rant. “Why would anyone paint a barn blue? And they’re covering up that sugar sign.”

All of this I spewed as I shot several quick frames while our car traveled at 70 mph along the interstate.

How the barn looked when I photographed it in February.

How the barn looked when I photographed it in February. (This was before I had a telephoto lens.) Click on the image to enlarge.

I don’t understand why blue, rather than red, was selected for this landmark barn. Before the blue, you could see the fading advertisement for Ohio-based Sugardale Foods, “a leading provider of quality meats and premium foods.” The lettering has been there for years and has made this barn iconic to I-35 travelers in southern Minnesota.

Now the Sugardale sign has been obliterated by that, that, blue. Why?

In February 2011, I published a winter image of the barn. That fall, reader Sara G. commented on the post:

This is my grandparents’ barn. Grandpa, a retired NW Orient pilot, purchased the land in about 65, moved out there in about 74. The barn is post and beam and was built by a guy who would walk around the land and point to trees to chop down for the various posts and beams. Most still have remnants of bark on them. It is an amazing structure. We played in there every chance we got as kids.

Sadly, it will most likely hit the market in the next few years. I cannot imagine driving down 35w and having someone else live there. Or Christmas anywhere else for that matter. Thanks for the pics. You need to go back and shoot it now before the corn comes down while the color is so strong.

I expect Sara’s grandparents no longer own this property. I understand that the current owner can choose any color he/she wishes for the barn. But a vivid blue? And why destroy the memorable Sugardale signage? I feel just plain blue about this piece of rural barn history vanishing under a coat of blue paint.

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UPDATE 1:30 PM: Bob Collins, who pens an online column, NewsCut, at Minnesota Public Radio, followed up on my post after a reader (Faith, Farming & Cowboy Boots) tipped me off that the blue barn might be a project of the Midwestern restaurant chain, Culver’s. Bob contacted Culvers and learned that the I-35 Sugardale barn is, indeed, part of the company’s campaign to thank farmers and financially assist young people going into agriculture. You can read Bob’s post at this link:  http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2015/07/a-barn-turns-blue/

Also, be sure to scroll through the comments section on my post to read an explanation from Paul Pitas, Director of Public Relations and Communications for Culver’s.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling