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.


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.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


40 Responses to “Feeling blue about the iconic Sugardale barn along Interstate 35”

  1. Culvers has been painting certain barns blue with a message of thanks to farmers over the top on white. Maybe they are doing that with this one!

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    I do like the color blue but it is such a startling thing to see a blue barn. Perhaps once it is painted there will be more clue as to why it is blue. Maybe it is part of something wonderful that is coming. I am going to be positive about this at this point and hope for something spectacular. Fingers crossed. Keep us posted. I know you will. I can just hear you “sputtering” to Randy.

  3. Blue?!? A unique color choice for sure! People pay big money for signs now (aka American Pickers), so why not keep it and continue to display it – a little nostalgia. There is a story here and I want to know the rest of it, especially why the blue color choice. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    I can’t speak to the color but I am glad people are showing an interest in maintaining barns. We have lost so many of them.

  5. Dan Traun Says:

    I would have removed that section and kept the sign in tack and replaced the wood – who cares about the wood if you are going to paint a barn blue? How unfortunate. Barns are red; maybe grey sometimes, but not blue, yellow, or green – or any other hue for that matter. Interesting how that is so ingrained and we are taking issue with it 🙂 That’s the way its always been (for a while anyway); the hue of red wasn’t always what is is today either. http://home.howstuffworks.com/question635.htm

    • Now that’s an option that would have seemed the ideal solution to this situation. Too late now, though. It will be interesting to see if any type of ad goes onto this barn. Sara, in the comments section, suggested this barn may be hosting a Culvers thank you. We shall see.

  6. Susan Says:

    That is an unusual color for sure. I too have great memories of my grandparet’s barn. I’m glad the barn is being preserved. I remember a time when farms were known for the color of the buildings and registered herds.

    • I didn’t realize that farms were known for the colors of their buildings and registered herds. I learn something new every day and that’s what I especially like about this comments section. Thanks for your input, Susan.

  7. 01rena Says:

    Personally, I like that blue! I just painted our front door that exact tone of blue. It had been a very high-gloss, Stop Sign Red and I couldn’t stand it that color. A near Delphinium Blue is a color that makes me feel happy and energetic. As for this old barn, although I like the blue, I also like the natural way things age. I have iron metalwork in my flower garden and love how it rusts and changes color naturally. There are also some copper items aging in the garden, taking on that pretty copper green. Some old glass bottles lay in the sun, taking on a cloudy blue or green… lovely! How something fades or changes color with age can be very interesting, attractive, even bring us feelings of nostalgia… As for the old barn, perhaps it was time it got some new paint? Maybe the new owners want to convert it into a play yard, private business, or some other commonly used place? Sometimes change is good. Sometimes a little new with the old makes for a perfect balance.

  8. Paul Pitas Says:

    This is Culver’s 5th Blue Barn going up as part of our Thank You Farmers campaign. The blue barns symbolize our gratitude for the farmers who have made Culver’s successful. The program also allows us to provide financial support to young people who wish to make agriculture their career. We have two blue barns in southern Wisconsin, one near Decatur Illinois and another in Greenfield Indiana.

    Paul Pitas
    Director of Public Relations & Communications
    Culver Franchising System, Inc.

  9. […] “Sugardale barn” is turning blue, Audrey Kletscher Helbling, who writes the Minnesota Prairie Roots blog, discovered […]

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I can’t say that I like the color blue on a barn either but the Culver’s Blue certainly makes a bold statement. How awesome that young farmers are getting a hand up in the farming industry.

  11. Ann Vohs Says:

    I saw your post on the MPR. Good for you! I always enjoy reading about your travels, thoughts and observations. Thanks for helping me open my eyes to my surroundings.

  12. Thread crazy Says:

    What a nice idea Culver has of thanking the farmers . I’m like you though, blue?? So glad they didn’t paint it yellow!!

  13. Dawn Says:

    I don’t like it either. I love the sugar sign too. I will miss that pretty barn too.

  14. Don Says:

    Reminds me of the song…………………


    That song drove me nuts, but the teenagers liked it, hummmmmmm

    Good for Culvers and their promoting of the hard working farmer! Culvers is on my wife’s and mine list of places to eat at on our upcoming trip! No culvers here so for us it will be a treat, and as my wife likes it a lot I am sure there will be many stops there.

  15. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    This was quite an entertaining post and bunch of comments. I have no idea why barns are expected to be a certain shade of red so often, so seeing one painted blue just doesn’t have the same startling impact to me as it seems to for you. Heh – I suspect I’d be that person in the rural neighborhood who upsets everyone with color choice!

    • Dear Kathleen, I direct you to the Farmers’ Almanac for an explanation of why barns were first painted red: http://farmersalmanac.com/blog/2008/09/16/why-are-barns-painted-red/

      Barn red has become a part of rural tradition and the color most often expected on a barn. If you grew up rural, like I did, it’s easier to understand why I feel strongly about this blue on the Sugardale barn. Interestingly enough, the barn on my childhood farm is white, not red. It is a barn my dad built. But, since he died in 2003, I obviously can’t ask him why he chose white instead of red.

      I hope this helps you understand. Be sure to read the comments on the blue barn on Bob Collins’ NewsCut column at MPR. Lots of discussion going on there.

  16. Jackie Says:

    What a shame to paint this beautiful barn, bright blue…ugh!

  17. Sara Grothe Says:

    It is a very sad thing indeed! (Sara, here) One of my cousins lives just north of the barn in Webster. The morning they started painting, her husband drove by and contacted her to give her a heads up. She went to take pics and forewarn the rest of the family. We were all stunned of course. The blue is so so bad.

    The original story was that Sugardale painted the wrong side, the house side, way back when (1970’s I think) They quickly realized they’d miss the sunrise in the shot so they repainted the side visible from 35. They painted over it, per their agreement, but over time the logo paint stood up better than the red they used to cover it, thus the Sugardale Ham barn. Grandpa always said he did it just to get the barn painted for free. Fast-forward many years. Grandma and Grandpa did sell the house and 10 acres in 2013. The new owners are very nice and will do right by the place, I know. They, like my Grandpa, needed some work done (new roof to the barn, I believe) and the Culvers add allowed them to do so. And despite the fact that I do not like the blue and it feels like the end of an era, the roof had been shot for years and it will be no small effort or expense to repair it. I dont blame them a bit and actually, their efforts will allow the barn to be restored so for that, I am grateful. As I understand it, it will remain blue for the duration of the Culvers campaign, possibly 2 years or more. (eeks) Nevertheless, it will eventually go back to red. Thanks again for keeping an eye ( and a lens) on it.

  18. Jo Odell Says:

    It looks like the two year campaign has ended. The barn no longer says Thank you Farmers. It appears to have been painted over in March of this year.

    • Thanks for the update, Jo. I contacted Culver’s and the Minnesota Department of Transportation in May for more information, but have yet to pull together a post on that. I broke my shoulder shortly after I got the new info and this topic was forgotten in the aftermath of dealing with that issue.

      The bottom line is that the Culver’s message violated state regulations for outdoor advertising, according to Mike Dougherty with MnDOT. Such advertising is allowed only on property zoned business, industrial or commercial. And this property apparently is not zoned as such. Spot zoning is not allowed just to accommodate outdoor advertising signage such as this.

      The Culver’s graphic on the silo was painted over already before May 2016. The “Thank you farmers” was allowed to stay as a personal message from the property owner. That then met his commitment for the barn restoration (part of the deal with Culver’s). The “thank you” was to be painted over when the two-year contract with Culver’s ended this summer. The message was still there when I photographed the barn in late April.

      The individuals I communicated with at Culver’s and at MnDOT had only positive things to say about how this issue was handled and resolved.

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