Historic barn destroyed

PIECES OF A BARN which withstood South Dakota’s extreme weather for more than 100 years lay like matchsticks across the yard at the home of Chuck and Marie Lohsandt following the derecho in May.

(Editor’s note: The effects of the derecho on May 12 continue to be felt across Lake County. This week the Madison Daily Leader will tell three stories of loss and moving forward.)

Loss is part of the refrain still heard around the area as property-owners attempt to recover from the derecho which caused widespread destruction on May 12. Some are discovering insurance doesn’t cover the cost of repairs.

Others are coping with losses that are irreplaceable. Such is the case with Chuck and Marie Lohsandt who lost an historic barn which stood on property they purchased in 1999.

“Losing the barn wasn’t as bad as losing a family member, but it was close,” Chuck Lohsandt said shortly after the derecho. “Luckily, no one got hurt.”

After the storm, pieces of the barn, which had towered nearly 65 feet into the air, were scattered across their yard, including one of the concrete counterweights used to open the massive hayloft door. One of two cupolas from the roof was flung into trees north of the yard.

While the sidewalls continued to stand, the steel roof, installed when shingles began to deteriorate, had collapsed. Fortunately, because the main floor was built so sturdily – with steel beams on posts to support the hayloft and granaries – none of the items stored in the barn were damaged.

The loss was deeply felt, though, because of the attitude the Lohsandts have had toward the property since they purchased it. When the barn was built around 1910, the farm was owned by Joseph Gruenhagen. It remained in the Gruenhagen family until Lohsandts purchased the acreage with the building site.

“We felt very fortunate when the granddaughters sold it to us in 1999 and have tried to maintain the integrity and love for the place that they had,” Lohsandt said.

All renovations to the house have been architecturally consistent with the original structure. Work on the barn was similarly focused on preserving it. When they purchased the property, Rae Mumford and Diann Wuttke, Gruenhagen’s granddaughters, gave the Lohsandts the book which was used as a guide for construction of the barn.

“The barn was based on the ‘James Way’ line of Wisconsin dairy barns,” Lohsandt explained.

“The James Way: A Book Showing How to Build and Equip a Practical Up-to-Date Dairy Barn” was published by the James Manufacturing, Co., of Fort Atkinson, Wisc., a company started to manufacture cow stanchions for dairy farms.

Historical sources indicate the design reflected the manufacturer’s belief that a properly arranged, properly equipped barn would enable dairy farmers to produce a cleaner product. Unique characteristics included windows to improve ventilation and a concrete floor with a gutter behind the cow to make it easier to clean the stalls.

Lohsandt said their barn had another feature related to manure management – a rail system for moving a cart through the barn for manure collection. When filled, the cart could be emptied into a manure spreader for use on fields.

“[There’s] incredible ingenuity incorporated into this barn from 1910. They had even plumbed water in from the windmill – into two separate locations in the barn,” Lohsandt indicated. The concrete, when added in 1917, was hand poured and still bears the initials “J.G.” for Gruenhagen.

“I have always been amazed by the engineering those farmers and craftsmen were able to do way back then, so I’ve always asked lots of questions,” Lohsandt said.

In addition to the barn’s architecture, the Lohsandts value the historical significance of the barn. Consequently, the Lohsandts have collected stories about it, both from Gruenhagen’s granddaughters and from Don and Clarence Seedorf, bachelor brothers who grew up as neighbors to the Gruenhagens.

“We wanted to know as much as we could about the history behind the place,” Lohsandt said.

Until the storm, it was the believed to be one of the oldest and largest barns of its kind standing in the state. One of the stories he heard relates to the construction of 223rd Street, which is known locally as Old Highway 34.

“The barn was used to house the teams of horses that pulled the road graders and did the roadwork when Old 34 was built into Madison,” Lohsandt related.

Due to the extent of the damage, salvaging the barn is not believed to be an option. However, Lohsandt does not intend to let the barn’s history to be lost. He intends to preserve important architectural features, including a section of wall which includes breeding records for cattle.

“That was kind of neat. It was in there written in his original hand,” Lohsandt said.