LANCASTER — Through the remnants of snowdrifts, the stubs of last fall’s corn harvest and a stinging north wind, a bump on the horizon was set in motion this week for new land and opportunity.
It’s not everyday that a barn of any shape becomes mobile. But on Thursday, a round barn at least 100 years old that has stood alongside Highway N just south of this city arrived at a new destination 3 miles to the east along Stage Road. Only instead of hosting cattle, pigs and stacks of hay within its weathered walls, there will be dances, weddings and other celebrations.
After decades of being an iconic landmark in the hamlet of Hurricane — which once had its own school, cheese factory and general store — the preservation and reuse of the round barn by Vesperman Farms will help its thousands of visitors each year find a deeper connection to the state’s agricultural past while they munch on apple cider donuts and take breaks from the rubber duck races, zip line, corn maze and pumpkin patch.
Dozens of bundled-up onlookers came out Thursday as the barn was pulled, not down town roads, but across the mostly barren, frozen farmland of Grant County by crews from Heritage Movers. They used hydraulic frames that adjusted to the uneven terrain, steel and wood beams for support, a diesel truck equipped with chains on its back wheels and — perhaps most importantly — patience.
“I’ve been driving by it for years,” said Janis Yoose, 76, as she prepared to take a photo of the barn crossing Old Potosi Road. “I’m just glad it’s going to have a new home and they’re going to restore it and not tear it down.”
Kyle Vesperman, 39, a fifth-generation farmer whose family has been working the land along Stage Road for 122 years, said he has moved five smaller wooden sheds, a carriage house and garages to his farm over the last five years, but the round barn is by far the largest undertaking and is expected to cost him more than $100,000. A foundation still needs to be poured and electricity added, but he’s hoping it can open this fall.
Workers from Heritage Movers, located in nearby Mount Hope, who have moved houses, churches and other structures over the years, started preparing the round barn about two weeks ago by building cribbing and installing I-beams for support and stability for the 300,000-pound barn.
On Monday they put the wheels underneath the 60-foot-wide barn and hammered out the stone and concrete foundation before moving the 45-foot-tall building about 1½ miles on Tuesday, stopping at a power line.
They took Wednesday off and finished the job on Thursday, which began with crews from Dairyland Power Cooperative lowering power lines between Fairview and Merri roads. Vesperman also had to get cooperation from land owners, while neighbors helped direct traffic.
“It probably would have been cheaper to build a machine shed, but it’s just really been a fun couple of days here,” Vesperman said. “What’s really neat about this is that people for generations have driven by this barn but very few have actually gotten to go in it. We’re going to open it up to the public.”
Dotting the land
There are likely hundreds of round barns in Wisconsin, most of them constructed between 1890 and 1930 and promoted by Franklin H. King, a professor of agricultural physics who was with the Agricultural Experiment Station at UW-Madison. His designs, which he said were easier to build and more resistant to wind, helped influence many barns across the region, including a round barn built in 1903 by Lewis Lendborg southwest of Deerfield.
The 60-foot-wide barn with a silo in the center made from 2-foot-thick limestone is now part of Schuster’s Farm and is believed to be the only round barn remaining in Dane County.
Vernon County has a large concentration of round barns and promotes a tour with maps available from the Viroqua Chamber of Commerce. Many were built by Algie Shivers, the son of a slave who came to Wisconsin via the Underground Railroad, studied carpentry at George R. Smith College in Sedalia, Missouri, and, after serving a tour in France during World War I, returned to Vernon County where he built 15 barns, according to historical accounts.
Wisconsin is believed to have one of the largest collections of round barns in the country, including the world’s largest — a 150-foot-wide, 70-foot-tall round barn completed in spring 1916 at the Central Wisconsin State Fair grounds in Marshfield.
The exact date of construction of the round barn moved this week to Vesperman Farms is unclear but is believed to have been constructed by Clyde Richardson sometime between 1902 and 1922, said Sharon Weisbrenner, whose father-in-law purchased the property in 1934 from a life insurance company two years after the property had been sold at a sheriff’s sale.
Weisbrenner’s husband, Jim, moved to the property in 1948, and she and Jim, who had been living on the farm, purchased the property from his father in 1979 and raised two children there before retiring in 2001 and selling the farm.
The barn had a silo in the middle at one time but it was removed in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Beef cattle and hogs shared the first level with the second floor used to store hay and grain.
“He spent a lot of time in that round barn,” Sharon said of her husband, who is now 84 and is a 1959 graduate of UW-Madison, where he studied agronomy. “It was just there so it was our barn. With a homestead the barn and the house are the most important buildings but it looks pretty bare now. It really feels strange.”
‘Going to have life’
On Thursday, cars lined roads and farm lanes with some motorists using binoculars to get a closer view of the barn as it traversed the terrain, while Whitney Beyer and Jenny Stillestead, who work for Vesperman, traveled the roads handing out fresh donuts to those who came to get a glimpse of the historic and unusual move.
The largest concentration of pickup trucks and cars came around 10 a.m. as the barn, its windows intact and covered with cobwebs, crossed Old Potosi Road.
“This is totally worth it,” Kyle Vesperman said of his decision to move the barn. “You can’t duplicate this. It’s absolutely unbelievable.”
Cindy and Mark Rupp, who have lived in the former Hurricane School building since 1999, have always had a view of the barn through a north window of their home. They watched Tuesday from their yard as the barn moved across a farm field and spent Thursday morning in their Ford Fiesta taking pictures as it made its way farther east.
“It just sat dead over there,” Cindy Rupp said of the barn that has been vacant for about two years. “But this way it’s going have life, and I’m sure they’re really going to do something good with it.”
Photos: Historic round barn moved to new home
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