Whose Barn Was This?

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

The Carlton County Historical Society in Cloquet recently embarked on a project to photograph all the old barns in the county before they are gone. A good number of them have been kept up or restored, but more have not.

When the project was brought to my attention, I asked if they would like to include my little barn, thinking it might not be worthy as it is very small and hardly a barn at all though that’s what I use it for. The volunteer who came to check it out loved it then took photos from several angles plus measurements (14x14x14).

Then I learned that they also wanted to know when the land was homesteaded, when the barn was built, what the barn was used for…and so began another research project — in addition to my previous project: “Why Blackhoof?”.



I retrieved the abstract from my safety deposit box and sorted through the many entries and pages of the land changing hands often, early on for logging purposes, a railroad easement, mineral rights. Then a man named August Wilson bought it in 1915 and likely he and/or his son built the barn. August’s son Herbert and his family owned it until 1948. (The original house is long gone, I live in one built by a widow, her neighbors and relatives in the late 1960s. )

In addition to the abstract I found a neighbor who has lived in Mahtowa most of his 80+ years who was happy to share what he knew and remembered. His Swedish immigrant father told him the Mahtowa area (my land is a mile north of Mahtowa as the crow flies) was once a magnificent, prime White Pine forest. So prime that logging companies fought over and for the right to harvest the trees here…then clear-cutting and leaving huge stumps. My land doubtless was included in the greatly logged so the trees now are relatively young with only a few White Pines here and there.

There still are connections to the Wilson family in the area, so I get a smattering of stories (though so far no one knows when the barn was built). One more connection links me to the history of my land: the eldest Wilson daughter — the Mahtowa postmistress for 48 years — was sister-in-law to a cousin of the woman at MPR who hired me in 1991.

The volunteer committee continues to locate, contact owners and get written permission to photograph and document whatever history they can about the barns. And now I have joined the committee to help continue photographing and collecting histories on other barns in and around Mahtowa and the nearby townships.

What do you know about the history of the land or house you have owned and/or lived in?



56 thoughts on “Whose Barn Was This?”

  1. I think when I looked at the abstact for our house, the first “owner” was the French Government, and that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase. We bought the house from a biology professir at our local college who disconnected rhe house from city water and preferred to drink highly alkaline well water . We reconnected to city water, and now have good Missouri River water. He also did lots of foolish “improvements” like a solar panel on the south side of the house that was in the shade most of the day because of the taller house next door.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Actually, the news from yesterday is delightful. The US Army Corps of Engineers is not authorizing the permit to run the pipeline over (through?) the river. I suspect that this is a temporary thing, given who won the recent election.


        1. I have taken about a dozen photos from the road. Painted three of them in pastel, one quite decent.One time a man came out and hollered at me. Twice I have asked if I could come on their land to photograph? Why? Are you with the goverment?. Yeah, so you can make money. No way.


    1. It is interesting how kind and interested people are in having their barns photographed. And enthusiastic and pleased and grateful. Do it.


  2. In 1976, when we moved into our pink bungalow in Mac-Groveland, many of our neighbors dropped by to look at this home they’d never been inside. They all had stories to share about it and the previous owners. Most of those stories were false, but they were fun to hear.

    I became fascinated with my home in the years after my erstwife jetted off to live in Europe. One summer afternoon my doorbell rang. Standing before me was the son of the man who designed my home and who was its first owner. This tall old man had lived in the sun room when he was a teenager in the 1930s. He asked if I would mind letting him in to look at the house where he’d grown up. Improbably, I had just cleaned the place and wasn’t reluctant to let a stranger look closely at it.

    He and I walked around for over an hour discussing the home, its features and its many puzzles. He told me the strange story of how his dad created the fireplace. And he answered my biggest question, which was about a bizarre pipe sticking out of the ground in the backyard. I had thought it might be left over from a water fountain. I was afraid to cut it, fearing it might spout an Old Faithful geyser. The pipe, I learned, was all that was left of what was once the tallest purple martin house in the Midwest. I never would have guessed that!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Well, after a day and a half of sleep, I may survive this diabolical virus. Lou, however, is in a bad way today. Still in bed.

    Meanwhile, our house in Eden Prairie has a limited history, having been built in 1975. The house itself was planned and built by a newlywed pair with no sense at all. When we moved in, the front closet was placed in a cramped area behind the front door where it was inaccessible. If you moved wrong you would fall down the basement stairs while attempting to hang up the coat. When Lou tore out the closet which extended into the garage, he found empty beer cans stuffed under it. That explained a lot!

    We were attracted to the house, not by its lovely features, but by the lot it is built upon. The lots are large–each in the neighborhood is 1/3 to 1/2 of an acre. Ours is the edge of the Minnesota River ridge, one of the higher elevations in Eden Prairie, which allows us a beautiful view that changes with the seasons. It is a mostly sunny lot which lends itself to gardening.

    Before the house was built, the property was part of a farm roamed by cattle and deer. As late as 1950, the Mdwaketon Dakota had an encampment in the area near the Eden Prairie Spring where Lion’s Tap is now located. Pioneer families and the Dakota Tribe shared the area for a century prior to suburbanization.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My house also was planned and built by a design-challenged people. No coat closet at all. they had originally planned a one story cement block home, but the guy who laid the footings used the wrong measurements and made it too small, so they took the plans from the basement level and just added it to the second story without a thought of what to do with the expanse of space in the basement. Then the guy died and his widow finished the house with the help of neighbors and relatives. Many odd results. But the one thing they did right was face the house south with large windows and a view of the meadow and woods.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. The carpenter who remodeled ours in the Summer, 2015, reassured us that “every house has lost space.” This response came after I complained about ANOTHER closet behind the door (kitchen pantry.



  4. Guess I’ll have to go look. All I know for sure is that the house was built in 1915 and was designed by the same person who designed my neighbor to the North’s house.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. WordPress capitalized north for me when I wasn’t looking. Makes it look like my house and Santa’s castle were designed by one and the same!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. My house was built on what was once land inhabited by the Dakota. The land was owned for awhile by someone with the last name of Mayo. Not sure if there was any relation to the Mayo Clinic brothers.

    The house was built around 1885. Before I bought it, it had always been in the same family. The elderly woman who had lived here last had died some months before. One of her daughters was inclined to keep the house, and lived in it briefly, but her siblings weren’t keen on working that out. They just wanted the house sold so that the money could be divided equally.

    The property included a rather ramshackle old garage, which couldn’t be saved, and an old car. A towing company took the car away and gave me $25 for it.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I used to live on Juliet Avenue. Juliet turns out to be the name of a little girl whose parents owned a farm that spread out over much of what is now Mac-Groveland. Cattle used to graze there.

    The early history of Saint Paul is all about Fort Snelling. In fact, this is the story of many cities. They began life as forts. Because forts are populated by young men who get governmental checks, every early fort triggers the creation of businesses to serve soldiers. Fort Snelling gave rise to blacksmith shops, farms, stores of all sorts and (of course) businesses that sold booze and sex. You guys already know that the earliest version of Saint Paul was little more than a shoddy place owned by Pig’s Eye Parrant, a business selling women and bootleg liquor. The original name was Pig’s Eye Landing. The more respectable name (Saint Paul) was conferred by a French priest in 1841.

    One of the mysteries of my house was the fact it had a bar in the basement. I later learned that other homes in my old neighborhood had bars in their basements. Why? That neighborhood was developed in the mid-1920s, when Prohibition was the law of the land.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have history for where I grew up and house we owned in N. Kato. Both rather normal. Too long to enter. Last two places were built new on far land. Were second owners of house on shore. Wish I knew Native uses of the lands we owned up that way.


  8. My father’s oldest sister and husband built our home in the early 1940’s…with the help of my grandfather. It was a T shaped cabin with stone fireplace in the main living area. Built on block above the rock it has masonry rock steps down to the large rock running beneath the cabin on the lake side and just a step down to rock which lead to my grandfathers cabin on the opposite side.

    My aunt was killed in an accident there in 1951…my uncle didn’t want the cabin so in the mid 50’s it wa sold to my dad’s younger sister and husband. They began changes which when we purchased in 1995 were..to us…ridiculous. One had to go through a bedroom to reach the only bath and go through same bedroom to go up a circular stair to the second floor bedroom. The original master bedroom was closed off and rarely used. They added a screen porch which again was rarely used as the tarps rolled up tended to attract bats.

    We bought with the understanding that it was winterized….not so unless one thinks of sheets of newspaper as insulation. So…began the re designing and building of our now cabin…which still needs some finishing but that seems to be never ending. We do have a winterized cabin with and entry where there was once a bedroom and spiral stairs. One can use the now expanded bath off this entry room….and walk the hall into the now main bedroom with full bath and the original stone fireplace. If one continues down the hall along the open kitchen there is a family room with windows that span in three directions viewing the lake and little wooded area around us…the unused bedroom and screened porch. Cabinets were removed from that kitchen wall to open it to the view and any conversation. The upstairs hasn’t change much except for the wooden stair we put in the entry which leads to that bedroom offfice area. And the garage was moved to sit aside the house which gave a fun crawl space for sleeping grandkids as well as storage.

    I wanted the cabin to blend into nature as best it could and I wanted Scandinavian design which it has in an old country style within. It is covered in cedar shingles and planks….with a metal roof. The only time the metal roof blends into nature is the few days in spring and autumn. The Maple buds are red and the leaves turn same red….that is the color of the roof. The garage door and door under the house of which both are 2 doors, I convinced the contractor to do in the Norwegian design of a V planking. He agreed to the lower door…it just meant planking atop the original, but said he wouldn’t make the new door for the garage. He was sure I would want a moterized overhead door. However when he saw the lower complete and after a few days he returned to build my Norwegian garage door. I’ve never missed a motorized overhead door.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You’ve opened up another rabbit hole, Cynthia. Our house in south Minneapolis was built in 1924, but the title abstract goes back to 1856, when the United States sold the property to Evander F. Rollins. Rollins and several of his relatives came from Maine to Minneapolis sometime prior to statehood, the attraction being not the fort but the mills of Saint Anthony. On the same census page is listed Moses Rollins, a millwright and Evander’s cousin. E. F. Rollins’ occupation is listed in the 1857 Territorial Census as Mechanic and in 1870 as farmer.
    By 1870, he had sold the property to Joseph Smithyman. Smithyman was a civil war veteran, a member of the First Minnesota Regiment and who fought and was wounded at Gettysburg. Also wounded at Gettysburg was another member of the First Minnesota, E. F. Rollins, Jr.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The first owner of my land was also from Maine….railroad or logging man? He did stick around,raised a family and died in the area. Subsequent owners, however, may have never left Maine until the Sauntry-Cain Sawmill got interested.

      According to a 1903 book, there was an Indian village called Mah-to-wa, likely Dakota, somewhere between Lake Superior and Mille Lacs Lake. According to the Huron Indian telling the story, Sieur du Luht carved a totem into a tree there claiming it for France sometime in the late 1600s. (According to one bio I read, du Luht favored the Dakota for trading partners, the Ojibwe were not friendly.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Cynthia, when I studied logging history the basic story was that guys in Maine created a series of practices that allowed them to cut down timber and move it downstream to mills. The basic plan was to drop the trees in winter, then damn up streams so logs could be floated down to mills. There were innovations as time went by. For example, horses and sleds were often replaced by little railways, but the basic technology for logging was created in Maine. Then, as forests were cleared, the techniques and some of the people doing the logging kept moving westward. That is one reason the woods of upper Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a strong Maine connection.


        1. Yes, when I was growing up in Cloquet, the head of the Northwest Paper Mill was from Maine. And a Weyerhaeuser still had a home here.

          The Sauntry-Cain Company did as you describe…


  10. To go back to barns for a bit, when my daughter, the Scottish highland dancer, would have a regional competition, we would travel to Alma, in the middle of Michigan. Driving around that area, I noticed that many of the barns in that part of the country have white arches painted over the doors. The barns are a standard red and white trim is common everywhere but only in Michigan have I seen the curved arch effect over the doors and I haven’t been able to discover what it means or where it originated.
    In Ohio, where that same daughter went to college, I frequently saw farms with large double barns. These were barns that would be large individually but they were doubled and in interesting ways. Some were simply side by side, but a few transected each other, creating a monumental cross-shaped building with an extraordinarily complicated roof line. A few were arranged in an “L”. As with the white arches, it’s a style or feature of barn design I’ve never seen elsewhere.
    Do you know about the poetry barns around Red Wing? The project to paint barns with poetry happened decades ago, but fragments remain on a few barns in the area. The fragments are poetical too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi–
    I love this subject. What great history all your places have! What fun!

    Our farm is 5 parcels (6 after we split the house off when Kelly and I purchased it from my parents) so the abstract is 3/4″ thick and hard to correlate all the pieces.
    But the earliest entries are 1855 – United States to John Quinlan and 1855 – United States to Salmon Stoddard. (his wife signed an ‘X’). And interest was 12%. Yowza!
    (These are all typed and re-recorded from the originals).

    Benjamin Franklin owned part of the farm at one point. Not *that* Benjamin Franklin, but *this* B. Franklin in the 1880’s.

    My Great Grandfather’s name first appears in 1896. And I’m pleased to say his wife didn’t have to sign with an ‘X’. “Excepting and reserving the corn thereon”, which stayed with Halfton A. Echoldt and wife, Addie V.
    Interest was down to 7%!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Ragged day. Had to battle Verizon over voice mail changes, times 3 (3 Verizon phones). Dead battery. 2 hour wait for AAA. Can get the battery only at Toyota for monopoly prices. Our Scion, why the odd battery, does not turn off the lights and the dash does not change its appearance when the lights are on like civilized cars. In the middle of it Sandy got sick. But she does have the pacemaker put in permanently in 7 days.


  12. If you get up in the back woods between Two Harbors and the Range, you will be surprised how many old barns there are, or maybe now, were. I stopped to look at many of then 20 years ago, so I assume they are powder now. All I visited were small barns on places where the house was also falling in. You wonder why anyone tried to farm in some of those places. The memory of those triggered my writing a short piece of fiction about an old barn in the woods. I bet few people would believe the setting I created was based on multiple realities.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And the barn I remember my father building is falling in, if they have not destroyed that, too, as they should, as they did the house, which they should have. Lately I notice many barns around here being fixed up before they start to rot. metal roofs, new paint. Barns are passe, of course. I suppose they are boing aintained in part for love of the buildings, which is nice.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Time-challenged today, will read the rest later. We’ve heard from neighbors about some of the most recent owners of our little place in Winona, but nothing memorable. Will have to do some more research.

    Love this idea of photographing all the old barns, Cynthia – glad you hopped onto that project.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. OT-We are officially in a blizzard warning now until 8:00 tomorrow morning. The sun is sort of shining, the wind is gusting up to 36mph, and I can barely see across the atreet. This is our second storm since last Monday.


  15. What a frantic day. Because some of the tests they did for Sandy’s surgery 7 days ago will be more than 21 days old in 7 days, they wanted her to come in this afternoon to have the tests repeated. And since she will be put under this time she needs an EKG the end of the week. (Does this like a money-making scheme?)
    Since the barns I want to photograph are well past wabi sabi stage, pride of ownership is not involved. There is a barn near here I want to photograph. It has a T ground floor plan with three six-sided cupolas with metal roofs. The barns is starting to collapse. The yard is filled with junked vehicles and trash. It says beware of dog at the end of the driveway.
    I had three good books on barns which went up to Half Price Books when I cut way back on books. One was about barns of Wisconsin with line drawings of barns and history of forms. West Central and Southwest Wisconsin has so many wonderful barns, a few 6 or 8 sided. You come around a corner of a state highway in the driftless country and there’s a barn right in front of you, on the side of sharp turn. It seems to me they have been better preserved over there. NE of Seattle up into the Cascades are many still functioning red barns.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I’ll comment briefly and use the material for a more complete submission.
    If there was to be considered a ghetto in Moorhead, Minnesota, I lived there. Rerouting the Red River of The North eventually ended a community of people who lived on the poor side of town, There are ties to gambling, prostitution and booze depending on the timing to be made. Later.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Winnipeg had these “ghettos”created by the courses of the Red and Assiniboine rivers that were entities unto themselves. Both are such a fascinating rivers.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Our farm has the dairy barn and the grainary.
    Both had several remodelings over the years. Plus there were countless other buildings that came and went. Machine sheds, corn cribs, hog houses, ect…
    The original part of this dairy barn was build in 1928. It only held about 10 cows. Another 20′ was added to the west end in the 40s or 50’s.. Now it held 15 cows. Then my Dad added a ‘lean to’ on the north side bringing it up too 25 cows and a calf pen.
    Dad and I redid the milk room and I rebuilt the feed room.
    12 years after that i sold the milk cows.

    The grainery was build in 1898. (just 2 years after my Great Grandfather bought the land.) I don’t know if there were buildings there before? Never heard there was much here…
    Dad tore the front half off in the 60’s. We put a new foundation and walls under it in the 80’s. It really needed a new roof but no one would climb up on the roof and I really couldn’t afford it.
    Two years ago it collapsed from the snow that winter.
    We have been salvaging boards from it. Main beams are not in very good shape. I’ve been able to save glass block and even a few pegs from the joints, but they’re pretty bad too.

    You win some, you loose some. Saving a barn is expensive. Really expensive if they’ve started to go…

    My older machine shed needed a new roof too; but it wasn’t so high that the fall would kill you so I hired a couple friends to put 2×4’s and steel on that roof. And then steel on the former corn crib (now the chicken coop). If you don’t have a good roof, you can’t save it.
    So my main buildings all have steel roofs now.
    I’m still making improvements. cutting trees, cleaning up back corners. But it’s harder and harder to justify new buildings for a farm of my small size.

    Again, thanks for this topic Cynthia… great stories to day everyone…

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Love the storie today. My little 1925 house has little noteworthy history. When it was built, it was on the edge of town – the land one block south was farmland and Minneapolis officially ended at what is now 54th street. What is more interesting to me is to think about this area before my house was here. The area that is now Tangletown used to be a winter hunting ground for the local tribes (an early sale of the original farm in this area included a stipulation that the area north of Minnehaha Creek would be made available for winter camping and hunting for those Native Americans). At one point there was a small flour mill near here on the creek. By the time my house was built, there were a few businesses on Lyndale. My dad, who was born a year before my house was built and grew up a few blocks from here was baptized in a church (I think the original Mt Olivet building) that used to be behind my house. He also remembers going bowling in the building that now houses the Kowalskis grocery store. And when he attended Washburn High School the Bachmans were the vegetable farmers who still lived just outside of what was the city proper…

    A side note (as it were) – my favorite use for reclaimed barn wood that I have heard of or seen thus far is making it into violins and violas. Apparently there is a violin maker in Canada who has made a number of instruments from reclaimed barns. Sam Bergman who plays for the MN Orchestra has one of the violas. Beautiful instrument.

    Liked by 6 people

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