This Old Barn

January 22, 2011

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[Editor’s note: although Crunchy’s article about her attempt to save the barn in West Des Moines was the inspiration for the story, this is a completely fictional history. It should not be interpreted as a history of that particular barn, but an example of the legacy of all old buildings]

I’m an old barn, and they want to tear me down. I’m impeding development, they say. There’s no historical value in keeping me around, they say. Nothing special ever happened here, they say.

While I hate to be disagreeable, I must beg to differ. This old barn has seen a great many things is the years that have passed since I was built in 1932.

My history goes back further than that. I’m the second barn to be built on this land. In 1893, Paul Wright erected a wooden barn in the very spot where I stand today. It was in that barn that Paul milked his Herefords and laid the foundation for generations of Wright farmers.

Paul was joined by his son William, and the two managed the farm together for a quarter of a century. By the time that Paul was ready to retire, William’s own son John was ready to join the business.

In the fall of 1931, tragedy struck the Wright farm. Near midnight one October evening, the barn caught fire and burned to the ground. Most of the cattle were in the pasture – only a newborn calf and his mother perished in the blaze.

In the spring of 1932, construction began on a new barn – me. John Wright convinced his father that it made more sense to build the barn with bricks, rather than rebuilding with wood and risking yet another fire.

Convincing his father was the easy part – convincing the bank in the midst of the Great Depression was yet another. In the end, Frank Jacoby at Prairie National bank agreed to lend the Wrights the extra money to build a barn of brick.

I can still remember the first birth that occurred within my walls. The heifer was having difficulties with the delivery. William Wright was out of town, so John called upon his neighbor for help. After William was finally able to tie a rope around the calf’s leg, he and Magnus Jorgensen pulled the calf to safety. A short while later, the calf was taking a few tentative steps and nuzzling with its mother.

Young Carl Wright loved to play in the barn. When he was younger, he and his friends would make a fort from the hay bales in the loft. When he was a bit older, he shared his first kiss with Betsy Hill in a dark corner of the loft – undisturbed by the world outside.

A year after Carl and Betsy were married, Henry was born. I clearly remember a day in 1955 when the five-year-old boy brought fresh cookies from the kitchen to his father. One of the dogs – the little terrier – startled Henry and caused him to drop the plate of cookies on the ground. Little Henry burst into tears at the great tragedy. When Carl saw his boy crying, he held Henry in his arms and told him that everything would be all right. I could feel the love between father and son that day.

The youngest Wright to call the farm home was Keith. Keith never enjoyed the fieldwork or the milking, but he spent time around the old barn. He would tune in the old radio to catch the faintest of signals from the station broadcasting his team’s games. On warm summer days, he would throw a baseball against my brick wall repeatedly – developing the fastball that would land him partial college scholarship.

All good things eventually come to an end. As the farm income decreased, the bids from developers increased, and eventually the Wrights were forced to sell. I managed to hang around for a few years, but now it seems that my time has come – unless people realize that important history happened within my walls.

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