Thousands around the country have stood for well over a century and were the mainstay for every small farmer. But times change, methods are revamped, the hundred acre farm doesn’t seem large enough, and increasingly we see the demise of the once stately wooden structure referred to as the bank barn.
If only we could read the stories hidden within the boards and hear the stories witnessed by the beams of those barns!
Progress is making the old bank barns redundant and many sit empty, some a hazard, some an eyesore. Maintenance is expensive unless the building is being used to potential and eventually the decision is made to eliminate the structure.
Two barns “went down” recently within a mile of each other. Oddly enough neither owner knew the other was contemplating the removal. On a Saturday Harriston residents saw the removal of the McCague/Schmocker/Faulkner large red structure on the corner of the 8th Line and Hwy 109, and three days later at the edge of town the green Neil barn fell under capable hands of local Amish workers.
The Neil barn was the background for a photo-shoot of locals in July 1918 when the first airplane landed in Harriston. The Harriston Centennial History Book indicates that a W.A.1 training plane had to make a forced landing in the field behind the barn. Many townspeople went out to see the plane which had to wait for parts.
After the crown deed was issued Wes Beady had the barn constructed in 1879. In 1923 Milford Neil purchased the property, later it was transferred to one of his sons Lyle (aka Peggy) and his wife Ruby. Current owner Linda Sinclair represents the third generation of Neil’s to own the farm.
Over the years the barn was used for typical mixed farming animals and crops. Horses were stabled there, both Peggy’s own as well as other lessees. Mr. Neil was Harriston’s Santa Clause for many years and because horses were stabled there, that was the starting point for all the parades.
In 1965 the barn was painted by the local Noble Barn Painting Company. Peggy asked Linda and her mother Ruby what color they wanted. They had already decided on black with a white star at the peak. Peggy said “No way black, it’s going to be green”. “Then why did you ask?” “Cause I wanted your opinion.”
Archie and Linda Sinclair took over from her parents about 22 years ago. They went through various stages of beef cattle, pigs, turkeys, and rented the building for hay and straw. They sold all the cattle about five years ago, and ended the turkeys because coyotes kept sneaking in and killing the birds.
The couple had talked about taking the barn down for several years. Linda pulled out all the stops and arranged for its demise a few months ago. She asked around for the best dis-assemblers and an Amish crew from Salem Line (Fordwich) was recommended. Witnessing this group of men, well known for their methodical workmanship, was like watching a jig-saw puzzle being taken apart piece by piece. Each knew what to do, how to go about it, and when. Everything was saved. Small and/or broken pieces can be used for firewood. Wagons were piled with usable boards and beams. The Amish have a line of contacts and the tamarack boards have been shipped to British Columbia for upscale homes.
These workers operate to an internal time clock. They started before 7 a.m. and all knew the hi-hoe was to be there at 3:00 for the final blow. By mid-afternoon there was nothing but the roof perched on a few uprights. Right on cue there was a gentle push, an audience unison of “thar she goes”, a crash, and then a blinding billowing of dust and straw particles covered the onlookers.
Two weeks later a 25 foot deep hole was dug and the last remnants of the barn were buried. Topsoil was brought up from the pasture field and spread over the top.
It wasn’t seeded, but it is already green and mower ready. Sadly one would never know a barn had stood there for 134 years. Beneath that grass lies buried stories of hardship and triumph, fun, games, and a way of life that has disappeared.