Our Vanishing Wisconsin Barns

Jefferson County, Wisconsin barn

Not like I’ve ever mentioned it before, but my work gets me out of the office in so many interesting ways. Like this past weekend when my husband and I roamed the countryside in search of the perfect “weathered, red barn” to illustrate an author’s article (more on in the upcoming Fermentation Fest event guide).

In the meantime, here are some of the glorious barns we founding gracing our area of rural Wisconsin. This, my cover photo, I shot from a farm near Lake Mills.

Jefferson County, Wisconsin barn

First, let’s go back and start with…my barn!

Shot from the hill below, the cornfield is hiding the two eras of our barn’s foundation—the original fieldstone built in the second half of the 19th century and a cinder block addition built in the 1940s. According to a visitor from Old World Wisconsin, the original barn is a Pomeranian German style of architecture.

And yes, those are lightning rod balls. It’s amazing how they’ve survived generations of thunderstorms and young boys’ BB guns.

Old Wisconsin dairy barn

Here is my neighbor’s barn. It’s an example of what was old and new back in the 70s, when farmers added pole barns to their existing barns in order to increase their dairy herds.

As history goes, Wisconsin was “America’s breadbasket” before it was its dairyland. In the 1860s, however, an infestation destroyed the wheat industry and farmers were challenged to take on something new—dairy farming. Taking the barns they previously used for threshing, farmers raised them up and built a foundation underneath to house the cattle. Thus the “barn hill” was born, a landscaped incline had by nearly every historic barn in south central Wisconsin.

Jefferson County, Wisconsin farm

Such a pretty roadside view! Note the gambrel roof of this and my neighbor’s barn, compared to the gabled lines of mine. According to state historian Jerry Apps, the gambled roof became popular because it allowed for more hay storage under the eaves. I’ve always favored the gambrel as a traditional dairy barn, but interestingly, in this area we found more gabled roofs like ours.

Old barn in Farmington, Wisconsin

A few miles down the road from us is the corner community of Farmington and this very unique barn. Imagine the hay that was loaded through these doors back in the day.

Wisconsin dairy barn

Here’s an idyllic dairy scene! Located near Lake Mills, this obviously doesn’t fit my requirements for a weathered photo. From the road, this barn looks like it may have a poured concrete foundation, making it a much newer barn than others in the area.

Small barn in Jefferson County, Wisconsin

I think this one is the cutest, little thing ever. Old, yes. Weathered, no. Back in the day, farms had a multitude of small buildings in addition to the main barn. This barn is located near Milford and may have served as a granary or to house small livestock.

Weathered barn in south central Wisconsin

We wanted weathered? Well, here it is. This barn, now forgotten and without purpose, embodies the vanishing of our heritage as we once knew it. Maintaining old barns is horrendously expensive so they are left to decay. Paying taxes on them seems counterproductive, so they’re often torn down. My husband and I were amazed at how few farmsteads actually still have barns.

Old Wisconsin dairy barn

When one recognizes the brilliance of a barn’s architectural form and the stories it has to tell, even the old and weathered maintains an artistic beauty.

Fachwerk Barn, Watertown, Wisconsin

Okay, folks, here’s my last photo. No, this barn isn’t red. And no, I can’t use it for my project. But it’s a weathered treasure and it’s on our farm. This is a pre-1850 Fachwerk barn, a German style of timber frame, or half-timber, originating from northern Germany. According to those in the know, there are many barns and homes in this area of southcentral Wisconsin built as Fachwerk but now covered with siding. My husband uses this barn for his woodworking shop, where in my opinion, he crafts with the same heart men did long ago as they hand-hewed these beams.

So, what can we do to preserve our barns? What new purposes can we find for them so they don’t stand empty? Organizations such as the Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program are working to address these issues. And, of course, watch for Fermentation Fest‘s upcoming event guide. There will be many such interesting articles!


Gratitude of Great Proportions

Building at Pabst Brewery, Milwaukee, WI

Two weeks ago I went with friends to the Christkindlmarket in Milwaukee. It was a super fun time. Just so you know, the market pictured in the link is from Nuremberg, Germany, not Milwaukee—our Milwaukee market was at the former Pabst Brewery, a community of 25 well-worn corporate and manufacturing structures like the one pictured above. Even though our market wasn’t of Nuremberg standards, it was fascinating to see the buildings that make up this historic district.

We’re now past Thanksgiving but I’m still thinking about these buildings. Maybe because over the holiday weekend we started a major renovation ruckus in our house (I always say we so I sound involved, but really I mean my husband—more on that another time). Or maybe because lately this has been the harsh, wintery scene out my office window. Anyway, I’ve been wondering what it was like to work in these cavernous warehouses back in the day.

Warehouse at Pabst Brewery Complex, Milwaukee, WI

From 1844, when the brewery was founded by Jacob Best, until 1996, when the Pabst line was contracted out to Stroh Brewing Company in LaCrosse, thousands of hardworking Milwaukeeans spent the majority of their days in buildings similar to these. Wouldn’t you think it must have been super cold in winter? And hot in summer? It must have been dirty, laborious and sometimes unsafe. And yet for over a hundred years the heart of Milwaukee’s culture was this neighborhood of Cream City Bricks, now blackened with production and time.

Pabst Brewery Complex sign

Pabst Brewing Company is now owned by a Russian beverage distributor and, sadly, is no longer headquartered in Milwaukee. But one of the many gazillion obscure things for which I’m thankful is that the high architectural and historical integrity of these buildings has not been lost. They haven’t been demolished and replaced with characterless, poor construction.

In 2006, Joseph Zilber’s investment group Brewery Project LLC purchased the complex for $13 million and is renovating it for residential, office and retail use. It’s called The Brewery. The old Mill House, aka Building 21, is now the Brewhouse Inn & Suites and Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub. Don’t these sound like a fun places to visit?

Office building at Pabst Brewery Complex, Milwaukee, WI

So, even though I’m totally thankful I get to work from home in a warm, toasty office, I do sort of fantasize moving my office to this building. Isn’t it the most Gothically gorgeous thing ever?

A Recap of Fermentation Fest 2014

Adunate's design work for Fermentation Fest

Six months ago when I traveled to Sauk County to meet Donna Neuwirth and the Fermentation Fest planners, winter was only beginning to leave the land. Everything was stark, barren and brown. Back then we were just planting seeds of ideas for the festival’s promotional materials and the fruition of this project seemed so very far away.

Two weeks ago, I was once again in Sauk County, this time for the big event. As my husband and I drove through the countryside I couldn’t help contemplating this full cycle of seasons. Just as I’d seen my Fermentation Fest project from start to finish, so I was seeing Sauk County’s agricultural season from start to finish. I feel really blessed to be part of these rural rhythms.

Fermentation Fest Corn Maze

This year, my husband and I did the Fermentation Fest Art D’Tour,  a 50-mile, self guided extravaganza through the winding backroads of Sauk County. Along the way was this corn maze, complete with meditative phrases to serve as guides. We wound our way through the field to a lookout with an over-the-corn view of the scenic hillside.

Fermentation Fest Corn Maze

I did say meditative, didn’t I?

Tractors at Fermentation Fest

For many people, a lineup of tractors is beautiful art. There was a great exchange of stories going on at this stop.

“Is that an F-20 over there?” I overheard a woman ask. “I learned to drive on one of those.”

Drift, Fermentation Fest

Drift is a large-scale floating sculpture that, according to the artists, “functions both as an autonomous intervention in the landscape and a site for exchange with residents and visitors.”

Standing inside this gently rocking raft and looking to the sky through its pieced seams was quite mesmerizing. I started thinking I’d should lay down and float through the dreamy pond just like Lady of Sharlott (or should I say Anne of Green Gables).

Frermentation Fest food vendors

We’d be driving along and suddenly out of nowhere a Roadside Culture Stand would appear. These mobile food stands are works of art in themselves. So are the products they were selling.

Harvestore Bandshell, designed by John Shimone

A Harvestore silo turned serendipitous stage—is this cool, or what? The Harvestore Bandshell was designed by photographers John Shimon and Julie Lindemann, and staged a variety of Pasture Performances. We missed Shimon’s We Go From Where We Know, but enjoyed hearing this guitar trio instead.

What a beautiful day to stand in a farm field and listen to music!

Invasive Species, Fermenation Fest

As the afternoon wound its way down, our last stop was this old, abandoned farmhouse. It’s part of the artwork called Invasive Species, by Isabelle Garbani. Her colorful leaves crocheted from plastic shopping bags are shown creeping along this beautiful house. They’re “slowly choking it with their invasive growth,” according to the artist’s statement, just as our world is being invaded and choked by synthetically produced plastics.

You can’t see it here, but this house has great architectural lines and original character. I was so happy to see a building permit in the window and signs of restoration work inside.

The best way to wrap up an inspiring Art D’Tour is a dinner at the Food/Drink D’Tour. Which we did. What a tasty evening of culinary delights, put on by the finest foodies the region has to offer.

This is something I want to do all over again next year. Sauk County in spring—I’ll be back!

Day #7: Our Final Discovery, Reads Landing

Storefront window in Red Wing, Minnesota

Fortuitous discoveries make for fun traveling. This was certainly true for us as we meandered through southwestern Wisconsin and up the Mississippi River on our Octoberfest Beer Tour.

And since it was a brewery tour, of course it’s only appropriate to say we learned a lot about the beer industry (as we partook in some mighty fine sipping).

For example, I know a lot of corporate brand buying and selling occurs in today’s monopolized beer industry. But I didn’t realize this exchange has gone on for generations, even among small breweries. Take Berghoff, an authentic German style beer with a great Midwestern heritage: Since it’s beginnings in 1887, it’s been brewed by the Herman Berghoff Brewing Company, Fort Wayne, Ind., the Falstaff Brewing Company, St. Louis, Mo., the Joseph Huber Brewery (now Minhas), Monroe, Wis., the Walter Brewing Company, Eau Claire, Wis., and now the Berghoff Brewing Company in Chicago.

Imagine the diversity of deals settled throughout history, all in the name of fermented grains!

Another bit of beer history we learned was the extent to which ales were brewed, especially in Wisconsin and other Germanic-influenced states. According to this article, in the late 1800s breweries were as much a part of Wisconsin communities as churches and schools. My own town of Watertown has record of nine different breweries and we’ve all heard stories of the underground tunnels, some of which still exist.

Reads Landing Brewing Company, Reads Landing, MN

So, as we wrapped up our tour, my husband and I were especially excited to share the fun of new discoveries. For our last stop we hopped across the river and, together with my dear aunt and uncle, checked out Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minn.

Even though my aunt and uncle live a short jaunt up the road, and even though they’d driven through Reads Landing many times, they never knew this little gem existed. We had a great time and the food and drinks were delicious.


Adunate rates Reads Landing Brewing Company, Reads Landing, MinnesotaBeer
It was a full house when we visited yet owner/brewer Bob Nihart took the time to chat with us about his beer, which he brews three barrels at a time. He didn’t have any Oktoberfest on the menu, but we liked his Cap’n Amber and American House Pale Ale.

Gorgeous! According to Reads Landing’s website, its 1869 building was formerly a dry goods store and has been in the family since the 1930s. They’ve done a fabulous job preserving its character and structural soundness. The restaurant overlooks the Mississippi River and the large storefront windows offer a beautiful view. The décor was fun and fitting.

The food was good, hearty bar fare.

I’m extending the Reads Landing community to include the surrounding river towns, since the whole area is truly beautiful. Although Reads Landing is unincorporated and I can’t even find a population, its neighboring towns are much larger. We spent several hours in Red Wing, which is just 30 minutes away and we attended church at Salem Lutheran, Woodbury, another 30 minutes beyond that.

Reads Landing Brewing Company, Reads Landing, MN

Copy and Design
I’ve previously mentioned how much I like Read Landing’s logo. After visiting, I love it even more. Everything about it fits the business’s brand perfectly. It’s website is also well done, with lots of good information on the restaurant, beer and the area.

Well, that’s it folks—our 2014 Octoberfest Beer Tour (said with a melancholy sigh). It’s been so much fun, we’re thinking we could make it an annual event. Maybe we will!

Day #6: Trempealeau Food, Fountain City Brew and Good Company

GlenDi_CartoonI don’t know if you’ve noticed but cartoon Glen and Di are getting more and more robust with each post I write. That’s what happens when you spend a week feasting on Wisconsin’s savory fare and specialty brew.

No calories there whatsoever.

As we navigate our way up the Great River Road, each Mississippi town has been as quaint as the next and we’ve met some super nice people. Trempealeau and Fountain City are especially distinct.


Sunset over Mississippi River in Trempealeau, WI

Trempealeau Hotel and Restaurant, Tremealeau, WI

Hands down, our best meal has been dinner at the historic Trempealeau Hotel and Restaurant, overlooking the river and this beautiful sunset. Besides serving Spaten, my husband’s favorite Oktoberfest beer (which we won’t discuss because it’s a German import), the restaurant has an obvious appreciation of its vintage atmosphere and local farmers. My husband had the walleye with a heavenly kale-bacon-whatever sauté. I had a shrimp skewer drenched in butter and lightly crusted with a blend of herbs.

Getting hungry? I am, just reminiscing.

To work this off, the next day we hiked through Perrot State Park, another beautiful area with killer-bluffs overlooking the river. Actually, hiking the bluffs isn’t that hard, but be mindful that this week real Glen and Di are not a tight stretch from cartoon Glen and Di. At the top of one bluff, we met a lovely family with young boys whose infectious enthusiasm for nature reminded us of how blessed we all really are.

Fountain City

Monarch Public House, Fountain City, WI

Further up the Mississippi we lunched at the Monarch Public House, a food and drink destination since 1894. We had fish because it was Friday and in Wisconsin you have fish on Fridays, even if the Monarch calls it fish ‘n chips, which it does because it’s Irish. It’s just what we do (along with run-on sentences).

Our server explained their heritage style of baking the fish at 600+ degrees instead of deep frying. It was delicious!

vintage bar in Monarch Public House, Fountain City, WI

Isn’t this bar stunning? Our server said it’s original to the building. The pressed tin ceiling is also original and easily 16-feet high, if not more. The Monarch’s website shares an interesting history of the building—be sure to scroll all the way down.

Fountain Brew, Fountain City, WI

In addition to being the longest running tavern in Wisconsin, the Monarch has also resurrected Fountain City Brewing Company. Long part of the community’s heritage, this brewery originated in 1862. When it closed in 1965 and the building later demolished, it seemed the local flavor would be lost forever.

That is, until 1997.

By then John Harrington owned the Monarch tavern and was guiding it through a loving restoration. One day a nearly 90-year-old, retired assistant brewmaster named Wilbert Schmitt came forward with the original recipes he had saved all these years. Harrington and Schmitty, as he’s known, collaborated and reintroduced Fountain City’s beloved brew.

Fascinating story, eh? The Monarch tells it in greater detail here. Again, be sure to scroll completely down the page.

Next year, according to our server, the Monarch will break ground for a brewery building right next to the tavern. Bucket list: Go back to Fountain City in two years and check it out!

Gasoline Alley, Fountain City, WI

Octoberfest_2014_FC_CarWhile wandering Main Street, we met John Campbell of Gasoline Alley. One compliment on his car parked outside and he proudly brought us inside to see his latest work.

I like his business logo!

Seven Hawks Vineyard, Fountain City, WI

John shared fun stories of Fountain City. He also pointed out how the buildings on the town’s main streets are all veered to match the angle of the river. None of them were built square to the street. Intriguing!

RatingsAdunate rates Fountain City Brewery, Fountain City, WI

Fountain City doesn’t brew an Oktoberfest but we enjoyed their signature styles nonetheless. My husband had an Irish Valley Spring Bock and I went all historical with the original recipe Fountain Brew. Both were great!

Need I say more? I loved this building and its meticulous restoration.

My husband had fish ‘n chips. I had a Caesar salad. We shared and were extremely happy travelers!

An endearing little river town, where life seems slow and peaceful. With this list of things to do, we could have stayed longer than the one afternoon we did. Next time!

Copy & Design
The Monarch has a great story to tell and does so very well on it’s website. It’s Facebook page shares the same enthusiasm and friendliness our server did. I’m looking forward to the promotions it puts out when they build the brewery.

Our next, and final, stop: Reads Landing Brewing Company, Reads Landing, Minnesota