Raising Barns and Daughters, Part 1

July 26, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Though the space is tidy, Doritos and books lay among the things in the back seat. And on the front center console, sits a box of gluten-free, dairy-free cookies between two people, both of whom I admire for very different reasons.

I have known Kate for a handful of years – we worked together at a local restaurant. Often chatting and sharing stories, I found out about the work her dad (David) does restoring old barns. Having affection for local history and a persistent curiosity about the stories behind the forgotten farms and farm houses that pepper the landscape here in rural Michigan, I had to know more. I jumped at the opportunity to take my curiosity (and my passion for storytelling through a camera lens) and document his work and turn it all into a project of sorts. And this is where we begin.  With an informal meeting at Whole Foods and an impromptu trip that would become the first of many adventures together.


We hopped into his worn (but well-loved) suburban and meandered down the road. The cookies David brought might have seemed like an afterthought but they were actually a token of love from a father. Offered much in the same way that any parent says “zip up your coat” or “drive safe”, he says “Here, try these. They are from that little bakery in Brighton.”  We munched our cookies while David drove and chatted endlessly about the early history of farming in Michigan and more specifically about the demise of the American Chestnut tree in the early 1850’s. He explained how the early settlers had brought this once thriving species to its knees through over-harvesting and perpetuating the spread of chestnut blight. There are now only three living American chestnut trees left in this state (all located in the north-western lower peninsula*). The significance of this barn in particular lies in that it was made from the American chestnut, making it a both a tribute and memorial of a long-gone era.


After a short drive, we arrived at the small but proud-looking barn and slid out of our seats into the biting cold. The barn sits opposite the original farm house that it was once a part of*- and in this moment, I can imagine how lovely it all looked in its heyday. (*Brief research and looking through some old plat maps suggests that the nearby dilapidated farm house and this barn were once a part of the same property, though they sit on opposite sides of the street. I hope to verify this at a later date. ) But now the home sits abandoned and crumbling while the barn stands firm. The couple, who owns the property the barn sits on now, chose to save this place if only for the purpose of not letting a building with “good bones” go to waste. And while it may have seemed like a cursory thing to them at the time, for those of us who are preservationists at heart; they have done us all a great service.

And so as Kate and I listened with curiosity as her Dad explained more about the work he had done to get this gem straightened up and standing tall again (literally – the foundation was crumbling and the entire building had shifted accordingly), then about this barn’s original purpose and its potential future, we explored and climbed and sat in wonder.

With promises made to return in better weather and to take the time to further document the details of the ‘chestnut barn’ (as I have been referring to it since our first visit) – we climbed back into the car and headed back to town. The pictures can tell the story for now…but soon I hope to share more about this barn and the next adventure in our journey.

The 'Chestnut' Barn The 'Chestnut' Barn The 'Chestnut' Barn The 'Chestnut' Barn The 'Chestnut' Barn The 'Chestnut' Barn




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