Re-raising the barn

Michigan’s historic structures are more than just nostalgic icons of ancestral grit.
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white barn copper roof thinkstock

Ranked 13th in America as state with most barns (21,368 according to a 2007 USDA census of farmers and ranchers cited by the National Barn Alliance), Michigan is a trove of traditional wooden barns. But the glory days of community barn raisings have often long given way to weather rot and insect infestations.

“Many farmers are very practical and don’t have the capacity to preserve or rebuild their barns,” says Ken Brock, who specializes in restoration and relocation of timber frame and log structures through his company, Legendary Timberworks, in Novi. “But a barn that’s completely out of shape doesn’t necessarily mean the wood is bad.”

Gilmore Car Museum circa 1900
Gilmore Car Museum circa 1900 – courtesy Gilmore Car Museum

If the foundation is good, he shares, barns that have outlived their original purpose can be rebuilt to meet an array of present-day goals.

“From horse lovers to corporate executives, new breeds of preservationists are purchasing these worn structures and preserving them for the legacy aspect,” Brock notes.

But many of these new owners are transitioning their nostalgic purchases into adaptive-use facilities, family homes, wedding/event destinations, commercial businesses, public buildings and museums. 

Exemplary Endeavors

Established in 1995 to promote appreciation and preservation of Michigan’s barns, farmsteads and rural communities, the Michigan Barn Preservation Network (MBPN) annually recognizes barns exemplifying outstanding character in the Great Lakes State.

Epicure Catering Chef Andrew Schudlich
Epicure Catering chef/owner Andrew Schudlich and managing partner/owner Cammie Buehler cater to clients at Cherry Basket Farm.

“We average about 30 entry submissions each year,” says Jerry Damon, Barn of the Year committee chair and a converted barn homeowner. “We rate them in four categories: Continued Family/Private Agricultural Use; Family/Private Adaptive Use; Non-Profit Agricultural or Adaptive Use; and Commercial Agricultural or Adaptive Use.”

Among this year’s stand-outs is Cherry Basket Farm, nestled between Suttons Bay and Northport. Owners Tom and Marsha Buehler installed a commercial kitchen in their century-old timber-framed barn to accommodate Epicure Catering, LLC and rent out their picturesque 10-acre site for private events (caterleelanau.com). 

“For over 10 years, we have been doing what we do best — building relationships with our farmers to make healthy, local food for good people in a county rich with beauty, bounty and food artisans,” says Cammie Buehler, managing partner/owner.

Calf Barn From Back View
Van Hoosen Farm – courtesy Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm

The 1927 Calf Barn at the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm is another 2014 winner. Rebuilt on its original site and to original drawing specifications, the structure — which originally housed cattle raised for export to Argentina and Venezuela between the 1920s and 1950s — now serves as a multipurpose facility supporting the museum’s operations and community events (rochesterhills.org).

“It’s nice when those who love barns — who recognize the role that barns have had in the economic development of Michigan and who recognize a barn’s value to their community — recognize your efforts,” shares museum supervisor Patrick McKay.

For additional details about Michigan barn preservation visit mibarn.net; go to michigan.gov/documents to learn about federal income tax credits for such rehabilitative projects.

Old Barns drop shadow

— Lisa Healy, Michigan BLUE Magazine.

Photography courtesy thinkstock; Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm; Gilmore Car Museum; Cater Leelanau/Cherry Basket Farm

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