When I initially came across the property that would eventually be ours, it wasn’t the house or the 12 acres of land that caught my attention. It was the old brick barn that boldly stood among the overgrown mulberry and ash trees. It’s roof was pocked with holes, like an old cannon riddled ship after its last battle at sea. Its wooden eaves were splintered, the paint on the whitewashed doors chipped and weathered with age. But despite it’s condition, it was one of the most magnificent buildings I had ever seen.
I would eventually learn that the remaining brick silos and barns that still pepper the Iowa landscape are a grande testament to a time most people have long forgotten. Most of these buildings are empty and no longer functional. Sadly, many of them are torn down every year to make room for new buildings or farm land.
But this one still remained. And I was in awe.
It spoke to me. I swear it did, as much as anything extraordinary can speak into a man’s soul. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic. But what if this barn could be restored? Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing? To continue its long story with new life and a new purpose.
What things these tired windows must have witnessed over the past 118 years. Families have come and gone. The land around the barn has changed over the many decades since the first brick was laid.
But this barn has remained. Perhaps it has been waiting for us. I’d like to this that might be true.
Right now it may be the biggest piece of yard art we’ve ever owned.
Once this barn gave shelter to livestock; pigs and cows raised for the farmer’s family and the community around them. Fresh hay was once stored underneath its gabled roof, hoisted up by a pulley that no longer works, from wagons and trucks that no longer come up the drive, and through doors that no longer open.
I like to think that once this barn stood as a marvel to the rest of the small community of people. How many small farms in 1900 had a brick barn? If there were others in the community they are all long gone now.
There’s hay still in the loft. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but we need to get it out. It’s scattered over rotted boards that will eventually fall if we don’t, making it impossible and dangerous for us to use the space in the lower barn.
The roof will probably collapse soon. It has weathered countless wind storms, snow and heavy rain. But it’s only a matter of time before those weary timbers let go and it all comes down. There is a substantial cost to rebuilding, and time isn’t on our side. But I still remain hopeful.
It’s funny how such a thing can become a kind of muse for someone. I walk by the barn in the morning to feed the pigs and sometimes it whispers to me. Maybe it’s just the wind sliding through the gaping rafters. Nevertheless, our land is haunted. It’s haunted with the spirit of promise and of possibility. That’s what this old barn represents for me. A monument to what has been, and what might yet be. And that is as powerful as any ghost, because it has the ability to posses those who are willing to acknowledge it with a kind of second sight. The ability to look past the broken things and see the hope of restoration.
I know some people will look at our old brick barn and wonder why we don’t just tear it down. But I know in my heart this living presence, which to them is just an old relic, will one day serve again. And it will stand for another 100 years.