- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) - Keith Elliott used to look at his Old State Road farm property every morning and see the red barn that had been passed down for five generations.

But when he was younger, he’d not only look at the barn - he played in it too, jumping in the hay and, if he was feeling extra gutsy, climbing to the top window.

“We had two windows, one on the north, one on the south that were up probably two stories high, with a wooden ladder along the side of the barn,” Elliott said. “If you were brave enough, you climbed up to look out the windows.”

That barn had weathered everything since 1835, but it was gone in a flash July 5.

A fire burned it to the ground while Elliott and his family were out of town, leaving behind only a muddy footprint on the family’s property.

“For five generations, it’s been used for all kinds of storage and raising animals,” Elliott said. “My dad raised pigs and cattle in the early days.”

Fire officials told Elliott that the barn was most likely caused by spontaneous combustion of hay, unless a critter chewed on some electrical wires, Elliott said.

“If new hay gets put in a barn and its wet, heat builds up inside the bale and it just actually spontaneously bursts into flames it’s so hot,” Elliott said. “There’s been barns that, in this county, that get lost to that.”

Along with the barn, the Elliotts lost what was stored inside, including hay for their bison and miniature horses, the elevator that transferred it from the wagon to the barn, bison hides and an old-time harness for horses.

“My ancestors came here from Ohio in 1834 or 1835, and (the harness) could have been that old,” Elliott said. “It was a two-inch think harness and old, hard leather.”

The side of the barn also had the iconic Elliott’s sign from the family’s former car business, but that was lost in the fire too.

Next in line

As is tradition with Elliott patriarchs, Joe Elliott, 29, is set to be the sixth-generation son to inherit the family’s 5-acre property. He has sons who will buy it from him.

“It was definitely in the near future,” Joe Elliott said. “This kind of throws a hiccup in there.”

As a youngster, Joe Elliott enjoyed swinging on the barn’s pulley system and having his buddies over to help with farm chores.

“There were a lot of chores around the barn that made me who I am today,” Joe Elliott said, “and my friends were saddened by it burning down.”

Linda Elliott, Keith’s wife of 23 years, isn’t too involved with the men’s politics, but when the barn burnt, it was emotional for her, too.

She survived a house fire during her first marriage that killed her dogs after the air conditioning shorted out. Thirty years ago, when Elliott was working as a cosmetologist, a product blew up on her, resulting in extensive skin grafting.

When the family returned from vacation to the barn ablaze, it brought back “a lot of bad memories,” Linda Elliott said.

“I just didn’t even want to see it, to be honest,” Elliott said, “but I had to be there and be supportive for my husband.”

Linda and Keith Elliott plan eventually to downsize into a smaller home after Joe Elliott takes over since she’s struggling with the stairs after having two total knee replacements and back problems, Keith Elliott said.

“It’s the whole homestead that kept us here,” he said, “and the barn was part of the homestead.”

Joe Elliott said he’s still going to inherit the property, but the future of the barn is unclear.

“We’re just in a clean-up phase right now trying to get everything situated,” he said. “We’re not sure what we’re thinking or what the game plan is. We’re probably going to have some type of barn set-up. We’ll have to look into what that will be.”

Life without the barn

Visit Elliott’s property and you’ll be greeted by bison, miniature horses and very curious chickens that try to climb in your car when you’re not looking.

No animals were hurt in the fire.

“One section of the barn was open for two miniature horses. They lived in there when they wanted and had access to a cement pad, and they had access to this overgrown pasture here,” Elliott said. “Fortunately, that’s all open so when the fire was going, they had escaped.”

The Elliott’s herd of bison once numbered as many as 50 but now is down to only four free-roaming animals. The family got into the bison business around 2011, and “the price of a live animal more than doubled in that short amount of time,” Keith Elliott said.

“The price of meat hasn’t kept track,” he said. “If I had an unlimited amount of bison I could sell it for enough to make a significant profit at this point and time. We’re holding off and laying low and trying to see if we can find a better source of live animals.”

“Losing the barn on top of market conditions has made a bigger struggle for us,” Keith Elliott added.

Although the family had insurance on the barn, it won’t be enough to build a similarly sized one - and whatever goes on the property now won’t have the nostalgia factor, Keith Elliott said.

“For an old barn they won’t insure, I was told, for enough,” he said. “I’ll get something out of the barn but it won’t be enough to build anywhere near the equivalent size. I hope to put up a smaller pole barn.”


Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle, https://bit.ly/1HJSRpH


Information from: The Daily Chronicle, https://www.daily-chronicle.com

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