- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

BURLINGTON, Ind. (AP) - When Tim Sheets saw the rolling pastures, old brick house and giant red barn sitting on his future in-laws’ farm, it was love at first sight.

It was in the 1970s, and he had just started dating his wife, Beth, when they went to visit her parents on their cattle farm located at 4175 N. 1200 West, just a mile away from the Howard-Carroll county line.

When he saw it, he knew he wanted to live there someday.

“I grew up on a farm, and I never thought I’d ever have a desire to get back to one,” Sheets said. “But it’s in my blood, and it was eventually going to happen.”

And it did. In 1998, the Sheets moved from the north side of Indianapolis with their school-aged children into the old brick farmhouse, which had by that time been renovated.

A few years later, the old barn that used to house cattle was filled up with something more unusual: herds of alpacas.

“My father-in-law raised cattle, but we wanted to do something that was a little different, something that everybody wasn’t doing in this area,” Sheets said. “I think my father-in-law would have appreciated this. I think he’d mostly just be glad we were still utilizing the barn.”

That was the same sentiment shared by judges on the Indiana Bicentennial Barns of Indiana committee.

Earlier this year, a panel of artists, preservationists and agriculturalists selected the structure as one of the top 10 best barns exemplifying the state’s agriculture heritage as part of Indiana’s bicentennial celebration.

The 10 barns were selected for their architectural and historical features, aesthetics, character, condition and construction. The contest launched last year, and 200 entries were submitted.

“We were blown away by the level of pride that jumped off the entry forms and photos,” said Betsy Jones, who coordinated the barn project, in a press release. “The stories that owners shared about their barns exuded family history, pride and a genuine love of those barns. It was extremely difficult to narrow the field to just 10.”

Sheets said the history of their barn likely dates back to 1911, when they believe it was built by a man named Otho Rodkey. That guess is based on a support beam at the top of the structure, which has his name and the date written on it.

The barn’s interior hasn’t changed since its construction. Hand-hewn beams are interspersed with nearly untouched logs which still have their bark attached.

The English-style structure still has the original hayfork hanging from the roof. The fork is rigged up to a series of ropes and pulleys on the roof that allowed farmers to pull hay from wagons and pile it on top of the animal stables inside.

“That’s the reason these old barns are so high,” Sheets said. “They piled loose hay up as high as they could go.”

The barn doesn’t only have towering ceilings. It’s also amazingly large, standing at 40-feet-by-60-feet.

Sheets said one of the most remarkable features is a massive, 60-foot support beam running the entire length of the barn that was hewn from a single tree. He said he calculated the beam’s weight at around 2,700 pounds, which made it a monumental task for workers in the early 1900s to install.

“It’s just amazing they could do that,” Sheets said.

It’s that kind of construction, though, that has allowed the barn to stay in such good condition after more than a century of use.

“These barns were built sturdy,” he said. “You have solid, massive timbers in here that provide a lot of strength. It’s stood up through winds and storms and never had any problems that I’m aware of.”

“The biggest thing with old barns is the roof,” Sheets added. “If you let the roof go bad and start getting water leaking, it attacks the wood and rot begins. It doesn’t take long for a downhill slide. If you maintain the roof and the siding, it’s going to last a long, long time.”

That’s just what the Sheets did about 13 years ago, when they installed new asphalt shingles. They used that opportunity to give the barn a personal flair, putting the initials “H” and “F” on one side of the roof - which stands for Heritage Farms - and an alpaca on the other side.

Now, the barn has become the centerpiece of the farm’s agro-tourism business.

Not only does it shelter the Sheets’ alpaca herds, which they sheer to harvest the animals’ soft, warm wool. It also serves as an idyllic backdrop to the country weddings that take place on the property.

The Sheets decided to open up the farm for weddings, and this summer, four couples booked the place to hold their ceremony and reception.

“It’s kind of the popular thing right now,” Sheets said. “Kids like to get married on a farm and have an outdoor wedding.”

The barn and farm have also become a popular place for groups of students to visit, as well as the curious tourist. Just last week, more than 375 people from all across the Midwest visited the property as part of a barn tour of the area.

Sheets said it’s encouraging to see people still have an interest in old barns, since many have long since been torn down to make way for more modern, large-scale farm operations.

Now, he said, he seems himself as something of an historical preservationist, working to maintain and promote a piece of Indiana’s agricultural past.

“These old barns are disappearing,” he said. “They’re expensive to keep up, and with today’s agriculture, you can’t use them. You can’t fit machines in them or big operations. But they’re architectural gems, really. The way they were built represents our history.”


SOURCE: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2em2dkZ


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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