For a many years I have been photographing old barns and houses in Kittson County before they are burned down or crushed and buried. I now have the only photographs of many buildings that no longer exist. Each year fewer old farms and homesteads are left. As a result I am finding it difficult to find subjects to photograph.
Early this May I spotted an old red barn sitting close to the Canadian border in St.Vincent township. From a distance it seemed to be in good conditions and wore what appeared to be a reasonable coat of paint. As I drove the trail into the farm site it was obvious that the buildings had been abandoned because the road and farm yard was covered in tall grass.
The house and buildings looked as if they had been built in the 1940’s. In a small garage with a collapsed roof I could make out the remains of an old 1930’s truck. As I walked around I could see a lot of old farm equipment such as horse driven hay rakes an mowers peeking out from under the tall dark grass.
When I got to the barn I quickly saw that it was well built but the roof was full of small holes where the asphalt shingles had blown off and the original cedar shingles underneath were in sad condition.Strong prairie winds during years of exposure had lifted the big doors off their tracks and one set was on the ground.
As I walked around in the deep grass I could see that no vehicles or people had been on the farm for many years. The entire place was as silent as a tomb and gave me the feeling that something serious or tragic was connected to the place.
The interior of the barn was in excellent condition but it only had a half dozen stalls on the west side while the east side was constructed of pens for small livestock.
When I went up into the hay loft I found the head of the stairs was used as a tack room and enough horse harness for a couple of teams was hanging on the walls. When I stepped into the hay loft I found it empty of hay but the hundreds of small holes in the roofing made it look like a star filled night.
As I drove away I could not shake the feeling that there had to be some kind of story connected to the place. It was as if the residents had left in a hurry and time just stopped suddenly.
I resolved to look into who owned the property and see if I could learn what story it held.
It took a month or so but I learned that the owner of the property had been sharing a few drinks in a local bar and agreed to drive two younger men home. No one seems to know why but they ended up driving on a remote country road east of St. Vincent and got stuck in a snow filled ditch. It was in February, it was dark out, and they left the road in an area that had no residents nearby. The owner and driver of the vehicle was in his early seventies while his two passenger were much younger.
The owner of the car decided he would go for help and started walking in a north westward direction in what later appeared to be in the direction of his farm. It was not until the next morning that someone driving by saw a body lying out in a field. The man was dead and had frozen to death. Later the occupants of his car were found safe and alive in his car about five mile away. All this took place back in 2001 or about fifteen years ago. The deceased lived alone so the farm site became abandoned.
I thought that was the end of the story until a month or so later when I returned to the farm to look at the old car, the farm machinery and the horse harness. I was with a person from the Historical Society and were going to examine the old vehicle and horse harness to see if it would make a good exhibit for the museum. We had already made steps to contact the owner who lived in the west of Canada
When we climbed the stairs into the loft we discovered most of the horse harness was gone. We found tracks in the tall grass left by a four wheeler that led into the back of the barn. This harness had hung in the barn untouched for fifteen years. It seems reasonable to assume that one of my recent enquires into the history of the farm had resulted in the theft of all the horse harness.
It would be of little value today but it would have made a great display of horse harness that had a great part in building the county back in the horse and buggy age. Perhaps someone reading this post has seen or heard about a new found set of horse harness and will call the Museum in Lake Bronson so we can arrange for it to be returned or for the Sheriffs office to take some action.
It was rather a disappointing end to what was already a sad story.