Abandoned

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.100_2087.JPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Fading memories

Why do old weathered farm buildings produce comforting memories deep within our soul?   Why do we covet hand crafted hinges and door latches, produced by the skill of a long gone blacksmith?  If you have never had these feelings then don’t read further.

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These old storage building were last used for grain storage, as signified by all the windows and openings having been boarded over. Perhaps they once were used to store farm equipment which has now been hidden out of sight in a lesser position of importance.

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These old horse pulled hay rakes have done their job and like so many before them will soon be sold for scrap.  In the mean time they turn a rusty red, while the buildings lose their original red paint.  Left alone, mother nature steps in and changes the wood into a  variety of soft greys with orange/red lichens as trim.

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The three doors of the grain bin are showing the ravages time. The wood is rotting, the doors are sagging on their hinges, and the lower boards are departing, one by one. Instead of a lock or a latch, the rims of old wooden wagon wheels are used to hold the doors closed. Time works at a methodical but unstoppable pace.

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While the ravages of time completes the destruction of the once robust outside stairs, bushes have taken root in a quiet and sheltered site, ignored by the rest of the passing world.

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No matter from which direction the remains of the old farm are viewed, it exhibits the feeling of peace and tranquility. Lets hope we all depart in a similar manner.

 

Retired sentinals of the prairie

These little old buildings and sheds are scattered all around the country, no longer of use to anyone, but full of memories. This pair finished their lives as small grain bins, but now they would hardly hold a few large truck loads.  The building on the left was divided into three separate storage bins and the sagging doors are braced shut by the steel rims of old wooden wagon wheels. The set of exterior steps provided access to the attic which could have been a bunk house for hired hands during  many forgotten harvests.

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The original farm house is long gone and these buildings are not going to be able to withstand the strong winter winds much longer. The red paint  is almost gone and the wooden shingles are beginning to scatter across the fields.

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At the time this photo was taken little snow had fallen but the winds have been starting to build up the snow and dirt in drifts far to the west. The remains of the neighbors barn can be seen on the lonely horizon to the extreme left.

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The windows have all been boarded over to keep stored grain from escaping. The original paint under the eves is still the original barn red, hidden away where the direct prairie sun could not reach it.  The empty prairie skyline emphasizes the feeling of loneliness, experienced by new visitors.
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The north side of the building remains in the shade and encourages the growth of a bright orange yellow growth that compliments the barn boards that display various shades of grey.
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The rusty red hinges and door latch continue to do their job but the dry rot above the door mark the passage of time with a vengeance.

 

 

Old Country Schoolhouse

Kittson County is slowly losing the little schoolhouses that were spread around the townships. A few are still maintained and used as meeting halls. The rest are ignored, paint peeling, boards rotting and roofs sagging. Some were moved and used for storage buildings but the rest have been knocked down or burned.

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North Star School

This particular little old school house is located on the northern border of section 27 of Richardville township.  It is unusual because it is more than twice the size of a regular school and had a tower.

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The building sits out on the flat prairie and is believed to be more than a hundred years old.
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At one time a interior ladder provided access to the top of the tower.

While I have examined the building and the tower I have not be able to determine why the tower was built on the school house and what it was used for. If you have any knowledge on the history of this school please comment.

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Main classroom – east wing.

The leaking roof has damaged the ceiling and the building will not last much longer.  Note that the blackboards are still hanging on the walls and the old oil burner is still in place.

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Note the three blackboards on the north wall.                    
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Some interesting graffiti                                            

The Murray farm was right across the road to the north. It appears the grandson visited the school a hundred years after it opened.

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This is the interior of the western section of the school with another oil burner and possibly and original wood stove.  Note the student lockers along the back wall. The photo was taken while standing of what appeared to be a small stage. 

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This shows the western half of the school, while  looking eastward.

If you have any information regarding this old country school house please comment on this blog or email me at gbrowne@wiktel.com.  I know there are many people who would enjoy hearing more about this school.

 

 

 

A Typsy Red Barn

This old barn has been sitting out  in the open prairie all its life and the accumulated north winds have finally had an effect. The farmer is long gone as are all the horses, cows, and other livestock that sought shelter during the long winter months.

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The effects of life on the northern plains.

Notice how the upper track of the main door has come to rest on the top of the door. This in turn has jammed and prevented the building from leaning any further and ultimately falling over.

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The wall of the barn is badly stressed and most of the window trim has fallen off. Amazingly none of the panes of glass have broken.
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The side view shows the wall is starting to bow out and this in turn will cause the roof to sag until it fails and collapses the whole barn.
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Interior view of the old stalls.

The wooden interior is still in good condition as is the cement floor. A skillful carpenter could jack the building back into place but there is little use for this building as a barn. Without some special attention it has a short life span at this stage.

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This shot taken from the rear of the barn once again shows another jammed barn door which help contribute to its support. The windswept prairie is very close at hand.
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This view of a corner of the cedar shingled roof, along with the faded red barn paint, reflects its long years of service.
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The rear of the barn and the outlying buildings show they were all well maintained during their service, but nothing lasts for ever.

 

Winter takes hold.

During the night we got about six inches of fresh light snow and our woods have transformed. The ground reminds me of a new canvass, waiting for mother nature to record her activities.

More snow is expected, along with strong winds, so our local school was cancelled. I’ve taken my scoop and opened the driveway to the gravel road. In the next day or two I will widen the trail and push the snow back. While the main highways have already been plowed it will take more time for the gravel secondary roads to be cleaned off.

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The grey overcast is blocking the sun but the snow fall is lessening.

Our county highway departments is very efficient at removing snow and it takes a major storm to prevent us from getting into town. This snowfall has not closed any roads but serious winds can change that fast.

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Rarely does the mail fail to get through so one of my first snow day tasks is to clear the snow from around the mail box.
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Other than our neighbors across the road, no one else lives within a mile in any direction. If you go off the road or get stuck you better be ready to walk.
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Most of the farm land in this county is very flat so I like to head to the local river to get some interesting photos. It has not been too cold so we still have open water where ever there are rapids.
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This shot might make a good Christmas Card.
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All it lacks is a deer having a drink.

We are already two months into winter but only received a little more than a foot of snow. One year, 1997, we had ten blizzards and a hundred inches of snowfall. It was even worse in the 1940’s. It’s rather boring now.

 

 

Recycled life history

I came across this old building this fall, after being drawn near it by the sight of a very large old willow tree. The building was obviously an old store, and at some time in its life it resided in a town.

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Old buildings are of particular interest to me, as like people, they also have a history. Regrettably the store front lacks a sign of any kind and the interior has been stripped of all clues as to its origin or occupation.

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Sad to say, its last use was as a cattle shed. It sits far out of sight on the edge of a field far from a road, where is slowly sinks into oblivion. It seems it has been here for at least the last twenty years ago, protecting cattle from the cold winds of a northern Minnesota winter. If you look closely you will notice the faded front where a store sign originally proclaimed its identity.

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It appears some attempt was made to board up the door and windows to keep out the snow and the cattle in. A large hole was ripped in the side to allow entry for the cattle, but this in turn has weakened the side wall and hastened the collapse of the structure.

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A feeble effort was made to close up windows that were swollen open by countless rains. Most of the panes of glass gave up from the weather and the winds of time. This is a structure that is giving up,  inch by inch.

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The side view of the cattle entrance shows where it has separated from the top wall plate and suffers from the effect of gravity. The original cedar shakes roofing was up graded to asphalt shingles at some point in its long life.

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This is an interior window view of the large pasture and big old willow tree, as enjoyed by many a cow.  It is also a window that countless customers  looked out at a different view in some small unknown town.

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An examination of the field around the store showed that a large corral once controlled animals in a restricted space, but all but a few sections remain, struggling to hold their heads above the tall grass.

My enquires to date have suggested this building originally came from the town of Lake Bronson. Other avenues of search suggest it once was a restaurant in Lancaster. The search for facts continues. I have purposely not revealed where the building sits as the present owners are reluctant to have people on the property.

 

Two Rivers – middle branch

Normally in late November we find our local rivers frozen over and covered in six inches to a foot in fluffy white snow.  This year is an exception.

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Two Rivers – middle branch

The temperature has been hovering in the thirties and a considerable quantity of water is on the move in the river. This has prevented the river from freezing over completely so the ice is thin and limited to  along the banks.

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This scene is unusual because of the flowing and open water and the limited amount of snow. These photos were taken south of Hwy #175 and west of Hwy #5, other wise referred to as Hawkyard’s Corner.

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Fox tracks

The pleasant conditions have affected the wildlife so animal tracks are numerous on the ice along the edge of the running water and through out the woods on either side.

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A bend in the river.

It is hard to believe that this peaceful scene is within sight of a busy highway, but hidden away.

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Burbling rapids

The water flowing over the rapids can be heard long before it comes into view. The shallow water makes a great location for the deer and other wildlife to drink or ford the river.

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At the edge of the little rapids.

As the water level drops along with the temperature, this spot will soon be frozen over and covered deeply in snow. This is the last view until spring.

 

Turn here! Turn here!

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Yesterday as the snow storm was winding down I jumped in my little truck, camera in hand, and took off to look for things to photograph.  I try real hard to go in new directions or places. I have learned good photos can appear in the strangest places.

The highway was icy  and the wind was cold and it would not be wise to stop on the road under these conditions.  I took a few photos through the windshield and they show the driving conditions at the time but they were not what I call a “keeper” photo.

Eventually I turned around and headed for home a little disappointed by the lack of keepers.  Then suddenly a little voice in my head said, Turn here! Turn here!

I slowed on the icy highway and carefully turned down an old gravel road that sees little traffic during the course of the day. After a short drive nothing interesting was in view so I decided to turn around and head back to the highway.  I stopped in a driveway to make the turn and suddenly saw the mail box.  It was perfect, so I jumped out and faced the driving wind and snapped the above photo.

The mail box is weathered and rusted from countless years in the prairie weather.  it is tired and leaning and has been braced and propped in an effort to extend it’s life.

The old license plates are the reflective kind and were nailed up to help the motorists avoid the mailbox hanging over the edge of the road in the dark.

I do not know what you think, but I like it.  Its a keeper. I find it pays to listen to the little voices that say “turn here!”

 

 

Waiting for the snow.

It’s almost the main topic of discussion. When is it going to snow? Most of my life it snowed Halloween night or a day or two later. This is a very usual. I’ve experienced big snow storms before this date!

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We are seeing some frost during the night and that results in a white coating on small trees and things close to the ground where it is colder.

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The frost can become quite creative on dried weeds, but it does not last long.

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A few tough leaves appear very colorful amongst the dead grass and weeds

 

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Could this be the calm be for the storm?  A big fat snowstorm!

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Serious storms deprive us of power, followed by transportation, (no school, no mail, no food, and peace of mind.  Let us enjoy our present peace and tranquility. A late winter provides us with a longer fall and a  shorter winter.  Definitely a win/win situation.   Stay tuned for…………