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140-year-old barn finds new life in Madison County move

WINTERSET, Iowa — The timbers are rough, clearly hand-hewn with an axe. They are numbered, with holes where pegs will hold them together.

The key word in that sentence is the “will.”

These timbers are well over 100 years old, and most would refer to them in the past tense rather than the future tense. But after more than a century as part of an old barn in southern Madison County, they are now being erected at a new site to the north.

As one of the workers says as he begins piecing the timbers together: “It’s pretty cool.”

Here, as on a handful of other farms around the country, landowners are moving and restoring historic old barns.

It’s a specialized job. The crew includes people from at least three different companies. There are also volunteers. And still more people watch as this group starts the process of piecing together this jigsaw that will become a building.

For Peter and Luann Gilman, this is an exciting day. The couple moved to this acreage north of town on the side of a hill and overlooking a scenic valley. A financial professional, Peter wanted to return to his rural Iowa roots.

They knew they wanted a farm building, but the idea of putting up a metal shed wasn’t exciting. Then they saw a person on the other side of the county move a barn and put it up on his land. The seed of an idea was planted in their heads.

“We loved the idea of saving a barn,” Peter says.

They eventually located a barn on land belonging to Horace Young.

“I think it was built around 1880,” Young says of the barn that was dismantled and moved from his farm. “But it could have been older.”

The Gilmans were convinced.

“It does definitely fit with our vision for the farm,” Luann says.

That vision includes a restored natural prairie and a useful yet historic building that fits the landscape.

That didn’t happen without lots of help.

The Gilmans worked with people like Dan Schmitt at Iowa Barn Savers (, as well as Scott Henderson at Iowa Barn Boards ( and Lorin Hayden and Travis Reid of Backcountry Builders ( based in Bend, Ore.

That crew combined to erect the basic structure. Since then they have roofed and sided the building. Eventually the doors and other items will be added.

And a 140-year-old Iowa barn will find new life.

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