I remember the day my aging grandmother announced that the barn was to be torn down. I was 14. She had decided to raze the more than 100-year-old building because my uncle said portions of the roof and floor were unsafe. Since Grandpa’s passing, Grandma had sold all the livestock. It didn’t make sense, my uncle said, to spend good money on an old building that was no longer needed.
A high school freshman, I felt a tangle of emotions. What my uncle said was logical. Besides, I rarely spent time in the barn now that I had outgrown my pony and was involved in school activities. But, I didn’t want to say good-bye to my old friend. When my uncle and grandmother dismissed my protests, instinct led me to the barn. I spent some time there staring at familiar knotholes in the walls. I tried to commit to memory each section of the barn. I took deep breaths of the toasty, sweet aroma of clover hay. I smiled at dust-filtered sunlight peeking through gaps in the walls. I thought of how the barn’s service to three generations of our family was coming to an end. I cried a little for the barn, but mostly I cried for me. The barn’s demise signaled that the world was changing.
In the nearly 40 years since an insensitive bulldozer knocked down my grandparents’ barn (it took two days for the stubborn, hand-hewned center posts and beams to give way – what a great last stand!), a lot has changed in this world. Many traditional wooden barns have disappeared. Fewer families are in the farming business, and even fewer live on the homesteads of their ancestors. Not as many cousins live nearby or have the opportunity to share the simple joys of rural life. When new barns are built, they’re often metal pole barns, which lack the warmth, craftsmanship, and charm of barns built in the 19th and 20th centuries.
That’s why this book matters.
Whether you were raised on a farm, in a city, or in the suburbs, Kevin Douglas West’s photos will transport you. His images evoke a sense of place. Look closely and you’ll feel the strength, history, and personality of these structures. Each has nostalgic stories to tell.
Kevin’s desire to tell stories began at Seymour High School where he was editor of the Seymour Owl. Full disclosure: I was his high school journalism teacher and newspaper adviser. During his senior year he wrote a story about a local turkey farm for the Thanksgiving issue. The dominant photo for the page showed a farmer standing inside a barn among what seemed to be hundreds of white turkeys. Could that have been the beginning of his love affair with rural life?
Kevin and I share this love for barns and for Southern Indiana. As a fellow Hoosier and his former teacher, I’m proud of his work and how it pays homage to the beauty of a rare rural treasure, the round barn.
Teresa A. White