Old barns stir an attraction for many folks

Jerry Apps
Old barns serve as important symbols of American agriculture, a theme captured in Jerry Apps' book "Barns of Wisconsin", published more than 40 years ago.

As a boy growing up on a small dairy farm in central Wisconsin, I spent many hours in a barn. At the time, I was not especially attracted to the place, but I did appreciate how warm it was on  below-zero mornings compared to our cold and drafty farmhouse. I’d come to tolerate milking cows by hand—the up-side was being able to chat with my dad, who was usually milking a cow nearby. 

Another fond memory was on a rainy day in July, crawling up into the haymow recently stacked with fresh-cut alfalfa and clover and listen to the beat of the raindrops on the barn roof. The combination of the smell of fresh hay and the sound of rain on the roof is a memory that has always been with me.

At the encouragement of others, I wrote Barns of Wisconsin, which was published in 1977. Much to my surprise, it sold well. The book has never been out of print. A revised edition, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society press came out in 2010. The publisher described the new edition this way:

Featuring more than 100 stunning full-color photographs by Steve Apps, plus dozens of historic images, "Barns of Wisconsin" illuminates a vanishing way of life. . .. "Barns of Wisconsin" captures both the iconic and the unique, including historic and noteworthy barns, and discusses the disappearance of barns from our landscape and preservation efforts to save these important symbols of American agriculture.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The barns of Wisconsin are history books in red paint, sociology with gable roofs, theology with lightning rods.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to