COLUMNISTS

People, not cows, now inhabit the old octagonal barn

John Oncken
Eight-sided barn under construction.

The old octagonal (eight sided) barn was in simple terms a wreck: Gaping holes in the roof; a hayloft floor rotted and unstable; the barn floor full of old straw and the remains of a cattle feeder. Decay was everywhere.

Like many empty dairy barns across the land, the structure would be considered by most folks as beyond hope and without a future – except for Cari Stebbins. A young woman with a vision, who saw the decaying barn with  a new roof, solid walls and framing, two floors filled with people eating, drinking and celebrating, as a destination and a home for public events of many kinds.                                        

11 years ago

It was December of 2011 when Stebbins and Owen Brush bought the  four and a half acre former farmstead containing a jumble of empty farm buildings all falling down and in foreclosure.

Cari Stebbins

“We worked on the house for a year and a half before moving in," Stebbins says. “This meant gutting the building and adding a new roof. My dad, Dave Stebbins, is a mechanical engineer in Spring Green and taught us how to do things.”

Work, work

While working on the house: the couple began making plans to clean up the farmstead which included removing the falling down buildings.  It also meant removing two silos: a 12-by-40-foot clay tile structure and a 20-by-60-foot stave unit.  

The hayloft floor under repair.

Would you believe, they knocked down the two silos with the help of a few friends?  “We did it with a sledge hammer,” Stebbins replied. “One swing at a time and eventually they fell down.”  (My thought:- they were very lucky or could run fast.)

Major repair

The round barn reconstruction included the removal of the old concrete floor and the remains of the wooden mangers, raising the entire barn above the masonry walls that were repaired, ripping out the decayed hayloft floor, reinforcing the roof supports, lowering the barn back onto the walls, installing a new roof and much, much more.

The former Double 6 milking parlor and the free stall barn formerly located behind the parlor are long gone replaced by a dressing room and restrooms.

A table ready to be set on the hayloft floor.

He knows the history

Doug Feiner of Spring Green knew the farm history. He lived much of it and, yes, it was a prominent dairy farm for many years. “My granddad Joe Feiner bought this farm in 1933 and my dad Felix took it over in 1941,” Feiner begins. “Until 1959, we milked 30 cows in stanchions down the middle with a barn cleaner.“

In 1959, the family expanded with a 59-cow freestall barn and a milking center with a Double-6 parlor a bulk tank and feed room, Feiner continued. "We installed a Barn-O-Matic feeder in the round barn and fed our cows there in three feed alleys. That year we also put up the 20-by 60-foot concrete stave silo. I remember the neighbors all thought we were crazy putting up that big a silo.”

The farmstead during its glory farming days. The eight-sided barn hold court in the center, surrounded by the freestall barn and parlor. lower left.

“And I know our milking parlor was the first one in Sauk County and one of the first in the state. Actually, our 60-cow herd was big for the times,” he said.

Hay was stored in the round barn, first as loose hay then as bales. Doug remembers unloading baled hay and moving it upward with two elevators. “We stored 25,000 small hay bales each year and piled them right up to the roof and cupola,” he says. “Us kids would climb to the top and look out at the countryside from that high perch.”

Leaving the farm

In the mid 1980’s, Doug’s dad made the decision to retire from dairying and sell the farm. “The cows were sold at auction in June 1988,” he continues. “I stayed on and cash cropped for two more years. Dad rented the farm out for a year or so and then sold it.  From then on things just deteriorated.”

Getting ready for a wedding dinner on new hayloft floor level.

Answers

Feiner had some other comments about the round barn and farmstead. “The eight sided barn was built in 1891 or 1892. The barn never had an inside silo as so many  round barns did, ”Doug said. "It also had a door at each side of the hay mow allowing a hay wagon to drive through after unloading."

The barn flooring and framing was soft wood and was giving away when the Feiner's drove a hay wagon into the mow. "We were always repairing," he added.

A wedding party assembles outside the barn.

The Visionary 

Cari Stebbins is the operations manager at the renowned American Players Theater at Spring Green, making her a very busy young woman. Will she complete her vision of restoring the old round barn? I’d bet on it!  

Now

The first wedding was held in the eight sided barn in 2017 – a member of the Feiner family. There are seven weddings yet to be held over the current season. What about painting the building, I asked?  “I’d like to” Cari says. “but the wedding parties want it to remain rustic.” 

And so it remains, an eight-sided barn in the country with an actual farming history, now holding people, not cows.

John F. Oncken can be reached at jfodairy2@gmail.com.