Neighborly News - Norgen Barn

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by Kevin Wilbeck
September 2009

Stacked limestone awaits its new charge as the foundation of the Norgren's historic red barn in Rippey.

Our neighbors, Roger and Colleen Norgren, are in the process of updating their historic barn.  I guess you could call it Version 2.0, because it is probably the second version - or only update - the barn has seen since it was built in 1891.   I'm calling it Version 2.0hh!, because that is exactly the type of reaction that restoring a barn of that age should elicit.

For those of us who don't believe that everything old (including ourselves) deserves to be pushed over and burned, I want to personally thank Roger and Colleen for their efforts.  I also want to thank them for retaining something in our community that is distinctive to our treasured rural landscape.  Iowa loses almost 1000 barns a year and it won't be long before no one will remember what a barn was used for or what it looked like.  The good news is that there is a growing trend among sustainable farmers to use old barns and outbuildings for new purposes.

The Norgren's barn is a bank-style timber barn with five bents.  Bank-style has access to the upper level by way of a hillside or ramp.  Bents are vertical posts and horizontal timber assemblies that make up a timber frame barn.  It is sheathed with board-and-batten siding.  Board-and-batten sheathing was very popular in the late nineteenth century.  It consists of wide vertical boards with narrower boards (the battens) covering the seams between the wide boards.

Barn designs of that day were usually copies of either the Dutch Barn or the English Barn.  The Norgren's barn is very much in the English style, because of its lofted - or elevated - side aisles for hay storage.  It also has a side entrance, as opposed to the gable entrances found on Dutch style barns.  It is unique, in the fact that it has a smaller entrance on the west gable end.  Roger believes that there once was a ramp to that smaller entrance, which seems right.  Without it, that first step out would be a doozy.

But, hey, enough of the history lesson.  The Norgren's shared with us a number of pictures they took during the barn's foundation work and we'd like to share a few with you.  The pictures (and the amount of work involved) illustrate the complexity of the work.  The entire barn had to be slowly jacked up and set on timber supports.  The old foundation was then removed, new limestone block foundation built, and then the barn was lowered back down.   The end result:  A new foundation for a historic treasure.

The Norgrens are planning other renovations for the barn, so it is not yet a completed 2.0hh! version of its former self.  It sure will be fun to continue to watch its progress, though!

The barn is located on private property at 2058 W.Avenue, near the SW corner of the city limits of Rippey IA 50235.  You can see the progress on the barn by driving by it on W. Avenue.

Front of barn before, showing the north ramped entrance and west side gable doors. 

Front of barn after, with new limestone foundation.

Front of barn before (east side view). You can see the unevenness in the foundation.  The barn quilt, "Cross and Crown," will be replaced - once the entire barn renovation is completed (sometime next year).

Front of barn after (east side view).

Back of barn before (south view).

Back of barn after (south view).  New foundation and new hand-built doors for walk-in storage.

In progress:  underside of barn showing pilings and beams.

In progress:  removing old stone.

In progress:  new limestone going into place (west side).

In progress:  front of barn (north view) with new limestone foundation in place on the right.

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For more information, call Chris Wilbeck at 515-229-6988.