The Burns Barn Project/Saving an American Icon

It was a pleasure staying at the Burns Centennial Farm for three weeks to document the dismantling of the barn. In our own way, we are saving the barn for future generations. After the barn was safely dismantled 44,000 lbs. of timber was shipped from Hubbardston, Michigan, to the Sierra Nevadas where it is in storage at the mill. The timber will be used to rebuild/remodel our existing cabin on Donner Lake in Truckee, California.

We had rained out days, stuck in the mud equipment days, sunny days, a bit of frustration, and everyday was hard work. Kudos to Scott Paster and his crew from Michigan Barn Restoration ~ they have the knowledge of how these old barns were built so that they could take her down gently. We had days where we looked forward to the Menonnite buggies driving up the road bringing children home from school, listening to their singing voices carry across the fields. I looked forward to pulling nails ~ every nail and spike in this barn was hand made by the local blacksmith and I gained a lot of satisfaction when the boards would let them go to fill my coffee can. Gotta say, it became addictive and I filled more than one can. And I marvel at the hand carved pegs that held her together.

I’ll let the images speak for themselves, but will give you a bit of history into this once working dairy farm.

Patrick McIntyre from County Mayo, Ireland, was the original land owner. He gave the land to his two sons, John and James. John stayed on the property building the house where my husband and his seven brothers were raised. He also built the barn in approximately 1870, marking one of the first support beams with his initials. These are square nails pounded into the beam, marking it with his initials. The barn gave us 60′ and 40′ hand hewn beams along with thousands of pounds of timber. Every bit of work that went into the barn impresses me so very much. The house was built just prior to the barn and she has been remodeled many times over the years.

Michael Burns (O’Byrnes), seated first row, came to the United States from Killanny Parish, County Monaghan, Ireland in 1852. He was 14 years old at the time. He purchased the property from John McIntyre with the house and barn in 1896 and it has been in the family ever since that date operating as a dairy farm for many years.

Michael Burns is seated next to his daughter, Sister James, and surrounded by his sons Albert, Frank, Edward, James, Owen, and my husband’s grandfather, John. Michael’s wife, Ann (Kelly), passed away prior to this image.

The crew worked hard, often working late. Loading the truck with timber went on well after dark to meet the deadline. This old pump is all that remains in front of where the barn once proudly stood. She will find her new home as we move forward with the cabin. All the boys who worked the farm can come visit, look up and still see the beams, still touch the wood, and know that their history lives on.

So much more to this story, the laughter, the hard work, the years of milking cows, growing up on a working dairy farm, the commitment to the land, and many stories about the brothers. The barn stood for 149 years and she will be well cared for in her new home.


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  • Ron Morgan

    What a magnificent project.  The history is amazing and so are the photos.  The barn is headed west.  Pretty exciting.  Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • Well, now I finally know your first name 🙂 Thank you for stopping by the blog, Ron. It was such an awesome experience for me, and I really learned a lot.ReplyCancel

  • Rosemary Scheppers

    We must be kin; I know you will enjoy the old barn when it’s rebuilt.  I like old things too;.ReplyCancel

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Rosemary ~ hope you and yours are all doing well 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Jeanette Rice

    The story of the barn project was so touchingly beautiful. The family’s history, love, and passion shown through with the description of the craftsmanship and care taken with the wooden blanks and nails.Look forward to seeing how she will look in the new chapter of her life. Thank you for sharing the photos and story. ReplyCancel

    • Thank you so much Jeanette ~ I really geeked out on all the history while I was there, even visiting the local historical society to find out more about the blacksmith who made the nails. Our project is moving slowly at the moment, but should pick up speed soon. And, of course, I will be documenting the new structure, too!ReplyCancel

  • Michael

    Absolutely Amazing story and photos, Karen!  Beautiful website too!!   Nice Work! ReplyCancel

    • Many thanks Michael ~ it is quite the project! Thanks for stopping by the website.ReplyCancel

Karen Burns ~ Fine Art Oil Painter and Photographer


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