Oldest farm building is still useful

LYTTON – When a barn starts to fall into disrepair, this often marks the beginning of the end for the building. This wasn’t the case, however, for LaVerne and Colleen Arndt’s barn southwest of Lytton.

“When we moved back to the farm in 1983, the barn was in pretty sad shape,” said LaVerne Arndt, who grew up on the Coon Valley Township farm. “It hadn’t been used since the 1960s, and there were holes in the roof.

“It became a question of whether the barn should be saved, but we decided to keep it.”

The Arndts repaired the barn, added cement floors and a new roof. The barn once again became a hub of activity on the farm, housing hogs, cattle and horses.

The Arndts’ daughter, Robin, raised her 4-H livestock in the barn, as did her brother, Troy, who raised livestock for 4-H and FFA projects.

The barn continues to shelter LaVerne Arndt’s small herd of Angus cattle.

“The barn is a good fit for how I use it,” he said.

Hand-milked cows

While no one knows how old the barn is, it’s likely at least a century old, said Arndt, who noted that his grandfather, Chris Arndt, purchased the farm in 1895.

When his son, Elner, operated the farm, he kept eight to 10 dairy cows in the barn and sold cream to the Lake City Creamery.

“Dad never had a milking machine, and I helped milked the cows by hand,” said Arndt. His father got out of the dairy business around the mid-1950s.

When Arndt joined the Coon Valley Coons, a local boys-only 4-H club, he kept his 4-H cattle and hogs in the barn.

While Arndt and his older brother, LeRoy, had plenty of chores to do, they also made time for fun, like building hay tunnels from one end of the barn to the other. “Dad wasn’t always happy about this, though, especially if he fell into one of the tunnels,” Arndt recalled.

Barn quilt attracts nationwide attention

While the hay tunnels are long gone, these stories of the barn live on, thanks to the Arndts’ “Birds in a Square” quilt block that graces the west peak of the barn.

The barn quilt and history of the barn is detailed in the 2007 book “The Barn Quilts of Sac County.”

Each year, visitors driving through Sac County from California, Minnesota and beyond stop at the farm to photograph the large barn quilt and a smaller barn quilt that the Arndts painted with the same pattern and colors to enhance the east end of the barn.

“Some people want to find out more about the barn, while others want to learn how to get a barn quilt project started in their area,” said Arndt, who retired from the Farm Service Agency in 2010.

Arndt is glad he and Colleen decided to preserve the barn 30 years ago.

“The barn is the oldest building on our farm. It’s still a practical building for us, but it has a lot of sentimental value, too.”