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Huron Daily Tribune


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Restoring a piece of family history
By Megan Frounfelter
Tribune Staff Writer

   Port Austin – The Schwanitz family views its barn as a piece of family history – more than just four walls and a roof – but if those walls could talk, they would have decades of family stories.
   According to a family history published in “Life Along the Shoreline:  150 years of Port Austin, Michigan History,” the Schwanitz farm, located on Hunter road, was settled by August Schwanitz.  August, his wife and two Children, emigrated from Eastern Germany to America in 1869.  Three years later, the family settled in what is now Port Austin.
  

August and his son, Joseph, worked on the north end railroad to earn money for the purchase of land on Hunter Road from the Larned Lumbering Co.  The family cleaned the land to add a house, barn and field for planting food and grain.
   About 10 years later Joseph married Frances Prescher and the couple moved the house Joseph and August built to its present location on Hunter Road.  The couple’s youngest son, George, eventually settled on the farm and raised six children with
Mae Clancy, his wife, Mary Ellen, George (Bud), Terrance, Joseph, Michael and Pat grew up living on the farm.  In 1997, the fifth generation of the Schwanitz family purchased the homestead.  Matthew Schwanitz, Michael and Judy’s son, and his wife, Monica, currently use the farm as a summer retreat with their children, Cameron, 20, Janette, 18 and Michael, 15.
  

Although the Hunter road barn hasn’t housed cattle since 1972, Matt and Monica still store some farming equipment and tractors behind the barn doors, Monica said.
   “We still us it (the barn) for farming, just not as heavily,” she said.
   About a year ago, Matthew and Monica Schwanitz began noticing the barns on their property were in need of repair.
   “We were really worried about a wind storm tearing the barn down,” Monica said.  “It has been here all of these years; the least we can do is take care of it.  A metal barn would not be the same, and if we are still using it then this made sense.  We wanted to save it (the barn) for the next generation.”
   “The barns needed work and we had noticed many barns being ignored and collapsing all around Michigan,” Matt Schwanitz said.  “Preserving our barn was important to the family and our commitment to the history of the family.”
   After making some minor repairs to the barn, Matt contacted Great Lakes Barn Preservation of Hesperia.
   Sam Stitt III and his wife, Peggy, have owned and operated the company for more than 30 years, Stitt said.  During the first six years of operation, Stitt focused primarily on painting barns.  But in 1980, he began to notice a demand for major barn restorations throughout Michigan.


   Stitt’s interest in barn restoration began as a young boy when he helped his father move an old barn, he said.  He later worked for his brother doing general contract work and would lighten up when a historical barn was in need of repair.  Stitt has restored other barns in Huron County, central Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
   When Matt and Monica initially contacted Stitt they had the intention of only restoring the main barn and tearing down the additional two barns, Monica said.  However, Stitt encouraged the two to save the rear barn because of its lengthy history.
   “The back barn may have been the first building on the property and could be older than the house,” Monica said.
   “The old barn resembles European-like construction.” Stitt said.  “It has a very early, very rustic look.  It’s the oldest structure on the property and you seldom see (barns of this age) in Michigan.
   Stitt believes the barn may have been built sometime before 1850 on another property and later moved to the Schwanitz farmstead.  The logs used in the rear barn were all hand hewn, cut by hand, and did not have any markings from a sawmill, Stitt said.
   “It was real common to move abandoned barns at that time,” Stitt said.
 

Joseph Schwanitz, who was born and raised at the family’s farm with his five siblings, remembers gazing out the barn’s window while pumping water into the trough from the barn-covered well, he said.
   “I remember pigeons coming in and tumbling and coming out of it before hitting the floor.” Joseph said.  “They would put on quite a show for us.
   Michael Schwanitz, who also grew up on the family farm, remembers working many long days in the family’s  barn.
   “There was an old saying, “the bigger the barn the more acres they farmed.” he said.  “It (seeing the restored barn) brings back a lot of memories.”
   The Schwanitz family wanted to restore the barns to their original and historical appearance, Matt said.  The family preserved the ornate openings on the peaks of the main barn and preserved the original wood siding for the rear barn’s interior.
   We wanted to keep the flavor of the old barn and it history, Matt said. “We didn’t want anything to look artificial.”
   “It exceeded our expectations,” Monica said. “We knew we appreciated (the barns), we just didn’t know how much.  We encourage people to save their barns.”
   “We have a lot of memories in there; it’s remarkable what they did.” Michael said.

 

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This article was Reprinted with     permission of The Muskegon (MI )  Chronicle					  

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