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July 8, 2003 - Hutchinson, Minnesota

Making barns right again
Michigan family begins work to restore Century Farm barn in rural Hutchinson

By TERRY DAVIS, Staff Writer

Classic old red barns are becoming rare in the Midwest, but a family of barnwrights are doing everything they can to preserve history and a rural way of life.

The Stitt family in Michigan has been restoring old barns for three generations. A barn three miles northeast of Hutchinson is the first venture outside Michigan for one branch of the Stitt family barnwrights.

With a crew that includes three hardworking, young Amish men, Sam Stitt III and Sam Stitt IV, and their families have set up camp in the Hutchinson Township back yard of Myron and Yvonne Piker. They’ve been hired to not only bring new life to the Piker’s 110-year-old barn, but also to move it about 50 feet and turn it 90 degrees. The team arrived June 24 during the same storm that tore apart Buffalo Lake.

From abstract and family records, as well as construction techniques, the Stitts believe the 26- by 40-foot barn was built sometime between 1889 and 1900 during the time Myron’s great-grandfather, Joseph Pjka, operated the farm.

(The family’s surname has apparently evolved from Pjka as it was spelled when Joseph arrived from Moravia more than a century ago, to Pajka and then Paikr, before settling as Piker.)

Myron is the fourth generation of the family to live on the farm that lies along the south side of 220th Street. He and Yvonne moved back from California in 1995 when his mother, Albie, was no longer able to care for herself. They have three adult children. Daniel and Babette still live on the home place. Their daughter, Elloa, is married and lives in Kansas.

Hey, that’s a lot of hay

The first task facing the Stitts and their workers was to remove a mountain of 40-year-old hay from the barn’s hayloft stored there in the early 1960s by Myron’s father, Edward. Then they removed a lean-to and a 20-foot addition that had been added to the barn at some point in its younger days. It last housed cattle in about 1964 when a herd of Herefords were fed on the farm site.

“We’ve been all over the state of Michigan restoring barns,” Sam Stitt IV said Tuesday, July 1, as he watched the Amish workers clean out the last of the hay and begin removing pins holding main support beams together.

“We started out painting barns and now we’ve added moving barns to the things we do,” he added. His grandfather, Sam Stitt II, was a country preacher who obtained additional income working as a lumberjack and doing other odd jobs that sometimes including repairing barns.

Sam Stitt III and his wife, Peggy, opened their company, Great Lakes Barn Preservation, in 1973, in Hesperia, Mich. His three brothers and a brother-in-law also are barnwrights and operate separate companies in Michigan and surrounding states.

Sam Stitt IV said the Piker barn is his father’s first job in Minnesota. They were hired to dismantle the Piker barn and move it about 50 feet north on a new concrete slab and block foundation. When finished, it will face east, instead of north as it does now.

The old shingles have been removed. Wood salvaged from the lean-to and addition will be used to fill rotten portions of the sub-roof. The building’s roof and walls will be taken apart in sections. The supporting structure of 6-inch square and larger beams, which features wooden pin connectors, will be then be disassembled. As the beams are removed, steel cables hold the structure together.

When it is finished, the barn will have new white pine siding and a steel roof. Except for the roof, it will look much as it did when new. A light-weight plastic cupola will replace the original one that was lifted off last week. The Pikers said the barn and cupola were featured in Les Kouba’s “The Pigeons” painting. The deceased renowned wildlife artist grew up nearby.

The Stitts have long employed Amish workers. The Amish are known for their skill in traditional barn-raising techniques. With them at the Pikers are brothers Marvin and Matthew Yoder and Rueben Mast.

When moving barns, the Stitts use one of three methods — flaking, which involves lifting off the roof and laying the four walls down, dismantling piece by piece, or moving in one piece. Sam Stitt IV said flaking is the method of choice for the Piker barn.

He expects the job to take up to four weeks. The new foundation should be finished this week. The barn will no longer have a sub-level for animals.

“A lot of the people we do this for do it to preserve the barn for the family, like Myron here,” Sam Stitt IV said.

Myron agreed, though the idea was originated with Yvonne and Babette. They spotted a story about the Stitt barnwrights in Country magazine and started to make inquires after seeing the same type of wooden pegs in their barn as were described in the story.

“I got caught in the middle of it,” Myron said. When finished, the barn will be used for storage.



STAFF PHOTOS BY TERRY DAVIS

Amish worker Matthew Yoder removes wooden pins that join major beams in the Piker barn as part of its restoration. The barn will be disassembled, moved about 50 feet and reassembled.


Myron Piker, Maverick Stitt and Sam Stitt IV discuss the next step of the restoration of Piker’s 110-year-old barn. The Piker farm earned Century Farm status in 1995.

Article reproduced with permission from the Hutchinson Leader.