Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


A Barn Raising in 1888

It is not unusual to read of a barn-raising in the Van Buren County Register. Many farmers hire a work crew to come in and build their new barn. However, many of the county’s Amish families follow the old tradition of barn raising. Dozens of men work together and erect a structure in much the same way that pioneer neighbors once helped each other.

In 1888, my great-grandfather, William Martin Van Buren Fellows, began to build a huge new barn on his farm located along Iowa Oak Grove Avenue, on the first rise south of the Des Moines River. He began with a native stone foundation, eight feet tall, built by a stone mason named Mr. Holburt.

William’s daughter, Lizzie Heckart Fellows, was eight years old at the time, but recalls that the raising of this barn was a big event in the neighborhood, and a landmark in family history. (Four Seasons, 1972)

It took 70 men a total of three days to put together the framework for raising. Each one of the barn timbers was hand hewn and put together with wooden pins. They varied in size, but some were as large as fourteen inches square. When it came time to raise the massive sections of frame, a general invitation to help was extended for miles in each direction, and even more men came to aid in piecing this building together.

A designated leader bellowed the command, “Heave, ho heave!” and the men lifted each heavy section with all their might. Then the men held it in position until another group got a section ready and followed their command to hoist their piece into position. This continued until the whole skeleton frame stood upright, forty feet by sixty feet. The work was dangerous, but somewhat thrilling.

Mrs. Fellows prepared food for days in advance, then worked all day to make sure everyone was properly fed. Women came with their husbands and brought baskets of food, and everyone’s food was spread out picnic fashion so that people could help themselves.

After this three-day event, Lizzie recalled that several carpenters continued working at siding, roofing, building stalls and stanchions, making a corn crib and building a stairs to the second floor. Her mother used a 48-pound sack of flour each week just to make enough bread for the crew that worked on their barn.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick