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Preserving Walworth County's history

--- Barn Registry Program

Herb Moering /Contributor

(Published August 8, 2007, 3:47 p.m.)

History has always been important to Dan Richardson, especially that of Walworth County where he has spent all of his life.

Richardson, who was a history teacher for 34 years at East Troy High School, became concerned about an aspect of the county that is gradually disappearing-the barns.

The Badger High School and UW-Whitewater graduate said he saw a video produced by Tom Laughlin, of Lake Geneva, on the decreasing number of barns in Wisconsin. Richardson, who lived on a farm for the first six or seven years of his life after his family moved to the county in 1941 from the Ozarks, noticed how barns around East Troy were being torn down or burned for land developments, or for lack of use and abandoned to decay.

His first thought was to ask the East Troy Historical Society, of which he is a member, to find a way to preserve the history of barns and other large farm structures. But, then he realized it was a phenomonen that was happening all over the county and decided to see if the Walworth County Historical Society would pursue the project.

The historical society directors agreed with the idea and so a year ago Richardson launched a barn registration program to preserve the history of these structures. He said it is similar to what is going on in McHenry County, Ill.

"The barns are the warp and woof of agriculture in Walworth County," Richardson said. "It is so much the heart of what was going on in those days."

In talking to owners, Richardson said he was not really sure of the attraction or affection by the people (about their barns). But families have lived with barns as part of their lives. They are so proud of the barns and renovations.

So far 33 barns are registered in the program, which costs just $5 per application. Richardson, who also serves as vice president of the county historical society, said he estimates there are 500 barns of various types in the county. That is based on the number of photos that historical society member Ken Amon, of Elkhorn, has taken over the years.

But Richardson is anxious to build the database quickly. However, the registry program will continue over many years to collect information on the dairy, horse, pig and carriage barns and even those abandoned or no longer in existence.

One very large barn of special interest to Richardson is located just south of the village of East Troy on Highway 120 on what local folks still refer to as the Link farm. He is hoping the approximate 9,000-square-foot barn with its huge hay loft will be registered by the new owners of the land, Teronomy Builders, of East Troy. The company is considering plans to convert the barn into its offices as part of a large housing development on that farm acreage.

The registration forms and photographs of all barns will be kept on file at the historical society's Reinke Resource Center on the grounds of the Webster House Museum in Elkhorn and available for research.

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Barn Registry Information

Barn owners can obtain a certificate of registration after the application process is completed, approved and the $5 fee paid for the frameable certificate. Richardson said any and all barns within the geographical area of all townships in Walworth County qualify for listing and there is no limit to the number of barns submitted by an individual.

"Those submitting barns for registration should fill out all they know about the structure's history and include any pictures they may have," Richardson said. "We will take anything people have (in information)."

The historical society will help people in gathering information and will take photos if none are available.

To obtain application forms or more information, contact the Walworth County Historical Society at P.O. Box 273, Elkhorn, WI 53121, or by calling 723-4248.

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