The memories of old barns and outbuildings

Karen Wils An old woodshed sits, weathered and warn, but with many stories to tell.

ESCANABA — The cold wind rattles the old, roughhewed lumber.

Acorns and brittle leaves pelt the sagging roof. Inside a mouse nestles, hidden in the rafters. Antique tools, dated newspaper, tobacco tins, flower pots, planters and recycled jars leave hints to long lost family secrets.

Old barns and out buildings have a magical lure in autumn.

Who lived in this clearing in the north woods? How did they live? Perhaps the sweat stains from their hard working hands that still linger on the axes, shovels and saws will tell us about them.

If barns and woodsheds could talk what wonderful family sagas they would be able to tell.

After a summer of roses, romance, sunshine and rain another growing season has blossomed and is ready for harvest. The haymow is full and the woodpile is high. How many U.P winters has this old shed seen?

When the last of the orange, crimson and yellow leaves rain down on to the cold and wet ground, it is time to go indoors. But first we have to clean up. The garden hose and lawn chairs need to be stored away in the garage or shed. The porch swing, hanging baskets and rain gauge must find a place in the out buildings to spend the winter.

Most Yooper families have an autumn ritual of packing away the items of summer and preparing for the long winter a head.

Many of us recall grandpa’s barn. We can almost smell it at this time of year with all the sweet hay stored in the hayloft and the musty manure smell. The resident bats make the last of their moonlight flights.

Every shovel and rake is in its place and a rusty, red Farmall tractor rests in one corner. Even the spiders and mice are ready for some down time.

An out building commonly known as a “woodshed” was a part of most homesteads in Upper Michigan. Not only did the woodshed keep the seasoned firewood dry and accessible during the snowy months but was also an important storage area.

At out camp we still have a woodshed. Like most woodsheds the door has this eerie squeak sound when you open it. A spicy aroma of dried maple and birch greets you as soon as you enter. Red squirrels and deer mice are welcomed guests in the woodshed but not in camp.

The ax, always sharp and ready for action is the most important of all the tools that live in the shed. The pick ax, grub hoe, splitting mauls and saws make up a pretty happy family of useful items.

If you have an old barn or an out building on your property, it’s fun to check out all of the things stored there. Was grandpa sawing that lumber to build grandma that porch she always wanted? What ever happen to those two teenagers who were so in love that they carved their initials in the barn wall?

What tasty treat was preserved in those canning jars that now lay so empty and dusty?


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.


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