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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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Scenes from Oconto County Past.
What is left, or what was left until recently, of the old days.

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Log Barns

 The photos show views of three Oconto County log barns, of varying 1800's ages, taken in the years 2002 and 2004. Few examples of these first settler's permanent structures remain, and most that are left have had no maintenance in decades. It is a testament to their original construction that examples still stand, some over 150 years.

1. The history of this barn is known. It was originally built by Peter Holl and his brothers in 1881 on the homestead named Forest Home Farm in town of How. The logs were cut from the dense forest on that farm and trimmed of branches. The logs were then hauled by team to the building site where the bark was removed. Each log was squared with hand axes and ends were notched before being hoisted into position. All four sides had to be built at the same time, from the ground up. The flooring was hard packed dirt. There was only one small door opening on this end for entry.

2. The Peter Holl barn is seen from the opposite side showing the two cattle doors at each edge of the wall, which was a common style. The ceiling was low to accommodate a second floor used for storing hay and feed. One small window provided light for tending the cattle and horses. This barn was moved to another farm after the construction of a larger wood framed structure decades later. There is no "chinking ", which was mud made of river clay, seen between the logs in this photo that would have completed each wall. It provided added structural strength and protection from the weather. The barn stands on private land.

3. A barn of the same style and probably about the same age as the Holl barn in the first two photos. In this shot it is easier to see where the second floor beams were placed on the end wall, positioned in the line of holes. These beams supported the plank floor of the hay loft and strengthened support of the walls around the open center area. Chickens were kept in the hay loft during winter months, as the stored hay and feed were used. Milled planking was used on the ends of the second floor as local mills were well established by this time.

4. & 5. This is an example of an older barn from the eastern side of the county. The remaining chinking can be seen in the close-up, as well as the shaping of the log ends to fit more snugly between each other. The large loft door open to accommodate lifting hay and grain sacks directly into the second level using a rope and pully, or a steep ramp.

6. Building features tell us that the remains of this log structure date back to first settlement in eastern Oconto County; 1840's - 1850's. It is of a "New England" style;  low walls with squat roof that had a "crawl space" storage area. The overall building dimensions were smaller than previous photos, the diameter of the logs is larger and the corners have been "dove tailed" with deep notches that increase stability and  greatly decrease the spacing between the logs. There were no roads in the county and all supplies were brought in on foot along the narrow paths and trails through the dense forest. It is likely that this barn was built without the help of animal teams, purely by human power and hand tools.

Chinking had to be constantly repaired. Moisture and temperature changes caused the logs to expand and contract in size. The chinking reacting much less to weather changes, would loosen, crumble and fall off the structure, causing openings that compromised the structure. The chinking also acted as a support for the length of the wall logs, keeping them from sagging, as seen in photos 1 and 2 where chinking has long been missing and the wall logs are no longer in original alignment.

There were no internal walls to help hold up the heavy roof, especially with a full load of several inches of wet snow in winter. The original construction of the roof and hand cut shakes, wooden singles often made of moisture resistant local cedar, are seen here. Earliest roves had hand split plank coverings under the shakes rather than milled lumber. The building had not been reroofed with tar shingles and old "tin" patches are still present. A later "lean to" was added at the right, used for shelter while working outside and storage of machinery. Broad board planking of varying widths was nailed to the outside of the log walls at some time, it was an early form of siding.  Often such buildings were first used as barn shelters, then cabin residences, then barns again as new, larger structures were built after roads made access easier.

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