Rad A. Drew Photography: Indiana's Vanishing Barns

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Indiana's Vanishing Barns

Winter on the Farm
© Rad A. Drew
Growing up in southern Indiana along the Ohio River, I spent many a Saturday with my family hiking in the surrounding rural landscape. Here's how it went. Saturday morning would roll around and my sisters and I would each call a friend and we'd all hop in the station wagon with Dad at the wheel. Sometimes Mom came along and sometimes she stayed home to enjoy the relative peace.

Old Friends
This tree grew up in the shade of this barn.
Today the tree is almost all that's holding up the barn.
© Rad A. Drew
Off we'd go through Dearborn County, Switzerland County, Ripley County, and Franklin County. Dad would always try to get us "lost." When we came to a crossroad, we'd take the smaller road. When we went from gravel to a dirt lane, we could be sure we were on to something good. Ultimately, we'd stop at a farm house and Dad would ask permission to hike the land or walk the plowed fields to look for arrowheads. I don't remember ever being turned away.

I shot this barn along Indiana HWY 38, east of Indianapolis, in 2014.
It and its companion a few hundred yards away, were both torn down.
Two foundations are all that remain.
© Rad A. Drew
A constant on the landscape then, something that was just there and that we all (I know now) took for granted, was the Indiana barn. These utilitarian structures were everywhere. Some were red, some were weathered and gray even then, some were huge, some were round, but they were there and they were so much a part of what we were seeing that we didn't really see them and fully appreciate them then.

Winter Barn
© Rad A. Drew
As I've grown and moved to the big city, I reflect fondly, even longingly, on these childhood memories. Today when I see an old barn on a country road, I feel a flood of nostalgia. These barns hold in their frames and creaking hinges the carefree happiness of that part of my childhood. I can only imagine what they mean to the farmers and their families who live and work in these barns every day.
This round barn in northern Indiana appears healthy and
with a future, at least for now.
© Rad A. Drew
As a photographer, I've pursued these structures throughout all of Indiana. (I've even shot a few in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington's wheat country known as the Palouse.) I've marveled at their many styles, sizes and charm. They were built to last and many have, some for more than a hundred years; massive hand-hewn beams with tongue and groove construction, hand forged hinges and latches, stalls for livestock, haymows for feed, bays for farm equipment. 
Old Barn-door Latch
© Rad A. Drew
They were built with the craftsmanship and attention to detail that a cabinet maker would use for the governor's mansion.

Red Barn, Hay Bales and Snow
© Rad A. Drew
Today, these barns are "dying" at an alarming rate, in some cases along with the decline of the rural farm itself. Expensive to repair and maintain, many are being razed and replaced with metal pole barns, while others are being razed to make way for industrial farms of unnatural size.

One good ice storm and it's all over.
© Rad A. Drew
These barns, to me, represent the end of an era of rural life; a life where neighbors are valued, where there is a love of the land and the livestock, where hardship is commonplace yet balanced against the satisfaction of a hard day's work.

Shade Tree and Barn
© Rad A. Drew
As a boy with my Dad, I have worked with farmers we met. On one day we met an old farmer -- he had to be in his 80's -- loading hay bales on a wagon. He was working alone, so he would drive his tractor a few yards, get off, load the bales near the wagon, then drive the tractor a few more yards to load the next few bales. Dad and I stopped and helped. The old farmer drove and we tossed and stacked the bales on the wagon. It was hard, hot work, but it was satisfying in a way that I look for work to be today.

This '40's Dodge has been rusting beside this barn for years.
Its owner has another in running condition.
© Rad A. Drew
Another time, Dad and I stopped in a barnyard to ask permission to squirrel hunt on a farmer's land. The farmer was hanging tobacco alone in his barn. He very meekly -- as if he was embarrassed to deny us -- said, no, he didn't allow hunting anymore since a deer hunter shot a cow the year before. We stayed and helped him hang tobacco for the rest of the afternoon, foregoing our hunting. When we finished, the farmer said, "You boys are welcome to hunt and hike my land anytime."

Only a Matter of Time
© Rad A. Drew
Recently, my photo partner, Sally Wolf, and I visited one of the farmers we've met as we've photographed in rural Indiana. I brought him a photograph of his heifers that I'd taken the week before. We were welcomed into his home and offered a seat at the kitchen table. Later, he took Sally and me out to his barn about a mile away to feed his 14 cows. We rode in his truck with his dog, Ginger, and were treated like old friends even though we'd only met once before.

These heifers are VERY curious. As we shoot, the venture closer and closer.
© Rad A. Drew
Earlier that week, Sally and I met a woman, a sheep farmer, who came out to speak to us as we photographed her sheep from the side of the road. She limped a bit and explained that one of the rams had knocked her down the other day as she was checking the sheep. She had several that were about to deliver lambs and she was lining up neighbors and family friends to be on call to help out with the pending deliveries. We talked with her about what we were shooting and told her how much we enjoyed photographing old barns. 

"Yes," she said, "They are a dying breed. Some say that so long as the barn has livestock in it, it'll stand strong, but when there are no livestock to take care of, they give up. They got no reason to go on." Then she added, "Everything's alive, you know. Even barns."

I took this picture in November, 2014. In January, 2015, we returned to ask permission to shoot more, only to find that the barn had been razed. It's now completely gone. A sick feeling wells when the realization hits home.
© Rad A. Drew
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  1. Rad; this is a sensitive and compassionate portrait of life in the country. To this day I am a bit wistful when driving I 70 through southwestern Pennsylvania and looking down over the hill at the old Lively farm which has since passed through several hands but is still well kept except that the barn is gone.

    1. Thank you, Barry. (I assume spritandseeing is you!) I appreciate your comments. I don't know that I fully understood how much these barns meant to me until recently when I lost three in two weeks. It was gut wrenching to see the empty space where they once stood. I'm so happy to be photographing them today!


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