Named the Michigan Barn of the Year in 2006, this family heirloom was a true restoration success.
Story by Leo Fitzpatrick
In 1895, when he was 52, my grandpa, Dennis Fitzpatrick Sr., had a young man’s dream: to own land and build a house and barn on it. From Hubbardston, Michigan, he went north to Clare. Following the trail toward Gladwin, he went east to Harrick and north to Slabtown. North of Slabtown, there was a trail on the east side of three lakes, and about a half mile later an 80-acre property with an abandoned logging rail grade on the high ground running east and west.
There were big pine stumps everywhere, and the land was littered with treetops and abandoned logs. Grandpa walked around the property, dreaming of the day he would see green meadows, fields of grain, pastured livestock, a new home and a big barn.
How proud you were, Grandpa, in the summer of 1911, when a 4-acre field of wheat thrashed
a 70-bushel yield of grain per acre. In the fall of 1914, with your ox team, you hauled stone from the fields for the foundation of the new barn. And what a barn it would be. People came from miles around to see it. After the barn was finished, the new house was started. It was modern in every way for a farmhouse at the time.
On June 20, 1925, Dennis and Sarah Fitzpatrick celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at their new home with their eight children. At the age of 82, Grandpa had reached the summit of his dream, 30 years after he started.
But by the 1990s the barn was in dire need of restoration, or it would be lost. So we filled the barn with straw bales that became the scaffold onto which we set a row of car bumper jacks. We used these to slowly jack up the timber-frame trusses and correct the 17-inch sag in the roofline. New timbers were set in place and threaded rod was used to draw the sides in. By 1996, the barn was ready for a new roof and a fresh coat of paint.
The Fitzpatrick family celebrated our centennial in 2000 with hundreds of friends and neighbors. In 2004 the barn won a National Trust for Historic Preservation award, and the next year it was chosen as the Michigan Centennial Farm of the Year. In 2006 it was named Michigan Barn of the Year. During the past 10 busy years it has seen family reunions, graduation open houses, wedding receptions, neighborhood gatherings with music and dancing, Christmas in the barn and more.
Grandpa is gone now, but his legacy is still with us. His great-grandsons farm the land that he cleared and tilled with his oxen. All seven of my children live on or within a mile of the farm. Grandpa’s dream of so long ago—green meadows, fields of grain and a big barn—is now shared by his many descendants more than a century later.