Franklin — The Franklin Historical Society broke ground Nov. 30 on its historic barn, which will soon be filled with artifacts that tell the story of the community's farming families.
"Farming families really built this city," said FHS president Jim Luckey. "But we have nothing to recognize that."
The 19th-century barn, which originally came from the Wendt family farm on Oakwood Road, will serve as a symbol of that recognition as it sits behind the Whelan school house in the historic village at Lions Legend Park.
The Wendt family donated the barn in 2012, and FHS disassembled it shortly after. Since then, the pieces have been sitting in storage, waiting to be brought back to together again.
FHS hopes to resurrect the building by Franklin's civic celebration on July 4, 2017. The historic pieces of the barn, along with some new materials, will start to be pieced together in the spring. Once construction is complete, the barn will get filled with early 20th-century farming equipment and other artifacts that represent the lives of the early farming families of Franklin.
As a collection of these pieces of history, the barn is meant to be a representation of Franklin's first farming families, adding their legacy to the historic village.
"You have all these great buildings which the board members have really restored to a pristine order, and they're all very, very important," FHS member and former Franklin mayor Tom Taylor said at the groundbreaking. "But without the barn, and without the farmers that created the farms here, none of those things would have been possible, because it was the farmers that raised the money and paid the taxes and built the church, and that's the reason we have a community."
At first, FHS expected the project to be more straightforward, simply deconstructing then reconstructing the barn and filling it with donated farming equipment. However, after the state of Wisconsin ruled that the building would actually be coded an A-3 museum, and therefore a commercial building, construction got more complicated, turning the project into a much longer endeavor.
"That's really why it's been taking so long," Luckey said.
In addition to buying new materials to replace parts that were damaged and unusable, the barn, as a commercial building, also needs proper load structure, wind resistance, and a foundation 18 inches wide and 4 feet into the ground all around. The reconstructed barn will also be smaller than the original, simply because of the limited space in the historic village.
Showing it off
In spite of these complications, members of FHS are looking forward to unveiling the barn to the community on July 4, when the historical society again opens all the buildings in the historic village for touring as part of the civic celebration. Around 250 people typically stop by to see them during that promotion each year.
In addition to bringing in crowds to tour the building and see the artifacts, the barn is also meant to be a teaching tool. As a part of FHS's grade school program, a day in the spring dedicated to instructing students as if it were 1908, students will also get to learn more about what their home life may have been like back then as a part of a Franklin farming family.
The barn will also be open for tours at other events throughout the year, including the yearly Christmas program.
"People love this sort of thing," said Luckey.
As the project approaches its end after what will be five years of planning and work, FHS will also need to finish fundraising for the barn project. In total, Luckey estimated the project will cost around $125,000, with some volunteers and local builders helping cut the expenses.
For example, FHS members and a group of local contractors disassembled the barn themselves, greatly reducing the cost. Without help like this, Luckey estimated that the project would have cost closer to $250,000.
Most of the funds already collected have come from small, individual donations and FHS events such as barn dances. The historical society also got $20,000 for the project from the city, under the leadership of Taylor, and partnered with the city and department of public works for some of the construction details.
Right now, FHS is only about $30,000 away from its goal. Luckey said they are "very close," and hope to raise the rest of the funds soon.
"This (fundraising) has really been grassroots," Luckey said. "The members have worked extremely hard for this."