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Editor's column: About those barns at the library

I remember our barns as a place where you could sometimes see mice and those oh, so elusive farm cats.

But barns are also a kind of historical reference point. The landscape of Stevens County was once dotted by a variety of barns when there were multiple farms within a section of land.

Fortunately, some people took the time to take photographs of these barns. The Swan Lake 4-H Club took photos of these barns in 2004. The photos and some information about these barns were compiled for an exhibit for the Stevens County Historical Society. The barn exhibit returned recently as part of Monday's presentation from Minnesota photographer, author and storyteller Doug Ohman. Ohman will talk about his book "Minnesota Barns" from 7 to 8 p.m. on Monday, April 23, at the Morris Public Library.

The Swan Lake 4-H barn exhibit will also be on display at the library. The project was a big undertaking. The townships were divided among the 4-H families, said Sharon Ehlers who was involved in 4-H in 2004. Three of her children were in 4-H. Ehlers works at the Morris Library.

"We drove every mile of a section," Ehlers said. "We'd drive around the section."

When the families saw a barn, they stopped for a photo.

What a cool project. Some of the barns photographed for this 4-H project are likely gone now.

Ehlers thinks the 4-H kids understood they were recording history, especially since the project would be an exhibit at the local museum.

Anne Barber, didn't grow up on a farm but she's enjoying the photograpsh. Barber, the director of the Morris library, said one particular photo in the 4-H exhibit has piqued her interest.

"There's an old stone barn I've heard tale of," Barber said.

The stone barn has been photographed many times over the years by University of Minnesota Morris students, staff and others. There is power, I think, in such photograhs.

I think about the two barns I grew up with. I have a couple of photographs including several my son took as he explored the angles and doors of the big, white barn. I look at the photos and recall when we had to keep a cat in quarantine to make sure it didn't have rabies. Or I think of the day the heifer was struggling to give birth to her calf. Or I think of my short-lived determination to shoot baskets in the hoop and backboard installed in the upper level where the hay was stored.

A few of my cousins will occassionally post on social media a photo of the barn from the farm they lived on for several years before they moved to town. They were sad when the barn had to be burned down.

I think that even if you've read Ohman's book, it would be fun to hear what he says about barns on Monday. Also, how cool is it to see a slice of history from the county.

Ohman's visit in Morris is part of a project that involves several Minnesota Book Award winners who are making presentations at libraries within the Viking Library system. The Morris library is one location.

Also, the Morris library has several of Ohman's books in its collection.

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