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Franklin Historical Society's plan to resurrect barn slated for September

The Wendt family barn, 3617 W. Oakwood Road, was donated to the Franklin Historical Society. The family ceased its farm operation in 1996.

The Wendt family barn, 3617 W. Oakwood Road, was donated to the Franklin Historical Society. The family ceased its farm operation in 1996.

July 2, 2013

Franklin — Franklin Historical Society members and a group of contractors dismantled the Wendt family barn. They took it away piece by piece, exposing the barn's pinewood skeleton. First went the cedar roof, then the red-faded sideboards, and finally the trusses. Three weeks, and the carcass was gone.

Most of the pieces were hauled to the city's public works facility on Ryan Road, where they lay like puzzle pieces under the protection of blue tarps. But that won't be their final resting place. Instead, the historical society will work to put the pieces together all over again, seven miles away, at the historical museum complex in Lions Legend Park.

The resurrected barn's neighbors will include other relics from the early 19th century, including a schoolhouse, smokehouse, cabin, chapel and the city's original town hall. The historical society assembled the collection, but Franklin's farming history was always missing from the story.

"This barn is so important, it's the one piece we don't have yet, and maybe the most important," said Jim Luckey, president of the Franklin Historical Society. "For generations to come, this barn is still going to be here. That's what's important, preserving the past."

Long-time coming

It's been a longstanding goal of the historical society to bring a barn on site, but costs and other obstacles always stood in the way. Luckey rejuvenated the effort last year by creating a team to help.

The team originally looked at building their own barn, but that proved too expensive. They lucked out when Joanne Wendt Kaczmarek offered to donate her family barn, which was originally built circa 1880. In 1919, Kaczmarek's grandparents bought the 50-acre farm, located at 3617 W. Oakwood Road.

Through member donations, raffles and barn dances, the historical society has raised close to $40,000 to date for the three-phased project. The organization figures it will need an additional $15,000 to reassemble the structure. In the meantime, the society is moving ahead with blueprints and land surveys, and work is slated to begin on time in September.

Bringing it down

History is fragile; you can't just pry apart a 130-year-old barn, said Steve Gyuro, a historical society member who agreed to do the work with Gary Edwards, a local homebuilder, at half the price of other bids.

"It was an intimidating task, a little daunting even," he said.

At no expense to the historical society, John's Disposal Service donated trash bins for discarded materials, including the roof and floor boards, which were too rotten to salvage. Gieffre Brothers Cranes donated its services free of charge to help lift the high-hanging trusses.

The team spent three weeks using power saws and other tools to cut the barn into six sections, always carefully marking the pieces to help ease reassembly.

"You don't worship the past, but it's remarkable to see how they built this thing. You'd hate for all of it to end up in the Dumpster," Gyuro said.

A fond farewell

With each wave of European settlers in the mid-1800s, Franklin grew into one of the largest farming communities bordering the southern expanse of Milwaukee County. Even 100 years later, that's how Joanne Wendt Kaczmarek remembers the city's landscape.

"When I was a little girl, I remember going in the car with my parents and Franklin was all farms," she said. "You would see barns and cows and so many horses back then. I can't say that anymore. It's been such a change over the years, you don't even see any farmhouses anymore."

After purchasing the farmland, Kaczmarek's father, Elroy Wendt, added on to the barn for his dairy operation. She remembers her father loading milk buckets onto horse sleighs, which were then pulled to 27th Street to be sold to milk trucks.

In the summer, Kaczmarek said, the barn was always stocked high with hay, and her chores included feeding the chickens and collecting all the cats from the fields before her dad went through with the tractor.

Her most agonizing memories include saying goodbye to the calves, which she had named, before her dad would take them to the Milwaukee stockyards.

"That was always heartbreaking for me," she said.

The Wendt family farm continued operating until 1996, when Kaczmarek's father died at age 80. He just about worked until his final days. With her mom now in assisted-living, Kaczmarek said, the farmhouse has been abandoned for the past 12 years.

The family still owns the land, but the farmhouse is being rented out and the now commercially zoned land is up for sale.

"I'm emotionally attached to the farm, but I see the barn as living on forever," she said. "It's just going to be in another place. But it will always be my family's barn."

Get involved

WHAT: Founding Franklin farmers and the public are invited to a gathering at the Franklin Historical Society's historic village

WHEN: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 24

WHERE: Lions Legend Park, 2888 W. Drexel Ave.

THE SCOOP: Get an update on the barn project and progress being made; donations will be accepted.

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