Barn raised in St. Paul Park with help of AmishSince the Civil War era, the Fowler barn stood on a hill on Hastings Avenue in St. Paul Park. It burned down on Halloween night in 1999, but a replacement is being erected with the help of Amish workers and it looks much like the original.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
Since the Civil War era, the Fowler barn stood on a hill on Hastings Avenue in St. Paul Park.
It burned down on Halloween night in 1999, but a replacement is being erected with the help of Amish workers and it looks much like the original.
Joan and Randy Dague bought the property from the estate of Marlyn and Esther DeForth in 1996 after Marlyn, a prominent figure in St. Paul Park politics and government for most of his adult life, died.
Marlyn inherited the house and barn from his father who built the current farm house around the turn of the 20th century.
When the barn needed a new roof, Marlyn, who was known to be frugal, decided one shingle worked as well as any other and used shingles of mixed colors that were cheaper than buying one color. The multicolored roof made the barn a landmark in the city.
The Dagues are “old school,” and bought the home because of its character. They also wanted the barn to store Randy’s vintage car collection that’s sitting in their yard.
After the fire, Joan thought about what had been lost. “I still can’t stand the smell of smoke,” she said in a recent interview.
They knew they wanted to rebuild the barn but took 12 years to think about how to do it. The high beams and much of the original construction they wanted to recreate was built with mortise and tenon joints that were held together with wooden pegs.
Randy didn’t know which of the old boards could be saved and which ones had to be replaced.
Joan said Amish people are known for building barns. That led to asking a man named “Barefoot Henry,” who has had “something to do with almost every new barn built in Wisconsin,” to help, according to Randy.
Barefoot Henry and his son came to the Dague farm in December to look at the barn, sort timbers and plan construction.
“There was no contract,” Randy said. “We sealed the deal with a handshake.”
Barefoot Henry, his son, and two other Amish men returned in April to build the shell of the barn using the original mortise and tenon joints.
“For four days, they worked from dawn until dusk,” Randy said.
They stayed in the Dague home and Joan made home-cooked meals for the men and, unlike most busy modern families, all of them ate together.
Barefoot Henry’s son said he’d never eaten “so good before,” Joan said.
“My husband said he’d never eaten so good either,” she said.
The Amish don’t like to be away from home, according to Randy, “but they were a great bunch and I really enjoyed them.”
One of the men was missing a hand. “I don’t know how he was able to hold a nail but he’ll out-work you.”
Some of the lumber in the new barn came from oak trees that were on the property, Randy said. He also got some of the lumber from an Afton barn that was taken down at Interstate 94 and Manning Avenue.
Though the barn looks huge, the same as it did when Fowler, who never lived on the property, had it built, it’s actually two feet smaller in width.
The old limestone foundation couldn’t be reused and the basement had to be up to current building standards so Randy built one of poured concrete using forms made by his father.
The Dagues have three children, Jennifer, Dan and Matt. The sons are helping their father finish the barn. “All of my kids have a college education,” Randy said.
Randy works for 3M and Joan works in downtown St. Paul.
It’s not known if Fowler held a barn-raising celebration after the original barn was finished, but the Dagues plan to host one.