Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Annala Round Barn


Sometimes, you just have to get lucky.

Maybe 30 years ago, I went with my friend Will to visit the Annala Barn in Iron County WI. Took a quick tour and that was that.

Wanting to properly work the place, as the years passed I'd regularly drive down that way hoping to find someone home so I might secure the permission necessary to do real work. Each time, the place stood empty behind a locked gate. 

Eventually, the property fell into disrepair. I heard rumors of vandalism and feared that the barn would fall to ruin or be burnt before ever I got to work it. That's happened before.

When this project began, the Annala Round Barn stood second on my list of unique architectural sites I'd determined to finally capture. Last chance, and all.

During the fieldwork of October 2011, I again took the drive into Iron County. This time the gate was open, with a car parked in front of the house.

Turns out the owner was just getting ready to leave. He greeted me warmly and after I explained what I wanted he gave me a tour of the place, including the sumptuous restoration he and his wife are doing on the interior of the house.

Then he kindly gave me carte' blanch to work the site during the course of my project, through the passing of the seasons and in the best light I could manage.

Timing is everything.


From a 4x5 Transparency

Early last spring while shooting the breeze with folk at the Berry Patch in Copper Harbor, I mentioned that my Uncle John had once owned a farm on the Gogebic Range. When asked what kind of farmer John was, I reached for the Yooper's stock answer and six voices replied in unison with mine: "A rock farmer!"

In 1902, the Annalas were among the first five families to settle the rural reaches beyond bustling Hurley WI. Matthew Annala was a Finnish carpenter and stone mason by trade, a farmer and (eventually) father to 12 children, insert joke about long northern winters here.

Back then, round barns were promoted as the most efficient means of working a dairy herd, with feed being stored in the middle of the space and cows spread out around it rather than in rows.

Matthew Annala considered this, looked out upon his field of glacial rock, decided to become a dairy farmer and in 1917 put his better skills to work. It took five years of labor to construct the Annala Barn.

Round barns never caught on, in part because they proved difficult to expand to accommodate growing herds. Few remain in America, with round barns made of stone being exceptionally rare. I know of only one other in the nation.

In 1979, Matthew Annala's barn earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Here're a few paragraphs culled from that successful petition:

"The Annala Round Barn and Milkhouse...is significant for its design, its excellence in craftsmanship, and its associations with the area's early Finnish settlement and with private dairy farming in Iron County.

Like most of the Finnish immigrants who came to northern Wisconsin between 1890 and 1910, Annala settled there with the goal of farming the cutover stump left from logging days... Early on he discovered that the cutover lands were unsuitable for agriculture since the growing season was too short, the soil was thick with red clay and the fields were littered with glacial boulders. Thus, Annala, like others, switched his attentions to dairy farming.

Annala had taken a farm tour with Gogebic County Michigan farmers to explore alternative farming techniques...Whatever his influences, Annala was fearful of the destructive power of tornados...With the assistance of his neighbors and a few of his sons, he constructed the 24-inch thick stone walls, while using little mortar but relying instead on the mason's skill in fitting the multi-colored rubble together. This process allowed the walls to be raised in a free-standing manner, as the stones were carefully selected for tight binding. The stonework was excellently fitted to resist water, wind and weather and allows a full appreciation of the various colors, shapes and textures of the stone."

The Annalas delivered milk to the region at least through WWII. His barn continued as a dairy barn until 1973, when the property was first sold.

*

I'm grateful to the property's current owners, not merely for the favor of access but because they realize the importance of what they own and are taking the necessary steps to preserve it.

So the sturdy round barn built long ago of fieldstone by a Finnish craftsman, his neighbors and sons might well stand for another century as testament to hard work, ingenuity & craftsmanship.

And to the willingness of rock farmers everywhere, determined all the same to overcome natural obstacles laid down by nature.

In this case, that'd include tornados too...


From 4x5 transparency


From 4x5 transparency


These images of the interior are all digital capture from the Toy Canon, as I've not yet scanned the film...









22 comments:

  1. My Name is Linda Annala- Olson, Daughter of William Reino Annala, who was the son of Reino Annala. I am the great granddaughter of Matthew Olson. This barn has been a great source of pride for my family since its construction. Thank you for showing it so beautifully on this website. It brought tears of joy to my eyes and a smile in my heart. :)

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    1. Linda - My name is Joann Weems Richardson, daughter of Wilma Annala Weems. I am the granddaughter of Matt Annala. I have spend many years at the farm with my mother when my father was overseas. I always enjoyed the time we spent on the farm.

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  2. You're so very welcome. You've every right to be proud that your family's efforts bequeathed to the rest of us this architectural & cultural gem. It was my great good fortune, to visit repeatedly during the course of my fieldwork and to walk the place in all four seasons. The spirit of your ancestors is alive on that land.

    Thank-you, for your kind words. There's no greater satisfaction in this gig than knowing my work's touched someone.

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  3. It's wonderful that this special place is appreciated and is being saved for future generations to enjoy. Hopefully, a historic marker will be placed there to tell the story. Thanks to all.

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    1. Inventive, distinctive and as much as anything the product of a personal vision intended to make something lasting from the land. It's a national treasure, I think.

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  4. Thank you for this wonderful history you have found for us. I've lived in Ironwood all of my life, driven by this place a million times and never knew anything about it's history. I did drive by there today and took a few photos.

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    1. A friend took me there some decades ago and I instantly fell in love with the place. I'm deeply grateful for the time I spent there during my project. Thank-you for the kind words.

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  5. While helping my son with his 5th grade project, I found information about my great-grandmother's brother, Matthew. We are amazed by this barn and now treasure the fact that one of our ancestors had such a contribution to history and the Wisconsin area. My great-grandmother settled in Connecticut. We look forward to some day visiting the barn.

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    1. The Annala Round Barn essay draws steady traffic -- day by day, week by week -- ever since I first posted it. Turns out, Matthew's handiwork in that cold, shallow valley is a symbol for pride of place to both locals and other folk who've either long since left the area or even just visited. So beyond its inarguable architectural significance, Matthew left us with a sturdy totem that for many is emblematic of a resilient people and the hard land they love so well. Every time I've been there, a steady trickle of people drive out the lonely road it's on, stop their cars, get out and just stand at the gate looking at the barn rising atop the field of grass that surrounds it. Then they drive away a bit happier than when they came, seeing that it still stands.

      That's one heck of a gift your ancestor left to us all, eh?

      I hope your son aced his project. As for myself, I continue to be both humbled and amazed at the reach of the Internet. Thanks so much for dropping in and letting me know you found this...

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    2. Thank you very much for the above pictures of my grandfathers (Matt Annala) round barn. I am the daughter of Wilma Annala Weems daughter of Matt Annala. I have sent many different times on the farm when my father (who was in the military) was overseas. It was great living on the farm.

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    3. I'm sure it must've been. It's a lovely piece of slightly rolling land with a fine house upon it, even without considering the grand barn. I used to just drive by the place and think of what a joy it must be to live there.

      Though a friend suggests that the place tends to get the latest frost in spring and the first frost in autumn, too. Even Paradise has a price, eh?

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  6. My name is Kris Annala Warren, the daughter of Reino Annala, the youngest of Matthew Annala's sons. The family story also goes that you built a round barn, because then there are no corners for the devil to hide in.
    I have also heard that the family had a round barn in Finland, too. I have not done any research on that, but my husband's family is from the same area of Finland and his uncle said he saw the round barn when he was in Finland.

    We are residing our house and want to do some rock work on the front. I've been looking at rock patterns and saw one that clicked a memory for me and suddenly I was looking to see pictures of my Grandpa's barn and found this site.. My family would give just about anything to be able to take a tour and see the place. My kids have heard so many stories.
    Joann Weems Richardson I would love to get in touch again. It's been forever!

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  7. Hi Kris. Nice to meet you. Yeah, I'd heard that, about the Devil. It's an Old World architectural tradition. While it was great for me to learn early on during my project that after years of neglect the new owners are properly appreciative of their very special place, when members of the Annala clan later got reconnected to Matthew's barn through my project...well, that's about as cool as it gets. My wish for all of you is that someday there'll be a big family reunion at your grandfather's barn. Everyone from the older folk to the youngsters, wouldn't that be a sight to see? It'd make the local news, I can tell you that. Anyway, thanks so much for your kindness. I'm really glad to have been of service and if I can be of any help in the future, please be sure to let me know...

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    1. HI kris. My name is Paul Bauschke. Owner. I would love to show you the farm. I owned for 12 years now. It's a very special place.

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    2. Mr. Bauschke, I am going to take you up on that one of these days. It would be a thrill to see it again! Kris

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    3. Kris (or any other member of the Annala family), I've permission from Paul to provide you his e-mail contact info so if at any time you'd be interested in that please feel free to contact me at frankjhutton@gmail.com and I'll be glad to pass that along.

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  8. My grandmother's family also had a round barn-in Cokato, MN. It was made of wood. Annala is the maiden name of the wife who married Levi Wanha who built it. We also thought it to be rather innovative. May be a connection. Built some time after 1885.

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    1. I saw my first round barn as a child, just outside the City of Chicago. It too was made of wood. Not too long after, a tollway expansion ate it...

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  9. Were they from around Oulu?

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    1. I've pretty much exhausted my knowledge on the Annala barn and am now learning from those who've found the piece, which is an amazing and gratifying thing. I say all the Annala's should get together and compile the many facets of the family's story, then someone can write it and everyone will know what there is to know...

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  10. I am the daughter of Hilma Annala Johnson, the youngest of Matti and Hilma Annala's children. She is 92 at the time of this posting. The stones in the barn were heated in a fire and then dropped in cold water so they would crack and Matti would need very little mortar for the walls. Engineering professors would bring students to see the construction of the roof since it has no supports so a load of hay can be brought in without driving around posts. Given the amount of snow they get each winter it was considered an engineering feat. The bull pen and calf pens were under the ramp to the hayloft, served well for my cousins' go cart. The sauna was part of the garage, remember my aunts would "go sauna".

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  11. Thank-you, for adding to the story. The barn is indeed a marvel, and also a thing of beauty. It's awfully smart to let nature take care of some of the stonework. That sort of natural insight is sore diminished with the times, I'd think. These days I'm at least as impressed by the robustness of the far-flung Annala family as I am by the barn. Please be so kind to pass on my very best regards to your mother. The Barn remains much cherished by the community.

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