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If this barn could talk, what stories it could tell

Grandchildren of Fred Barg share stories of the historic structure, north of Park Rapids on Hwy. 71, that was lost in the Memorial Day wind storm.

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People once came from all over Minnesota to see the features local farmer Fred Barg designed for his barn. The landmark on Hwy. 71 was demolished by the Memorial Day weekend storm.
Contributed / Dan DeSchane
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The barn north of Park Rapids on Hwy. 71 that blew down when strong winds hit the area on Memorial Day has a unique place in Minnesota history.

Lance Cressel is a grandson of the man who built the barn.

“My grandfather, Fred Barg, was from Germany,” he said. He was born in 1875 and moved to Iowa and from there to northern Minnesota.

Cressel lives in Texas now, but still comes to the Park Rapids area where he owns a yellow house on property near the old barn. He was there when the storm hit May 30 and saw the damage first hand.

A piece of history lost

“It wasn’t just an old barn that blew down,” Cressel said. “It was the first barn of its type in northern Minnesota and the most modern. Farmers came from all around the area to look at it and see how it was constructed. My grandfather was quite well off. He had a construction crew come in and build the barn to his specifications. It’s the only barn around that had the silo inside the barn instead of outside. They made silage from fermented corn stalks and wheat and the cows just loved it.”

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Cressel said he believes the barn was built in 1928 or 1929.

“Then in the spring of 1939, a strong wind came through and knocked the top off,” he said. “They thought it might have been a tornado. My mother remembers hearing stories about how the wind was so strong it drove a piece of straw into the bark of a tree. There weren’t many jobs then, so my grandfather hired my dad, George Cressel, to help reshingle the barn at 25 cents an hour. He also hired other local people to help.”

They rebuilt the top of the barn and it stood there until this Memorial Day storm.

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This barn survived a wind storm in the 1930s but toppled when strong winds hit areas north of Park Rapids May 30.
Contributed / Mark and Vickie DeSchane

“I was so sorry to have it go,” Cressell said. “It was a landmark. I’ve talked to many people who say they’ve seen a picture of that barn in a business at different places around Minnesota.”

Mary Ann Pech is a granddaughter of the Bargs. Born in 1938, she lives near Nevis half the year and the other half of the year in Texas.

“When the barn blew down, I was here,” she said. “I drove by it just the day before and again to see it after it had blown down. I couldn’t believe it. That barn has so much history. Everybody around knew that was the Barg barn. There are a lot of memories connected there. I don’t think the owners now will rebuild it. It’s a piece of history gone. I remember we used to play hide and seek in the hay. Where the rafters would go down we could slide down in there and not be seen. I was always afraid I’d slide down too far and not be able to get back up.”

Cressel also remembers playing in the barn with his cousins. “The hay was in the upper potion and we’d go up there and roll around,” he said.

Now living in Fort Worth, Texas, Cressel was at his residence in the yellow house just south of the barn on May 30 when the storm came through.

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“That storm was so quick,” he said. “It lasted less than five minutes, but the wind blew really hard. I lost three trees down by my garage. Those trees are older than the ones up at Itasca State Park.”

Ahead of his time

Barg came up with the ideas for the kind of barn he wanted and hired local contractors to build it.

“The barn was so modern that people came from all over northern Minnesota to look at it because that was the first time of its type in Hubbard County and the whole area,” Cressel said. “There were special lifts to get the hay to the hay mow. Each cow stanchion had an automatic watering spigot. A pump in the barn filled up a tank. The water free flowed to the water spigots by water pressure. There was a big round circle about 12 inches in diameter. At the bottom of it, there was a little thing the cow pressed down on with their nose and the water would fill up and they’d drink. So whenever they wanted water, it was right there for both the cows and the horses.”

Cressel said at the time the barn was built, Barg was milking 12 cows.

“On one side of the barn were the cows, and on the other side of the barn the horses went in,” he said. He had three teams of big Belgian draft horses that were used for plowing.

Cressel was born in 1936 and was only 6 years old when his grandfather died.

“My mother said my grandfather was really smart and had a lot of ideas,” he said.

A bit of Barg family history

During the Depression, Cressel said the Barg family fared better than most because they grew their own food.

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“My grandpa loaned money to neighbors to buy groceries,” Cressel said.

Milk was sold to the creamery in downtown Park Rapids across the street and down from where St. Peter’s Catholic Church stands now. Everyone took their milk and cream in big cans and delivered it to the creamery. The creamery processed and pasteurized it and people went there to buy fresh-made butter, cheese, cream and milk.

Barg grew oats, wheat and hay on 200 acres of farmable land. He died in 1941.

Barg’s wife kept the property and it remained in the family until 1961 or 1962 when it was sold by Cressel’s uncle. The property where the barn stood is currently owned by Mark and Vickie DeSchane.

The Barg family had 13 children with two sets of twins. “One child died at birth, and one boy at age 9 was killed when he fell off a horse and hit his head on a stump,” Cressel said.

The farm house on the property was divided into a section for the boys to sleep and another for the girls with a bedroom for the parents downstairs.

Cressel’s mother, Pearl (Barg) Cressel, was born in the house in 1910.

“My grandfather believed in hard work,” he said. “My mother started working in the barn helping milk cows when she was 6 years old. My mom told me that when they peeled potatoes for each meal they peeled a 12-quart bucket of potatoes. That’s a little over 10 pounds of potatoes.”

Cressel grew up half a mile south of the farm in a one-room schoolhouse that was no longer in use on 40 acres of land his grandfather gave his parents.

“It was quite a place to be raised,” he said. “I was born in 1936 and didn’t leave the Park Rapids area until 1954.”

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Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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