The sight of a barn going up in the heart of Amish country in Douglas County is an exciting step for the future of the Illinois Amish Heritage Center (IAHC).
But the recent raising of the nearly 150-year-old structure also serves as a trip back in time for those involved in the project and anyone who visits the site.
“There’s a lot of educational opportunities. Yes, this is for the Illinois Amish Heritage Center but, for central Illinois, a lot of this is about agriculture, how it’s evolved and how it will continue to evolve,” said Cassie Yoder, of Cass Concepts Marketing in Decatur.
“We’re right in the heart of the prairie,” she said. “The barn just ties into all that.”
The Herschberger-Miller barn, originally constructed three miles west of Arthur in 1879, was donated to IAHC. The nonprofit organization then took on the task of moving the barn to be part of its campus, located between Arthur and Arcola on Illinois Route 133.
The campus features historic Amish homes and a schoolhouse from the area. The addition of a working livestock barn will allow the site to host various types of farm animals and activities. It also brings the IAHC campus one step closer to the vision of becoming an Amish living history farm.
The large, five-bay Pennsylvania-style barn has a forebay overhang on the east side and a drive-in threshing floor on the west side. It will also be used as a horse hotel on the IAHC campus where owners can drop off their equine to be sized and fitted with shoes.
“We’ve had really exciting growth at the Heritage Center the last few years,” Yoder said. “The campus is between Arcola and Arthur, in the heart of and gateway to Amish country in Illinois. It’s a perfect location.”
The Arthur Area Association of Commerce reports Arthur is home of the state’s largest and oldest Old Order Amish Settlement of 4,500 Amish living in the surrounding area. More than 200,000 visitors from all 50 states and an average of 50 countries visit the area each year.
IAHC’s mission is to enhance the preservation, understanding and appreciation of all aspects of the culture and heritage of the Amish people in Illinois from 1865 to the present.
The addition of the historic barn to the IAHC campus was a natural fit. The challenge was getting it there. Some of the other donated buildings on the campus were relocated there with the use of draft horses.
“It was starting to get in shambles but, at the same time, it’s one of the oldest barns in Douglas County,” Yoder said. “So, there’s a lot of history.”
IAHC contacted Trillium Dell Timber Works, now Firmatas, in Galesburg. The firm specializes in barn preservation and restorations.
“They came and tagged each and every piece of wood, then dismantled the barn piece by piece,” Yoder said. “It’s like a Lego system. They took it all down and relocated the wood to the Amish center.”
Firmatas staff also restored and replaced some of the pieces as needed.
IAHC then hosted a traditional Amish barn raising event (Oct. 28-29) with all work done by the crew and volunteers working side by side. The framework went up first, followed by the roof rafters, roof and siding. The interior of the restored barn will include the original grain bins, stalls and other original features.
“One volunteer, O.J. Miller, is a descendant (of the Herschberger family member) who originally built the barn,” Yoder said. “It’s incredible to see how it comes full circle.”
For more information, look for the Illinois Amish Heritage Center on Facebook or contact Cassie Yoder at 217-254-4012.
• Daniel Grant writes for FarmWeek. This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.