The History of the Big Barn

The Brusveen Barn, located in the Town of York, Green County, is a pristine example of a dairy barn common to the Mount Horeb Area. Originally built in the late 19th century, patterns of change in agriculture and economics are reflected in the transitions in the life of this structure which served as a dairy barn through the 1970s.

The barn was 20 feet long and 18 feet wide when first built by the Norwegian immigrant Gulbrand and Oline Sorum family in 1883. It was nestled into the hillside for a Southern exposure, in a style known as a bank barn. There was space for five or six cattle to be milked for the family of four and to supply the new local cheese factory. The 82 acre farm was eventually purchased by the young family of Hans and Bertha Brusveen in 1912. They were related to many families in the area, and had both immigrated to the area from Norway at a young age.

As the dairy industry matured, the Brusveens lengthened the barn twice: first in 1917, and then again with 26 feet in 1921. Both expansions utilized the help of their neighbor and stonemason, Mrs. Brusveen's father. The barn was then a total length of 78 feet and accommodated an increased dairy herd needed to support a growing family.

The barn employs a hanging construction method named for the way the floor of the upper level is supported by rods strung through large high crossbeams. This hanging arrangement allows for fewer support beams on the lower level, saving space for cattle. The Dutch doors on the south side of the barn provided entrance for livestock, manure management, and allowed feed alley access. Conveniently, the upper half of each door could be left open for ventilation in summer. A penned-off lower level section housed calves and heifers, and the oldest portion of the barn, with its wooden floor, mangers, and stanchions housed a pair of Clydesdale or Belgian working horse mares.

With the expansions in length, the upper level haymow also increased to over 20 feet in height allowing much more hay storage. Seven hay stacks fit in the mow, each with 1000 pounds of hay, to be rationed to livestock below using five hay chutes along the North wall. The large hinged fork, that hoisted hay into the mow with a pulley system, still rests inside the haymow. A lean-to extension, with an entrance on the East side, now gone, sheltered farm equipment at the upper level.

Between the 1920s and 1970s, the dairy herd, including calves and heifers, increased from 12 to 25 cattle. The cows were all milked by hand until two milking machines arrived in 1946, allowing the addition of a few head of cattle. The attached milk house was built in the early 1930s when regulations required separate storage facilities for milk.

The barn was always teeming with life; children began helping at the age of five, sweeping feed alleys, putting down bedding, and feeding cattle. The youngest Brusveen child, Howard, remained on the farm with his parents, married his wife Avis in 1942, and they began to raise their own family. However, the farm could not support both families and Howard started working in carpentry and construction beginning in 1949.

By the end of the 1950s Hans and Bertha Brusveen were in their 80s and they decided to sell the cattle and rent the cropland. However, the barn was not without cattle for long, as their son, Howard, quit his carpentry work and purchased the property from his parents in 1960. The newer part of the barn was renovated with oak lumber from the farm and remained arranged in a side-by-side design so that cows entered from the broad side of the barn. This was a common configuration for dairy barns before larger and wider ones were built with hanging sliding doors at either end. The metal stanchions kept the cows in place while allowing enough mobility for their comfort. A Holstein herd was built up through artificial insemination. The family gave the cows names such as Karen, Mama, and Sleepy. The wood stave silo collapsed in a windstorm in the 1960s, but was not rebuilt.

The Brusveens were keen on keeping records with scribbled notes in pencil still in place on the door in the milkhouse. An electric bulk milk cooling tank, that has since been removed, was purchased for the milkhouse in 1964. Milk continued to be hauled to the local York Center cheese factory until 1967 when the Brusveens began having their milk picked up by refrigerator trucks for the Pure Milk Products Association and then Milwaukee Cheese Company in Monroe.

In the late 70s, Howard and Avis Brusveen, decided to retire. With neither of their children interested in farming the farm was sold in 1977 to Charles Bauer and Charles Beckwith, both age 30. The farm had been in the Brusveen family for nearly 70 years.

Bauer and Beckwith, have carefully preserved the barn and farmyard as they share an appreciation for this historic farmstead. The main level is now used for storage and the haymow and milk house are art studios. The lean-to on the north side has been removed and replaced with a sliding door for access to the haymow. The barnyard has become a garden and the connected farmland has been coaxed toward a more natural state through prairie and woodland restoration projects.