Illinois Farmer Saves 1870s Barn
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Feb. 9, 2011
Six years ago, a c. 1875 barn in Homer Township, Ill., seemed destined for demolition. Vandals had stripped the abandoned Tilsy Barn structure of much of its wood siding. The owner, the Forest Preserve District of Will County, couldn't afford to repair or maintain the 36-foot-by-46-foot structure, and had even considered applying for a demolition permit.
When local farmer Walter Konow heard of the barn's plight, he acted quickly. Konow, now 52, remembered playing in the Tilsy Barn in the 1960s as a young child, when his aunt and uncle rented the Tilsy farm. "My dad and grandpa and great-grandpa used to go work there—milk cows," says Konow, who owns a nearby farm. "All the old structures on my farm now, they're all gone. I just kind of wanted an old barn that would go with the farm.”
Konow bought the Tilsy Barn for $1,000 in January 2010. A crew from Wayne-based Preservation Trades began dismantling the structure in April. By September, the barn had been reassembled on Konow's farm, two-and-a-half miles away from the Tilsy property. The roof was replaced, along with about 3,000 feet of siding, and it was repainted—all for about $130,000, Konow says. "It was a lot of money, but it was well worth it. It's like [it was] the day it was put up 150 years ago—that's how structurally sound it is."
Last month Konow signed a nomination to designate the Tilsy Barn as a local landmark—a process that began in 2006 but stalled.
"I watched [Walter Konow] sign the barn's landmark nomination form, almost five years to the day from when the initial nomination was filed," says Amy Munro, historic preservation manager for the Will County Land Use Department. "It's a great success story here in Will County."
The Tilsy Barn's grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebration is scheduled for May 21. It will be open to the public that day and every autumn when Konow welcomes visitors to his corn maze. In the meantime, Konow will store his antique tractor collection and other items in the barn.
"It's a very unique building compared to how things are built today."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.