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County barn: going, going... almost gone

A large red barn has been in the same spot on the grounds of the St. Croix County Health Center since 1897.

It hasn't always been the same barn -- the original barn burned down in 1979. The more recent barn was built in the same year and stood its ground until Tuesday, May 20, when it began to come down piece by piece.

Since the barn has not been in use since about 2004, the county looked into having repairs done to refurbish it, according to Greg Timmerman, corporate counsel for St. Croix County.

"Upon a complete inspection of the barn, it was discovered that the cost to repair it would be prohibitive," Timmerman said.

So the county decided to take the barn down.

The big red barn and its surrounding buildings have a rich history in the development of the county health care grounds.

How it began

In April 1897 the doors opened to the first home for the mentally ill in St. Croix County. The large, "castle-like" building graced the grounds of what is now the St. Croix County Health Center.

According to James D. Reppe and Mary A. Sather's book "Up On the Northside," the original hospital could accommodate 110 patients.

Over the years, the land around the hospital became a farm which self-sustained the patients and those who lived in another building erected in 1898 called the "poor house."

This was the county's answer to caring for the mentally ill as well as the area's indigent population.

The St. Croix County herd of dairy cattle was well-known in the area. The whole "herd" operation included a laundry, horse barn and main barn, which was built in 1897. There was also a chicken coop, a milking barn and a pig barn, according to Cecil Brighton, assistant herdsman with the county for several years.

"There was an addition put on the barn at one time to house the young stock," Brighton said.

In its heyday the farm produced butter, beef and pork, vegetables and fruit. Patients under supervision performed the daily chores on the farm. That was the "natural method" of caring for these people, according to Reppe and Sather's book.

"The work was supposed to serve a dual purpose of therapy for the patients and the 'poor' by giving them useful work to do, plus providing a measure of self-support to the institution."

This type of care began to change in the 1950s with the advent of new drug therapies and other medical advances for mental illness.

Even after the "castle" was demolished in 1984, the large barn remained on the grounds and "the herd" continued to be maintained until 1990.

In 1990 the "herd" was auctioned off, due to economics, said Brighton.

"It became too expensive to run the farm," Brighton said.

After the auction, a local dairy farmer rented the barn until 2004. Another farmer currently rents the fields at the county Health Center site.

Once the farmer stopped renting the structure, the barn has been sitting idle. According to Timmerman, the land where the barn once stood will once again become farmland.