The classic American barn — few images appeal so strongly to our collective conscious as the big red (or white) barn majestically rising from endless fields of green. When we catch sight of a beautiful barn, the rustic building reminds us of a simpler life. While barns are disappearing, we found many historic structures are being restored for contemporary uses, giving new generations access to this very American architecture form. We navigated the back roads to identify some of the best barns in the greater Evansville area. Come on in! You won’t need your boots.
Charlotte and Gene Warren
George Henry Warren, once a prominent farmer and chairman of the board of Sebree Deposit Bank, purchased 225 acres of Henderson County, Kentucky, farmland and moved his family there in 1927. During the move, his grandson Gene followed a covered wagon all the way from McLean County, ensuring the calves and milk cows safely arrived to the new family farm, known today as Daffodil Farm.
The covered wagon still sits near the old horse and mule barn off of U.S. Highway 60, and that barn is still in the Warren family, now owned by one of George Henry’s great-grandsons, Gene Warren Jr. and his wife Charlotte.
“My wife Charlotte is the driving force and inspiration for saving the historic structures on our family farm,” says Gene. “Charlotte and our children are responsible for the property care and for making the farm the joy for our family that it is — a labor of love.”
Gene lived near the barn for his first six years, until his great-grandfather expanded the farmland to 554 acres and Gene’s household moved to a different part of the property.
After that, his family visited often, as Gene’s grandparents lived there for decades. Gene recalls wonderful memories of running around the barn with a brother, two sisters, and 20 ponies.
Today, Charlotte’s three horses take the place of the horses and mules that pulled farm equipment when the barn was built in the 19th century.
Her Tennessee Walking horse and two American Quarter horses live comfortably in a home of about 8,000 square feet, complete with corn crib and hay loft.
“When our grandchildren work with Charlotte’s horses or help bale hay on the farm they are the sixth generation of Warrens to work on this farm over nearly 100 years,” says Gene. “That fact makes this farm really significant for our family.”
Shelli and Butch Hancock
“Tear it down or build a new one.”
That was the advice Butch and Shelli Hancock were given about an old barn resting on a hill in front of their home on six acres they purchased on Petersburg Road. Instead, the couple’s affection for the building would keep it standing.
“It was built in the late 1890s,” says Butch. “The wood is hand-hewn. It’s so hard you can’t drive a nail into it.”
When the couple began to clean up the old structure, Butch says they were able to gather old artifacts from the previous owners including tools and glass jars from the turn of the century. The pieces were saved, and the Hancocks display many of them.
The major push to renovate the barn came from their daughter Haley who wanted to hold her wedding reception at her parents’ property last year. Butch and Shelli hired local contractor Steve Briscoe to assess the structural soundness of the building and to add in a new stairway, windows and doors, and an electrical system. Briscoe hired Steve Dunlap of Evansville to help with woodworking.
“We took an eyesore and made it fun,” says Shelli.
Today, the two-story barn is used as a place for Butch and Shelli to welcome friends and family. It features a comfortable, covered front porch, a TV, a pool table, and a faux elk-horn chandelier. Last year, the couple hosted their families for Christmas in the barn, placing a dining table on the second level and decorating with a Christmas tree for the occasion.
“It’s just nice and kind of fun,” says Butch.
“It’s a gathering place,” adds Shelli. “It’s quaint and subtle.”
Greg and Joyce Donaldson
Joyce Donaldson admits she never had much appreciation for the old, tri-level barn that sits near her driveway at Kansas Road and Moffet Lane. Her attitude changed a few years ago when a group of Amish workers came to help Joyce and her husband Greg restore the building.
“They explained how the barn worked and how the farmer probably used certain areas,” she says. “It just became more interesting to me and more intriguing to hear about the lifestyle.”
The Donaldsons’ barn was built in 1889 and was constructed with mostly white oak, along with sweet gum and cottonwood in the floor joists. Thanks to research done by dendrochronologist Darrin Rubino of Hanover University, who studies the rings of trees, the Donaldsons also know that some of the trees used to erect the barn date back as far as 1748.
“The barn was part of what we think was a dairy farm,” says Joyce. “There were numerous stalls down in the bottom level.”
Every inch of space was used in the barn. The second level was storage for machinery used at the time, and the upper level housed bails of hay used to feed the livestock. Other interesting pieces of the barn include a large iron hook at the top level to move hay bails, an old medicine box on the lower level, and old doors that lift up on the sides to aerate the cattle stalls.
Today, the Donaldsons use their barn for gatherings and events. Joyce says they’ve opened the building to an international mission bazaar, a garden club, and their own private parties with friends and family.
“It’s just been fun to open it up,” says Joyce. “I mean, what are you going to do with an old barn? You’ve got to make your own fun with it.”