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HANCOCK COUNTY

‘It was the nicest barn in the neighborhood’

November 20, 2009
By CLAYTON RYE/Farm News staff writer

Barn rebuilt for dairy after 1938 fire

KANAWHA - Paul Assink, a retired teacher living near Chicago, remembers having supper one evening on his family farm near this southwest Hancock County community when he was eight years old. The phone rang. It was a neighbor calling with a simple message. "I believe your barn is on fire."

The family looked out the window and the barn was on fire. They quickly ran to save the cattle and horses in the barn and about 30 minutes later the roof collapsed. The fire started by spontaneous combustion from hay that had not dried completely before being put in the barn.

Article Photos

David and Nancy Litch secure a barn quilt onto the barn they purchased for their Hancock County home. The barn was moved about a mile from Wright County in December 2008.

Ed Assink, Paul Assink's father, rebuilt the barn in 1938 on its original foundation using the $2,000 insurance money. It was built for dairy with pens for horses. It was designed with stanchions for 16 cattle, eight to a side.

When finished, Paul Assink said, "It was the nicest barn in the neighborhood."

Paul Assink recalled that before the first hay went in, the four Assink children used the hay mow as a roller skating rink.

Paul's brother, Henry Assink, remained on the farm continuing to dairy and raising his family of four daughters. Lois VanDusseldorp, of Platte, S.D., was the oldest daughter. She said that since there were no sons, the girls were expected to help with farm chores that centered on the barn.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Lois said the girls' job during milking was to carry five-gallon pails of milk to the milk cans. Later, they emptied their pails into a bulk tank because Henry Assink never installed a milk line.

VanDusseldorp and her sisters helped with haying, having to pull the rope that raised the bales back to its starting position after a tractor had pulled a load of bales up to the mow. They carried feed from where it was stored while keeping watch for any mice that lived in the feed room. They turned off the cattle waterers during the winter to keep them from freezing.

The girls looked for newborn kittens in the mangers in the cattle pens. They swung from the rope in the hay mow and jumped from a platform landing on the loose hay below.

The Assinks stayed in the dairy business until 1975 with Henry Assink sometimes milking as many as 22 cows in the barn. Sue Helling, another of Assink's daughters, and her husband John Helling, became owners of the barn.

The barn sat unused until last December when it was moved a mile where it was located in Wright County across the county line into Hancock County to assume a new life on property owned by David and Nancy Litch.

The Litch's moved to Kanawha in 2003 from Florissant, Colo., near Pike's Peak planting hundreds of grapevines on land bought around 1875 by David Wentch. Wentch is Nancy Litch's great-great-great grandfather.

In 2001, the Litch's bought a former bank building in Kanawha and traveled for two years between Colorado and Iowa renovating the building for their business as a winery. Nancy Litch said that until the barn was moved to their property there was no protection from weather as all that remains from a former farmstead are the grain bins.

Plans for the barn are to serve as storage for equipment. One-third of it will be a room for classes, with a break room and a kitchen area, plus a restroom. Visitors will be encouraged to stop at the barn for a view of the grape arbors and activities, The Litches said

Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at cry@wctatel.net.

 
 

 

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