Former barn a home
ALBATON – Motorists and others seeking out the tiny Monona County village of Albaton may see what, at first glance appears to be yet another well-preserved, large, white barn.
Taking a second look, however, they’ll see the structure southeast of Sloan is no longer a barn, but the home of Mike and Rhonda Wilt.
The barn was built in 1927 for the Earl Polly family, operators of an Albaton store, for their dairy operation.
The farm on which the barn is located would later be sold in 1942 to Harley “Bud” and Eva Thomas, Rhonda Wilts’ grandparents.
The Wilts purchased the farm site in 1987 following a series of subsequent ownerships after the Thomases, including Rhonda Wilts’ father, Jon Roarson, and uncle, Jerry Roarson, partnered with the Wilts to expand a hog operation in 1960.
Wilt said subsequent drop in the hog market prompt him to get out of the hog enterprise.
Afterward, he said, he and Rhonda turned their thoughts to renovating the barn for Rhonda’ dried flower businesses
The couple painted the barn in 1990 and affixed a tribute to Albaton on the front of the barn.
“We realized the barn had potential for a home,” Wilt said. “It seemed in good shape and so we cleaned it to start home businesses and considered it becoming our home.
“We called in an expert to check for soundness of the structure which was found to be very good.”
The major undertaking got underway in 2001 on the 38-by-60-foot barn with its 30-foot peak gable roof.
Wilt and his brother, Maurice, Rhonda’s father, Jon Roarson, as well as Wilt’s son, Jon, did most of the work with other friends’ and neighbors’ occasionally assistance, he said.
Adding to the challenges, however, was starting the project during winter, necessitating a number of extra steps to heat the work site.
Wilt said straightening the barn was done with his son hooking cable to their Dodge pick-up and his father standing atop the barn with a level to ensure straightness.
A portion of lumber to be used in the continuing work would further cut project costs.
Sitting at a table in expansive spaces – a living room with fireplace, master bedroom and bath dining area and kitchen – the Wilts said it’s hard to imagine what they’ve achieved.
Especially knowing the lower level once housed livestock – dairy cattle and horses in the living room, pigs once feeding in what is now the sunlight-fed dining room, and where chickens once scurried is today’s loft.
Climbing a black, spiral staircase into the former hay loft, an now attic, there’s still more to see.
The one large room with a quilting area nestled near a window and bunk beds primarily for the Wilts’ grandchildren border what Mike Wilt considers his special place.
Wilt is an avid hunter for local game, but also safari hunting in Africa with mounted game heads and skins from his successes.
The original hay loft rope and horse weather vane from the barn add to the loft’s appearance.
Likewise, the bunk beds are made from the original barn beams that supported the hayloft.
“We feel what we have here isn’t just for our own enjoyment, but that of our children and our grandchildren,” Wilt said. “It’s a one-of-a kind thing.”
Rhonda Wilt recalled what the barn home has meant to them since they moved in and the occasional special visitors – Al Gore who stopped to see the barn during his 2000 presidential campaign.
“It was rather awesome to see the media entourage accompanying him and to read later in the major newspapers including the Washington Post of his visit here,” she said. “It’s a good life here and we enjoy having fun with others when we can.”
Beside traditional family gatherings, the Wilts have hosted community Fourth of July parties attended by as many as 200 adults and youths, they said.
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