The Green Barn on Pennington Road

Suzanne Vax-Laverdiere sent me a note in March 2015 which talked about her uncle's house on Pennington Road off Hwy 8 west of Prentice in Price County. She spent a lot of time there as a youngster during the summers. She said she had not seen many such green barns in her travels and then provided me some family background on this farm and two others that were all in one family. She asked if I could go out and find the barn and send her a photo. I finally did that in late June 2015. This story shows photos I took and provides some family background. This turned out to be a lot of fun, and there are some good lessons for us.

June 30, 2015

Suzanne Vax-Laverdiere of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, sent me a note in March 2015 which talked about her uncle's house on Pennington Road off Hwy 8 west of Prentice in Price County. She spent a lot of time there as a youngster in the summers. She said she had not seen many such green barns in her travels and then provided me some family background. She asked if I could go out and find the barn and send her a photo. I finally did that in late June 2015.

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Here's the Green Barn on Pennington Road in Prentice, Wisconsin.

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The farm hosting the green barn belonged to Julius and Kathryn (Katalin) Kovac Borondi. They are shown here with the green barn behind them.

Julius was born in Hungary in 1887. Kathryn Kovac was born in 1891, also in Hungary, and the two were married there before coming to the US. They had one daughter, Eleanor. Kathryn and two-year old Eleanor came to the US through Ellis Island in December 1913. Julius had arrived earlier, shortly after they were married, and went to Chicago. Before coming to the farm, the family lived in Chicago where Julius worked as a machinist. The family moved to the green barn property in 1921. Eleanor will become a key figure when we address a second farm later.

So let's have a little fun here and travel through this little neighborhood and learn a bit about the families who lived there.

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I am standing in front of the property hosting the green barn looking east. This is Pennington Rd. If you were coming on Hwy 8 W, you would pass the turn off for Prentice town center and go just a bit more to the west to Pennington Rd. You would then turn right on it and after a short while you would be forced to turn left on Pennington and drive toward the camera here. You can barely see that turn at the distant end of the road here. So just imagine yourself coming from that direction.

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After a very short while, you would spot the green barn on the right from Pennington.

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I had driven here from Wausau, close to two hours by the time we fed ourselves, and of course I was never sure if I would find the place. So naturally I jumped out of my car and zoomed for a closer shot, not knowing what was ahead of me.

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Well there she was, and here was the "driveway." Note to the left under the trees you can sort of see a house. So now I'm a little tense because I'm worried someone lives here and I will be trespassing.

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Adding a little fuel to the fire, there is a town address sign still standing, usually indicating someone lives there. But Suzanne did not indicate anyone was still living here, and I've trespassed before, so let's get on in there and see what we see. Worst that can happen is I'll get shot! In the gee whiz column, I now learned the barn is in the Town of Hackett, population 202 at the 2000 census. I'll note the town's web page says the population is 169. At the time of the census, there were 78 families living in the town. The town is only 71 square miles. So it is technically not in Prentice. One more gee whiz. The town is at 1,568 ft. elevation. Nearby Timm's Hill, the highest point in the state, is 1,952 ft. Now you're not in the Rockies, but you are in the Northern Highlands Geographic Province. Madison, the capital, is at 863 ft. This helps to explain the north-to-south flow of so many rivers.

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As I drove up the "driveway" I became more interested in the house than the green barn, at least for the moment. This is a view from the front. Suzanne had told me there was a house here. She said, "it was accidentally built over a spring so the basement always had at least a foot of water which allowed my aunt to keep her food down there to be kept cold enough not to spoil." She went on to say, "Good thing as the kitchen had a wood stove and a hand water pump at the sink." She added, "There was a one car garage, a pig pen, an out house, and a shed for tractors, and then the barn." Julius kept his Ford with rumble seat parked in the garage.

I have to confess it was a very warm day so I wore shorts. Based on previous experiences, I did not want to walk through the high grasses in my shorts looking for those other points of interest, so I did not see them. But here you can see two interesting things. First, there is a fairly new shed in front of the house. Second, there are fairly new windows installed in the house. More on these latter two items in a bit.

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Two closer views of the house. When you see the front up close, you'll see that new siding has been installed in the downstairs front and around the first door. This is the original structure, but the house has been altered over the years.

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I apologize for the small size of this old photo I found on the internet. I believe this is an early photo of this house. It matches some of the description I received from Suzanne and I found it as part of a family genealogy. Originally, there was a porch at the front of the house as you can see in this small photo with a door opening onto the porch and a window on each side. The house had an indoor (non-functioning) commode, and electricity, but she also had a two-hole outhouse!


Well, I came to see the green barn. She's a beauty. So here are two more shots of her before I move on down the street to expand on the entire story.

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I'm mad at myself for wearing shorts, because now I wished I would have looked inside the barn. You can see two doors in front of the barn. One, I assume the one on the left, led to a room where the milk cans were kept cool until picked up, so this was a dairy farm. The other door in the center was the main door into the barn. Frankly, the roof looked pretty new. I'll talk a bit more about this in a moment.

One of the virtues of these old barns is that they are soaked in history. In the early days, most barns were either left a natural color painted with linseed oil, or red by mixing in red ferrous oxide or even animal blood with skimmed milk and lime, or white using whitewash. According to my research, the first metal paint hit the market in 1868. I travel the state and have not seen many green barns of this age. Why green? The best answer is the one used frequently by farmers — "because," and perhaps the green paint at the moment was cheap!

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And one more to gaze at the beautiful setting.

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Okay, now it's time to move west down Pennington Rd. a short distance to where it meets Aspen Rd., a north-south road.

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This farm originally belonged to Henry and Eleanor Borondi Bergquist. You will recall the farm hosting the green barn belonged to Julius and Kathryn (Katlin-Katalin) Kovac Borondi, and that they had one daughter, Eleanor, who came from Hungary at the age of two with her mother to Ellis Island in December 1913. So this is our Eleanor and she and her husband owned this farm. She married Henry Bergquist in Ladysmith in 1931. Henry was born in Prentice in 1902. His father, Nels and mother Karin were both born in Sweden. Nels came to the US in 1888, while Karin came in 1893.

Henry and Eleanor had two sons, Lawrence and Richard.

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At present, the Bergquist old farm is in a state of disrepair.

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Let's return to Richard Bergquist, one of two sons of Henry and Eleanor. Richard was born in 1932 in Prentice. He attended Phillips High School and graduated in 1950. He served in the Army during the Korean War. He married Jessie Hood in West Chicago in 1961. He is remembered by family, among other things, as one who could make first-class homemade honey. Richard's father, Henry, died in 1993. His mother Eleanor died in 1997.

You will recall that Eleanor's parents owned the farm with the green barn, and Richard's father owned the one at the end of Pennington Rd just shown. As a result, Richard inherited both farms, the one with the green barn and this one. He worked hard to keep both farms in the family. For his immediate family, he built a home just around the corner of Aspen close to Hwy 8.

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So, if you continue on Aspen to the south, you will quickly run into Hwy 8. Richard and his wife Jessie built and lived on this farm. I took these hots from the end of Aspen Rd. to the left, as you approach Hwy 8.

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There is the house Richard built. There are some other buildings on the premises but they have fallen into disrepair.

During his life, Richard worked in the Chicago area with Bergquist Tree Experts, and then as a logger in Price County with Guzinski Timber in Prentice, as well as independently. In addition to logging he operated a dairy farm in Prentice for 21 years. He attended the Trinity Lutheran Church in Prentice, was a member of the Southern Price County VFW Post No 8491, and of the National Rifle Association. In his free time he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and being in the outdoors. Regrettably, Richard died on October 5, 2014.

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Allow me to pause for a moment and return to the house with the green barn. After Richard built this home close to Hwy 8, Richard sold this house to some hunters along with a bit of the land. Richard held on to the green barn and most of the land. Returning to that house, you recall the shed I highlighted in front. Richard commented to his relatives that the hunters added the shed. It housed a wood burning furnace that is used all over Wisconsin to heat houses. Regarding some of the windows and the siding which looked new, Suzanne thinks Richard and Jessie might have added them. With regard to the green barn, I said the roof looked new Richard re-roofed the barn several years ago since he used the barn for storage.

So that clears up that! I belabor these kinds of things a bit because when I go out on these discovery tours and notice things I cannot explain, I like to research them more and find out what they are about — often small things but it makes the discovery tours fun! And it shows I am at least observant.

You might wonder why I spent so much time talking about family lines. My answer is that one important result of my finding the green farm and then the other two, supported by Suzanne's guidance and memoirs, was that I was reminded of a very important social concept known as
Gemeinshaft.

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The social concept Gemeinschaft was articulated by German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies in his work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. published in 1887. The translation is Community and Society. I was surprised to learn that the word Gemeinshaft is now an accepted English word, meaning social relations between individuals, based on close family ties. The derivation of the German word is "common" + "ship."

Gemeinschaft describes groups in which the members attach as much, if not more, importance to the groups itself as they do to their own needs. Gemeinschaft can be based on shared space and beliefs, as well as kinship. Back in the day, this is the way families lived, together, in clusters, and it was a time when holding family properties in the family was important. This was so for many reasons. Janet Bokemeier (1997), president of the Rural Sociology Society, cited a few:

"Families live together; share economic resources; act as cooperative, caring social units; and provide environments for the emotional, social and economic well being of family members."

Linda B. Morales and Sam Copeland described the rural family of the mid-20th century this way:

"Intact, large, hardworking, dirt-smudged, patriarchal farm family."

I know the owners of Highpoint Village at nearby Timm's Hill, Lyle and Kathy Blomberg. I wrote a story about their operation,
"Timm's Hill, Wisconsin's highest." On the way back to Wausau from visiting the green barn I stopped by to say hello to the family. The Blomberg family itself has long roots in the area. The green barn is about eight miles away from Timm's Hill the way the crow flies. I told Lyle Blomberg why I was in the area and, not surprisingly, he knew the Bergquist family and knew Richard. That's the way it is in rural Wisconsin, something to treasure.

As is so often the case in today's modern world, family members, especially the following generations, move away. Suzanne Vax-Laverdiere, who tipped me off to the barn and provided some history, underscored, however, how important the family history is to family even when the families live elsewhere. When I showed Suzanne a photo I took of the green barn, she said, "I will send this email to my cousins, some who are nieces and nephews and especially the great grand children of Julius and Kathryn Kovac Borondi." She knew they would delight in the photo.

Suzanne wrote this in her tribute to her cousin, Richard Bergquist. It reflects the importance of family in her mind. It is phrased as if she were talking to Jesse, his wife:

"We know you will have difficult times ahead, yet, we also know you have many good memories of the over 50 years you and Richard had together. Those memories will carry you through, but, should you want to spend time with us the door is always open and the guest room is always ready. Food is pretty good, also! Memories, we have too many to count. Just knowing that Richard made sure the two farms were still in the family - the land had not become something else; it always meant more to us than anyone can imagine. So much of this country has lost its original footprint."