THOMAS BARN — Elkhorn, WI
The year is 1918. Woodrow Wilson is Commander-in-Chief. The Progressive Era in America is coming to a close, and on November 11 the Great War ends. Billy Graham is born, Al Capone has a son and in one year Wisconsin will become the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women across America their right to vote. Americans are hopeful, including and Mike and Ella Thomas, who settle as tenant farmers in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, with big plans for the future.
The barn buildings, a dairy barn, horse barn, and granary, are all in place on the farm when they arrive and had been for some time. The barn was built from trees found on the property: black and red and white oak, beautiful old-growth hardwood that is not typically found on these farms.
Mike and Ella work the farm, initially with draft horses, then later yielding to the machine era by adopting tractors. The barn is used to keep the horses and later, the equipment, becoming a machine shed, housing first a pair of McCormick F-20s, then an Oliver 77 Row Crop and a Ford Golden Jubilee.
Mike and Ella welcome their son, Bob, into the world in 1923, bringing a second generation to the farm. Bob grows up on the farm, working the land with his dad, learning how to get up with the sun and work until the job is done. Roughly twenty years later, in the mid-1940’s, they are finally able to buy the farm, truly making it their home. Like many family farms around them, it becomes a small dairy farm, milking never more than 30 cows at a time.
In 1960 Bob marries Dora Ross, and they buy their only new tractor, a Ford 881 that is on the farm to this day. They welcome the third generation of Thomas men to the farm with the birth of their son, Rick, in late 1961. Mike and Bob still run the farm, selling off the dairy cattle in 1966, but keeping a few heifers that become the start of a new beef herd, until Mike passes away in 1968, followed by Ella in 1972. They leave a legacy of family and hard work behind them.
Bob and Rick grow the beef herd and Rick begins showing cattle at the Walworth County Fair through 4-H. His steers call the east section of the tractor shed/horse barn home. When Rick goes off to college, the beef herd is sold and both buildings and the land are rented out to a local farmer who houses a small beef herd of his own on the property.
In 1998, a year after Dora dies, Rick marries his sweetheart, Julie Speers, and they hold their wedding reception at the farm, cows and all. Although Rick works managing student union facilities on college campuses around the midwest, they spend many weekends at the farm with Bob maintaining the property and the garden plot, and introducing the fourth generation to the farm, their son Robert (Rob) in 2004. Rick’s work brings him back to UW- Milwaukee, so Rick and Julie decide to locate permanently to the farm, and when Bob passes away in 2012, he leaves knowing that Rick, Julie and their son, Robert (Rob) will inherit the farm after they’re gone.
In 2015, Rick, Julie, and Rob begin to make the farm their own and make the tough decision to begin tearing down the barn buildings that have fallen into disrepair. They call Heritage to take down the barn, knowing that Heritage will preserve their past, repurposing the wood, putting it to good use and giving it a new life, continuing the story of their family and their farm for generations to come.