Click here for full-screen video of the barn's slow journey.
The 19th century crept into Omaha’s 21st-century suburbs Friday.
An 1880s-era barn was moved about four miles from the rolling farmland where it stood for more than a century on Omaha’s western horizon to a place where concrete won’t be the next crop.
The relocation to a prairie preserve on the edge of Omaha’s northwestern sprawl gives new life to a fading feature of Douglas County’s agricultural heritage. The barn will be transformed into a state-of-the-art education and research facility to further learning about Nebraska’s tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
Barbi Hayes of Omaha, whose Danish immigrant great-great-grandfather bought the farm near present-day 180th and Ida Streets in the early 1870s, donated the barn rather than see it swallowed by inevitable development.
“It just made sense,” Hayes said. “This is where it should go.”
The barn’s new home is the Allwine Prairie Preserve near 148th and State Streets, a 243-acre, public grassland education area buffering Omaha and Bennington.
The core of the tract was donated to the University of Nebraska at Omaha by Arthur and Antoinetta Allwine in 1959. It was seeded with native grasses in 1970 and is among the nation’s largest and oldest original tallgrass prairie restorations.
Tom Bragg, a UNO biology professor and the preserve’s director, said the barn — and a concrete silo also moved to the site from the Johnson farm — will make university programs more accessible to area schoolchildren and researchers.
The barn’s 36-by-36-foot core structure will be expanded to house classrooms, research labs, offices and space for community events. The hayloft will remain open space. The silo will be an observation deck. The facilities are expected to be operational by September.
Anonymous donors provided initial funding for the move and renovation, but more money is needed to complete the project, Bragg said. McArdle Grading Co. of Omaha donated site preparation.
More than a century ago, horse-drawn wagons on trails from Omaha — or perhaps the nearby villages of Bennington and Elkhorn — delivered the lumber used to build the barn.
On Friday, the old barn and silo crept on paved roads into the suburbs from the countryside. The two rode specially designed trailers, averaging less than 1 mph behind 300-horsepower trucks.
The move took all day.
The caravan crawled along 180th, Ida, 156th and State Streets. The barn and silo rolled past housing developments named to evoke the natural world they are nibbling away: Stone Creek, Pine Creek, Waterford, Meadow Ridge and Shadowbrook.
Hayes, who is married to Bragg, said the barn brings its history and a symbol of rural community to Allwine Prairie.
“Farms were a community back in the day,” she said. “We lose that as we lose farms.”
Hayes’ ancestor, Hans Johnson Sr., acquired the farm not many years after Nebraska statehood in 1867. Her grandparents, Roy and Bess Grau Johnson, lived there. Bess Johnson is the namesake of the public library in Elkhorn.
Hayes’ mother was born and raised on the Johnson farm.
The Johnsons operated a large dairy in the barn and its milking parlor additions. The farm featured a public scale where farmers weighed wagons of corn and other crops at harvest.
Roy did the farming. Bess ran the dairy.
“One day, my grandfather asked the hired man who helped in the dairy to do something for him,” Hayes said. “The hired man replied, ‘I don’t work for you. I work for Bess.’ ”
Hayes’ mother delivered milk from the farm to grocery stores in Omaha’s Benson neighborhood in the 1930s and ’40s.
This is the heritage hidden in timbers and beams.
“It won’t be fancy or modern, but it’ll be a restored barn that will be really nice and functional, yet maintain some of its historic story,” Hayes said. “I didn’t know what its future would be on the farm. I do know the future of the preserve.”
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