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The Landmarks of Barb City - Part 43D

Seen here are the west side and back of the Joseph Glidden barn in DeKalb. Note the seven small stall windows on the lower level and the two loft doors higher on the wall. Provided photo
Seen here are the west side and back of the Joseph Glidden barn in DeKalb. Note the seven small stall windows on the lower level and the two loft doors higher on the wall. Provided photo

Behind the Burger King on West Lincoln Highway stands the historic Glidden barn, the world's first barbed-wire factory. Believed to date from 1861 like the Glidden Homestead itself, it is a silent reminder of the invention that put DeKalb on the map. When the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the nomination was presumed also to have included the barn. In 1998 or 1999, however, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency confirmed that the nomination did not. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center then undertook the process required for amending the original nomination so as to list the barn as a contributing structure to the house. The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council approved this action in 2002. Like the house, the barn is made of soft brick. The source of the material was mud from the banks of the Kishwaukee River. Family tradition attributes the building's design and construction to local carpenter Jacob Haish, who also designed and built the home. The earliest photograph I know of containing a view of the barn is roughly dated 1900, although it may well be even older. It also shows the residence and the "windmill building," along with a four-rail wooden fence fronting the property on the south. The barn started life looking much the same way it still does, other than the signs of its weathering over the years. It is a full two stories high, measuring 50 feet by 30 feet, resting on a limestone foundation. The structure is topped by a front-gabled roof, with overhanging eaves. Projecting beyond where the peak should be is a small extension, with a bit of simple trim on the open end. This feature is referred to in the National Register nomination as a "hayhood," often also as a "hanging gable." This type of configuration would usually conceal a support beam and rigging necessary for lifting hay or other heavy objects to the loft area for storage, according to "American Architecture: An Illustrated Encyclopedia" by Cyril M. Harris. The barn's windows and doors A total of 14 tall, narrow window openings are boarded up on the front, back and east sides of the barn. Vintage photos of the structure show these to have originally contained two-over-two double-hung windows. A double row of bricks above each creates segmental arches that are flush with the walls. All the various window sills are made of wood. For many years, the center window on the main fašade was altered to form a square loft-style door on the second floor. Similar changes were made to the rear windows at that same level. Restorations since 1998 have returned these to their historic height and appearance. Two large loft-style doors with double brick segmental arches are on the west wall. Seven small single-pane windows topped by single brick arches on the lower level here correspond with the location of seven stalls inside. A boarded-up opening at the southwest corner, meanwhile, once was either a window on the order of the 14 already mentioned or a small door into the barn. The doors on the building's gable ends are capped by triple rows of segmental brick arches. A transomlike space tops the front doorway. The rear door has been slightly reduced in height. Other features The barn's interior is characterized by transverse post-and-beam construction. Two huge 50-foot beams are oriented in a north-south direction, dividing the first floor into three sections or bays. Numerous 30-foot cross beams extend from side to side, supporting the upstairs floor. The center runway goes from front to back in an unobstructed fashion. At the southeast corner on the ground floor - just inside the main doors - is a small rectangular room with plaster walls, long identified as Joseph Glidden's farm office, from the days of barbed wire. An open stall is located in the northeast corner near the rear doors. Along the west side is an enclosed stairway accessing the loft, and the seven stalls served by the small windows previously discussed. The second floor is an open loft, with the roof basically supported on the structure's brick walls and tie rods at its base. Two frame lean-tos were added to the east side of the barn at some point in time. One may be older than the other, however. The larger of these extended from a short distance to the north of the center windows up to the front wall. Its slanted roof almost completely blocked the two upper windows from view. The smaller lean-to was attached to the north side of the other. The National Register nomination says these were used for keeping more cows and pigs. Both were removed sometime during the 1940s or thereabouts. A plan to save the structure Late in 1979, the Glidden family approached the Ellwood House Board with an unusual offer. As the family was increasingly concerned about how best to preserve the historic barn from further deterioration as well as the threat of vandalism, it was suggested that the Ellwood House Association apply for a grant to pay for moving the structure to the museum grounds. Restoration and adaptive reuse could then take place there. Inspection of the building determined that it could not be moved in one piece, as none of the bridges over the Kishwaukee River were strong enough to support its weight. This meant that it would have to be dismantled brick by brick. The building's approximately 70,000 bricks would then have to be cleaned, marked in some way or other as to where they were from in the building, and then reassembled on the Ellwood House property. Cost estimates for the project ranged from as little as $100,000 to as much as $250,000. The Ellwood House Board pursued the grant - in the amount of $250,000 - but the effort was unsuccessful. In point of fact, it is better that the barn remains on its original site. Historic preservation policy holds that moving the building would have compromised its historical connection with the invention of barbed wire, thereby making the structure ineligible for National Register listing. --- Steve Bigolin is an expert on local history.

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