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Serving: MI

Scorched frame suggests fiery past for historic log barn

Barn Spotlight: A farm on the Garden Peninsula has a series of log barns that were built in the 1800s.

Say the words “Garden Peninsula,” and for many, images of Fayette Historic State Park in the Upper Peninsula come easily and happily to mind. Fayette, in its prime in the 19th century, was a town built expressly around the smelting of iron ore.

Visitors to the beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Michigan today can wander through preserved buildings housing artifacts, and be awed by the stonework of immigrant artisans who, starting in 1867, built stone foundations, houses, smelting furnaces and meeting places for the town’s nearly 500 residents.

The log barns that sheltered Fayette’s horses and livestock, vital to the town’s survival, until it permanently ceased operation in 1891, are long gone. But just 5 miles before reaching the park, visitors will have passed — perhaps without as much as a glance — log barns that are contemporaries of those that once stood at Fayette. Increasing numbers of wind turbines hovering over the peninsula’s beautiful landscape may have diverted their attention.

The line of ownership for one extraordinary Garden Peninsula log barn is a bit vague. But for the past nearly five years, the barn, a log farmhouse and the 100 acres it stands on have been under the hardworking, loving ownership of Nick and Autumn Moore. 

“I grew up in Shepherd,” Autumn says with a warm smile. “Nick and I wanted to live the life we live here, and when we found this place on Craig’s List, and it had been on the market three years …” 

Nick, originally from DePere, Wis., who holds their giggling daughter Josie, grins broadly and adds, “The listing said, ‘Make an offer.’ We did. We got it!”

The Moores live in a ranch-style house on the land, built by a previous owner. But just to its west is a small, weary, but fascinating dovetail construction log farmhouse that was built more than 100 years ago. The craftsmanship in the dovetailing is superb.

The old house seems quite ordinary until Nick opens an almost completely hidden door to an attached, underground root cellar with a dome ceiling. The cellar is built in the same style and with the same amazing craftsmanship as the limestone structures at Fayette. 

Not surprisingly, previous owner John Guisiano was a stone mason who worked in Fayette. Italian immigrants are long known to have been superior stone masons. Nick has worked as a bricklayer, but has an interest in stone masonry. Autumn has left her work as a consultant to the state of Michigan to focus on their family and farm. Nick is a project manager with a construction company.

The first cabin on the Garden Peninsula was built in 1850. Most settlers were French. The abstract to the Moore’s land was signed in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln to Samuel Peck, who is believed to have been a lighthouse keeper from 1853-57 in Ontonagon. Later, records show the land was sold to Guisiano, and then to a Frenchman with a last name of Rochefort.  

“We don’t know if Guisiano was the one who built the barns, but he had a son named Peter. I know that,” Autumn explains as she studies the barn, “because his niece stopped here and said she remembered playing in the barns as a child. I don’t recall if she said who built them.”

Just to the west and south of the house, stands the main, long log barn, which is really a series of four barns or sections. Other buildings include a toolshed built probably a century or more ago, which is the newest of the farm structures, and two smaller barns. Yet another log barn collapsed under the weight of last winter’s heavy snowfall and was extensively salvaged. 

The Moores use the barns to shelter their animals — pigs, chickens and cattle — and to store feed and equipment.

The main barn, about 27 feet by 155 feet without its more modern lean-to, is showing fatigue as it sags on its southeast corner. Its size and coved-notched log construction catches the eye, but what captures and holds curiosity and offers a rare beauty is what happened before the building of the barn that led to the use of scorched timbers in its construction. 

Sidewall framing, inner walls and rafters, and plates and posts here and there are blackened enough to reveal they were subjected to fire at some time but not enough to damage their integrity. All the buildings are built of local cedar. Some of the logs in the barns are 14 to 18 inches in diameter and 33 feet in length.

“We want to save the barns and the amazing house and cellar,” Nick says. “But they are both uninsurable and irreplaceable as they are. It is a matter of making choices. Another type of structure makes more sense for our multiple needs. If the barns were able to be relocated, restored and fully appreciated — that would be ideal. They are a rare and vital part of this peninsula’s history and our whole state.”

Based on detailed photos of the barns, Joe Miller of Fire Tower Engineered Timber in Calumet says, “There is promise. A few sill logs may need repairs, but a lot of the structure should still be good.”

Douglass Reed of Preservation Associates Inc. in Mercersburg, Pa., agrees. “They are good barns," he says. "Logs can be replaced and features restored.”

Autumn, Nick and a friend are starting a cattle operation with Akaushi cattle from South Dakota, a hardy breed that originally is from Japan. In addition to the cattle, the Moores raise chickens and pigs, grow a garden, and are diligent about leading a sustainable healthy life. 

“We want the barns saved,” Autumn says again. “But we also need a functioning farm. It’s a Catch-22. We’re very open to ideas for how they can be moved, enjoyed and studied by others, and valuable history can be preserved.”

Arnett is co-founder of the Barn Believers Community Project Funds, which makes grants to nonprofits for barn-related projects. She is also the author of "American Barns." She can be reached at Arnett writes from Battle Creek, Mich.

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