The red barn (Coliseum) at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds has been part of everyone who has ever attended or participated at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.The massive structure welcomed every recent fairgoer with over 100 years of agriculture tradition.Entering this majestic structure was exciting as you gazed in awe at the size and shape of the twentieth century agrarian architecture.Massive beams held the upper roof structure that provided natural lighting to the show arena, balconies once housing sleeping quarters for youth animal exhibitors also an area where you could envision bands playing and politicians speaking.Stalls beneath the balconies provided show animals from across Wisconsin housing while being judged to determine the best in show.Wonderful memories of many generations were created by young and old exhibitors displaying prized animals in competition for prize money and blue ribbons.The red barn was loved for the experiences it provided and the friendships gained through a century of traditions.
While we are not sure of the red barn’s age, we do know it was owned by 32 counties in Northern Wisconsin for the first 35 + years and privately owned for the last 87 years of existence. Few records exist for the early years; however, we do know that around the mid 1990s a metal roof was installed to extend the life of the structure.Steel support columns were added to help support the aging rafters, one side of the aging balcony was removed and braces installed on the barn wall end to stabilize the overall structure. As the structure aged, end rafters were turning white and Mother Nature’s winter snows with her howling winds bent wooden beams beyond repair.10 years ago an engineering study was done to determine if the structure could be renovated and again made structurally sound. The result was basically cost prohibitive leaving fair management with few options other than to eventually replace the aging structure. It was obvious the old red barn was not a feasible beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain its grandeur.
The following is a recap of the Red Barns last day by Executive Director, Rusty Volk:
On Tuesday April 9, I went to work at the Fairgrounds Office like I had for the past 10 years.I listened to the weather forecast predicting 10 – 12 inches of heavy snow with strong 40 – 50 mile per hour winds heading our way and I knew that plans for the Chi Hi Extravaganza and Chippewa County Clean Sweep, recycling program, scheduled for Saturday, would need to have some weather related revisions for set up.I met with the Fairgrounds maintenance supervisor, Joe Seckora, to discuss weather related concerns with these events and we discussed the high winds from Monday night as we picked up rugs and debris scattered about the grounds.I proceeded to my first task of the day, which was repairing one of our ATMs to be used for the weekend.At 11:00am Joe came into my office and stated “Rusty, you have to come, the red barn roof is falling, this is critical” We jumped into the John Deere gator and drove to the red barn.
On our way to the barn Joe informed me he noticed the main doors on the red barn were swinging open which was strange as they had been locked all winter.Upon entering the barn, we noticed beams across the animal scale and the roof had fallen approximately one foot on the far end of the barn.Upon further investigation, we realized the roof had fallen along the full length of the barn, trusses fastened to the sidewalls had shifted nearly a foot, and the beam that held the large fan was split and hanging down.Looking up you could see the upper roof windows leaning towards the rear of the barn and rafters that had been crooked for years, were now twisted.It was a scary sight and we needed to act quickly to try and remove as much property as possible as the red barn was gravely ill.
Within a few minutes phone calls were made to board members and friends to seek help as Joe and I began removing a barn full of equipment used for the Fair and events on the Fairgrounds.Chuck Frenette and Lisa Seckora came quickly and by 12:30 additional board members, office staff and friends arrived and pitched in.The electricity was shut down and electrical lines were severed to the 4-H food stand adjacent to the barn.Within a few hours most of the equipment was removed from the facility and we discussed options to remove the animal scale that was purchased by the 4-H youth programs.We heard Joe Seckora yelling, “look at the roof it has dropped again” As we looked up the roof had slowly dropped another two feet.We carefully removed two large beams that were on top of the scale without touching the exterior walls and luckily our skid loader was able to lift the heavy scale a couple of inches, so we could slowly slide it out of the barn.With the Chippewa Falls Fire Chief onsite, the barn was determined to be unsafe to enter.Red barn guests exited for the last time.
There was no doubt the barn was going to collapse, and our next concern was how to control the collapse as we did not want to lose adjacent buildings.Darrell Haas from Haas Inc. was contacted because they were working on the Erickson Park project close to the Fairgrounds. Luckily Darrell was close by and stopped to investigate the situation.As we scoped out the situation a breeze picked up and we heard a loud crack from the barn.Soon we recognized multiple creeks from the barn as wood succumbing to the wind.Collectively we discussed how to implode the barn in hopes to save the adjacent structures.Darrell made several phone calls and an excavator was scheduled to be onsite the same day.
During this time Joe was quickly removing property from the adjacent barn as a precautionary measure should the red barn collapse on the cattle barn.Soon the excavator arrived, and caution tape was put up to secure the area.With an excavator onsite word spread quickly that something big was happening at the Fairgrounds and we became concerned about public safety as the structure could easily collapse at any moment and the decision was made to start the process of bringing the barn to rest.
With precision the excavator slowly and systematically removed sections and areas of the barn until at approximately 5:30pm the top roof with windows for natural lighting landed down on the ground. The winter of 2019 set a record for snowfall and the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds iconic red barn met its final stand.
After the roof came down, we were able to save some boards for historical purposes and some boards will be used as a memorial to be displayed in the design of a replacement barn.Planning is underway to define the size, shape, and location of the next red barn to meet the needs of youth education in agriculture.The red barn history and future is absolute to education of youth and all citizens to understand where our food comes from and the annual Fair is one of the only events to showcase animal food science. The future of agriculture is dependent on youth understanding the value of farming and the economic impact agriculture has on our communities.Our youth need the experience of raising animals and foods to survive.They also need a red barn to carry on the tradition.
The Northern Wisconsin State Fair Association, Inc. is a 501 (c)(3)non-profit public charity responsible for operations and management of the Fairgrounds.The Board of Directors and community leadership will be working on plans for eventual replacement of the “Old Red Barn” over the next few months.
Rest in Peace Red Barn and know a new and larger Red Barn is developing.
Rusty Volk CFE
Northern Wisconsin State Fair Association, Inc.