“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
If you want to get somewhere fast, take the main road. If you want to see something along the way, veer off and take the side/back roads. These are the roads I prefer when I'm out photographing. They take you away from the hustle, bustle, and congestion and depending on the road, it may even take you back in time where everything digital was a distant dream.
Pre-1900 barns located in Wisconsin.
Over a 100 years old, amazingly, they are still standing. However, due to the change in the farming industry and the cost of repair, most of the barns are being ready to be taken down. Thanks to the back roads, family knowledge and support I'm able to freeze their presence before they disappear.
Prior to the arrival of the European Settlers in the 19th century, Wisconsin was being farmed by the Native Americans. Things began to change in the 1830s as settlers moved in and started harvesting the cash crop wheat. From 1840-1880, 1/6th of the country's wheat was grown in Wisconsin.
In the late 1850s competition began to rise for wheat harvesting from Minnesota and Iowa, this was followed by a disease called wheat rust and tiny insects known as chinch bugs destroyed the crop. Wisconsin farmers were forced to figure out a way to manage crops and still stay profitable.
Depending on the location of the farm, this would determine the type of crop you were growing. If you were in the Southern part of the state you learned about specializing in a product and would find success in tobacco. Waushara County created the state's cranberry industry, while many of the farms turned to feed crop. This, of course, included corn, oats, and hay to feed the thousands of cows that were producing milk for Wisconsin's Dairy industry. To this day, Wisconsin still remains a leading agriculture state with one big change, a general decline in family farming and a rise in corporate farming.
Most of the barns pictured here were considered family farms. The family that lived together, worked together and would provide labor, management, and decision-making responsibilities. Once a way of life, not only in Wisconsin but throughout rural America it is now a thing of the past and almost extinct due to financial hardships and agriculture developments.
One-Room Schoolhouses found mostly in the Midwest.
Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, one-room schoolhouses were what you would have attended when going to school. A single teacher with students from first to eighth grade ranging from 6-40 students in one school. The youngest would sit in front and the oldest in the back and the subjects taught would be reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. It was considered a punishment to have to sit next to a girl.
Students were also given responsibilities outside of their schoolwork which would include cleaning the erasers, sweeping cobwebs and carrying in wood for the stove. The schools were not only used for teaching but were also considered a gathering area for the community. In Wisconsin, the school teacher was likely a farm girl from the community, about age 16, later the age would increase to 20. Her knowledge of school would be limited and she would need to pass a third-grade certificate which allowed her to teach six months of the year without reexaminations.
The town community would determine who would teach in the school and most of the teachers only taught for one to two years. It was not uncommon for young girls to leave their homes to go teach in a country school. Wisconsin rural school teachers all shared common experiences which included loneliness, homesickness, uneasiness, worry over the board and even cleaning up the schoolhouse. The students came from various backgrounds to include German and Irish. Attendance was irregular due to illness, weather and work on the farm. However, in these little schoolhouses, the illiteracy rate began to drop from 9.3 to 4.2% in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska in early 1900.
These beauties are either abandoned and falling apart or have been reconstructed into homes or even town-halls. Those that still remain standing always send a chill down my spine as I think of the time when they were alive with the sounds of children in the background.
You don't have to go far to have fun. Here are a few places I visit when I'm not driving across country or exploring the Rustic Roads.