Brandon Historical Society has desire to preserve early 1900s barn, but lacks funds

Jill Meier, Journal editor

Submitted photo 

The Brandon Historical Society hopes to gain community support to save this barn, which dates back to the early 1900s, from being torn down. The barn is located on land adjacent to the west side of the Big Sioux Recreation Area.


Submitted photo 

Brandon Historical Society President Jeremy Risty and Brandon city councilors Tim Jorgenson and Barb Fish (in background) survey the Risty barn. The BHA wants to see the barn restored, but funding the large-scale restoration is not feasible for the non-profit or the city of Brandon.


Although this early 1900s barn is need of major repairs, the Brandon Historical Society wants to create community awareness top attract serious interest in restoring the historical barn located on the west side of the Big Sioux Recreational area. To learn more, contact the BTA.


The desire to preserve the past has been met with financial challenges, and that’s the very hurdle that the Brandon Historical Society is facing.

Recently, the Historical Society learned of the fate of an early 1900s barn positioned on the west side of the Big Sioux Recreational Area. The barn sits on a portion of the 140 acres of land that VanBuskirk Companies has earmarked for housing and potential business development. 

Historical Society president Jeremy Risty said the barn is “really, really cool, but it needs a lot of help.”

“As a Historical Society member, you struggle sometimes with modernity and what that sometimes means for historical structures,” Risty said. “I will give VanBuskirk credit for reaching out and seeing what the interest level is and things of that nature. However, from what I gathered, they made it fairly evident that they were not interested – beyond maybe donating it – in helping to restore it, and that’s going to be a tall order. We would need to run plumbing, update electrical, it needs HVAC and the siding all needs to be replaced.”

Risty estimates the main floor of the barn encompasses 4,000 to 5,000 square feet.

“It’s a substantial structure, and that doesn’t include the basement,” Risty said.

From his research of the property, Risty said the barn was most recently owned by Elsie Metz, who hails from the Risty namesake. He said the barn was not listed on the 1910 Census, but said it is fairly original to the property, and was likely built shortly after that time. The barn was built under Austin Risty’s ownership.

The barn is positioned on a hill and offers a gentle slope all the way down the Big Sioux River, Risty said, and features a walkout on the backside.

“So, we think they were milking cows underneath there,” Risty said.

He describes the foundation as “mostly original, all quartzite stone and cinder block on the back to shore it up.”

At the present, Risty said it’s only being used for storage.

“It probably hasn’t been used as a barn for 30, 40 years,” he estimates. 

While the Brandon Historical Society wants nothing more than to restore the barn, the non-profit organization lacks the funding to do so.

“This is way too much for the Historical Society to bite off,” he said. “We want to preserve this, but we don’t know exactly how or what to do with it.”

Following recent trends of transforming barns into event centers, Risty said this barn would make for an ideal wedding venue.

The Historical Society, however, is not in the business of operating wedding venues, he stressed.

“Does it become a private business? Is it bought by a private entity? Do we turn it into a community center?” Risty asked. “We thought about even moving the museum here. That would be really cool, but now it does all fall on the Historical Society.”

Risty, a rep from VanBuskirk Companies, Brandon City Council members and city staff made an onsite visit to the barn recently. The city, he said, made it clear they are not financially positioned to help in any way.

Although the Historical Society has the ability to apply for grants to restore the barn, Risty said the enormity of the project is daunting.

“We want to preserve it, but the question is, how do we get the money? How many historical buildings are there in Brandon? There’s not many left, so it would be really cool to preserve, but how do we do that and what do we make it? Those are the two biggest questions,” he said. “It’s kind of like an elephant – how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time, but where do you even start. We just don’t know where to begin, what to do with it. There’s just a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Risty said VanBuskirk Companies plans to begin turning earth next spring.

A call to Steve VanBuskirk for comment was not returned, but Risty said they’ve been told the barn could remain there if it is restored.

The Historical Society is now looking to the public for answers.

“I think one of the major things we need to do is create some community awareness, because I think this is a community potentiality that requires a community response,” Risty said. “I give VanBuskirk a lot of credit because they understand the historical significance, but they also understand the challenges in a town like Brandon. You and I have had the conversation that it’s really hard to get people to care about history when they don’t have roots here. As a Historical Society, we face that obstacle all the time, but I will also say that it would be a crying shame if this structure is torn down.” 

Last week, the Historical Society Board met with city engineer Tami Jansma, economic development director Patrick Andrews and city alderman Tim Jorgenson. All three, Risty said, were very supportive in their desire to preserve the barn.

“As we discussed, though, this is a project beyond our scope. We spoke about possibly incorporating the barn into an expanded Big Sioux Rec trail system, which is already in the works, and make it similar to the cabin there – it exists but is non-functional,” he said.

The Historical Society suggested they could provide an interpretive marker, similar to the marker that was recently dedicated at the 1916 Brandon School or similar to the marker for the cabin at Big Sioux Rec. Risty has contacted the state GF&P and the Minnehaha County Historical Society, and is awaiting their response.


The Brandon Valley Journal


The Brandon Valley Journal
1404 E. Cedar St.
Brandon, SD 57005
(605) 582-9999

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