A Christmas barn appears along Interstate 94
Larry Anhalt of Clearwater, Minn., and his wife, have refurbished a former livestock/dairy barn along the south side of Interstate Highway 94, just east of Clearwater, Minn. The project includes a distinctive cross-shaped window pattern (not intended to be religious) but they decorate it at Christmas, with a 12-foot tree, and use it for party gatherings.
CLEARWATER, Minn. — There’s something magical about a farm barn at Christmas.
In recent weeks, a “Christmas barn” has shown itself just east of the Clearwater/Annandale, Minn., exit along the south side of Interstate Highway 94.
A lighted, 12-foot Christmas tree is visible from the freeway, framed in windows that form the shape of a cross.
Owners Larry and Jackie Anhalt purchased the farmstead two years ago and since have been remodeling it. The house was good, but the barn was the real attraction — well preserved on the outside with metal skin in traditional farm colors, and good strong bones.
The old milking parlor was cleaned out and is used for storage. The first task was to open up the siding for access to the ground level. They hired a contractor to build a stairway to the loft.
They added oversize doors to the loft. The floor was built with wood salvaged from a tornado-damaged theater at Austin, Minn. They built a bar from posts on another barn from Alexandria, Minn., that was built in the 1880s.
The loft is impressive, with the rustic barn look and stereo equipment, large-screen television and decorated with farm-related signs. While not completely finished, it is used for hosting friends and family.
Both Larry, 54, and Jackie grew up in Minneapolis. “I always wanted to have something with a barn, don’t ask me why,” Larry said. “I’m not a farmer, but just wanted to do that.”
In the early 1980s, they’d moved out of the Twin Cities “to have some land and some space.” They started at Princeton, Minn., in automotive tire sales. For the past eight years, they’d lived at a nearby lake. Larry started working in the online auction industry, most recently Bid-Master Auctions. They sell “anything and everything,” he said, including equipment for farming or construction, but also sporting goods, appliances, restaurant and general merchandise and business liquidations — even Christmas displays.
Jackie, the homemaker in the family, has collaborated on the decorating and planning. As things have taken shape, she’s looked forward to spending time with the two children — Kendra, 21, and Aden, 12 — in their barn.
Larry has done some reading on barns. An episode of “This Old House” where they’d turned a barn into a home inspired him to find his own.
Initially, he was looking for a “post-and-beam” style, which uses heavy timbers instead of traditional dimensional lumber, all-wood posts, and wooden mortise pockets that accepting tenon tongues, secured with a wooden peg, to hold the structure together.
Instead, he found this 20-acre farmstead with a barn built in the 1930s or 1940s. It has “balloon framing” and a milking parlor with cow stanchions. The metal preserved its integrity.
Larry used salvage materials acquired through his business contacts to make the barn look its best. He contracted with some Amish craftsmen in Wisconsin to make battens — vertical wood strips (furring) — covering the seams between wall boards on internal walls that used to be the exterior before a large lean-to that was used for horses was added.
Douglas fir floorboards in the loft came from a theater in Austin, Minn., from which a tornado had ripped the roof. “They’re over double the thickness of what the original floors were,” he said.
One dramatic moment came last spring when Larry hired a fellow from southern Minnesota to take down the stave silo to make room for the windows. He expected a truck and cables. The guy showed up with a 10-pound maul, expertly bringing it down in minutes with a few swings.
Energy and ag
The Anhalts bought the barn from Xcel Energy, who had acquired it about five years ago as part of a high-voltage power lines project along I-94.
In 2004, Minnesota utilities created CapX2020, a joint venture to expand power transmissions. Xcel Energy bought out properties for its transmission line upgrade. In 2011, Xcel used helicopters to string the high-voltage lines on 150-foot poles in the Clearwater area. They energized the lines in 2015.
The project reportedly cost $1 million a mile, designed to bring new, “renewable” energy to energy-hungry users. One of the costs in the expansion was the buyouts, related to the so-called “Buy the Farm” law passed by the Legislature in 1977, after farm protests and vandalism in the early 1970s as companies expanded high-voltage power lines from North Dakota to the Twin Cities.
The lines required 150-foot-wide rights of way. The new law allowed landowners to require companies to buy an entire piece of property — not just the easements. According to Minnesota’s Center for Rural Policy and Development, the law “lay dormant” for 35 years until federal deregulation in the 1990s and the transmission upgrade projects that followed.
Larry and Jackie now see the farmstead as a haven. They still have to put a deck on the side of the barn, in the middle of those windows. On the lean-to side they’re thinking about an outdoor bar and slider doors.
“There was land for dogs,” Jackie said. “Our son likes to be outside, ride a dirt bike around, his four-wheeler.” Kendra likes to compose and perform guitar music in the old loft. It serves as a studio.
The extended family had liked the lake, but now they like visiting here.
“They all enjoy the barn,” Jackie said. No one else has one.
“This will be our first Christmas with the barn, done enough where we can go in there and enjoy the winter,” she said. It’s a nice place to watch those old Christmas movies. They’d hoped it would have been a time for a party, but that will wait until the COVID-19 pandemic ends and things open up again.
A half-dozen have stopped to ask if the Anhalts are hosting weddings in the structure. “We’re not ruling it out, possibly as an events center,” she said, depending on the interest. “Parties,” she said.