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Barns of the year

Lee Leysen, Tracy, proudly shows off the 2008 Minnesota Barn of the Year award his rural Murray County barn won.1 / 3
The spacious interior of Leysen's barn features large wooden beams and attention to detail.2 / 3
Murray County Round Barn historian Vince Crowley stands in front of the barn in this June 2005 file photo. The barn was named the group-owned Barn of the Year by the Friends of Minnesota Barns organization.3 / 3

SLAYTON -- Two Murray County barns made it a clean sweep in the first-ever Minnesota Barn of the Year contest sponsored by the Friends of Minnesota Barns. The awards were presented Oct. 25 at the Woodhill Country Club barn in Wayzata.

Grand prize in the family-owned division went to Lee Leysen, who completely restored a barn he purchased and moved to Breezy Point at Lake Shetek in 1999. The barn was built in 1929 on the Holum Brothers farm. Taking first place in the group-owned division was Murray County, owners of the historic round barn on the Murray County Fairgrounds in Slayton. The round barn was constructed between 1935 and 1937 by the Works Progress Administration.

The awards were aptly made from a length of barn wood, with engraved metal plaques attached. There were 70 barns entered in the contest, standing tall in 36 counties across the state.

Leysen has long been fascinated with barns, and when the opportunity came along to purchase a dilapidated barn five miles down the road from his home on Breezy Point, he jumped at the challenge.

"I wanted to keep it from being (destroyed)," he said. "There wasn't a window left in it. It hadn't been updated for quite some time."

The 36-foot-wide by 100-foot-long barn features two haymow doors (one at either end of the barn), three cupolas, six dormers (three on each side of the roof) -- and windows galore.

"Every critter must have had its own window to look out of," said Leysen of the 92 panes of glass he had to purchase for the main floor alone. "We had a barn when I was a kid, but nothing like this. I probably would have never left home."

In its heyday, the barn's interior was filled with horse stalls and calf pens, along with 18 stanchions for milk cows.

"Through the years they had some hogs in it, too," Leysen said. "The Holum brothers had a pet steer they kept in there -- I heard that it weighed 2,600 pounds."

Leysen has so far been unsuccessful in his search to find historical photos of the barn.

Since he purchased the barn in 1999, Leysen has completely refurbished it into what today houses receptions, reunions and dances at Breezy Point.

"We're trying to keep it as much original as we can," said Leysen. However, this barn is now insulated, includes restroom facilities and a temporary bar, and is available for people to rent out for events, including wedding parties.

"I like barns -- you could say I was barn again," Leysen said with a laugh.

The round barn

Featured in a painting by wildlife artist and former Worthington resident Jerry Raedeke, the round barn on the Murray County Fairgrounds was selected for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places nearly three years ago.

Christy Surprenant Riley, Murray County Community Relations director, nominated the barn for the Minnesota Barn of the Year honor. She said the barn has had a long history of bringing people together in Murray County.

Back in 1927, local 4-H'ers began a fundraising campaign to construct a 4-H exhibit building on the fairgrounds. Several years later, after receiving a grant, 10 Works Progress Administration workers came to Slayton to do the construction.

"Not long after they built the building, more buildings were built on the fairgrounds," said Riley, one of several local historians who wanted to see the barn preserved.

Vince Crowley, another county historian, was instrumental in getting the barn on the national registry. He applied for the status back in 2005.

"The 4-H boys were housed in the round barn," said Riley. "The round barn itself ... was arena seating. They had bleacher-type seating ... for the expositions, and the animals (were kept) in the annex."

In recent years, groups have come to the aid of the round barn, whether it was volunteers, 4-H'ers or members of the local draft horse organization.

"In 2008, the commissioners knew the foundation was becoming seriously decayed," added Riley. "They voted to fix the foundation."

The draft horse group then volunteered labor if the county purchased the supplies to fix up the annex. That work was done over the summer.

"The volunteerism aspect was what really captured me," said Riley. "The citizens always came along to save the building."

That appealed to the judges for the Barn of the Year contest, too. Riley said one of the judges commented that "community involvement from Day One" on the round barn made it a definite award winner.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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