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21Country: Leo family working to preserve, protect 132-year-old heritage barn

LEO, Ind. (WPTA21) - For twelve years, Todd Sidel and his family have lived on a farmstead off of Vandolah Road.

It wasn’t an average move to a bigger home for them.

The property that they decided to buy in 2009 included two historic barns, well over 100 years old.

“We looked at it, and fell in love with it,” Sidel said. “It wasn’t in the best of shape — it had a lot of things that needed to be done, but it looked like it was all fairly cosmetic. The bones of everything that was here looked like it was in really good condition.”

The family have spent the last decade cleaning up brush around it, removing the past owner’s trash, and learning about its backstory.

Sidel has managed to uncover much of its history, through the genealogy records of the man that built it.

“Thomas Vandolah owned very large parcels in this area around here,” he told us. “These barns were built in 1889, best as we can tell, so they’re about 132-years-old right now.”

Sidel’s largest building, is a cantilevered bank barn, made with timbers harvested from the land on which it sits.

Vandolah also built a smaller, scale barn used to weigh contents coming in and out of the farm.

Aside from the labor Sidel has put into the buildings, he’s also had to put a lot of money into them to keep them standing.

“I had a group of engineers and carpenters from Illinois come in — they actually lifted up the large bank barn,” he said, “moved it off the lower foundation and pulled it back four inches.”

“It had been pushed by the elements over the years,” he added.

That process, done in August, cost around $21,000.

As a hobbyist woodworker, the investment made sense to Todd Sidel, who appreciates the architecture and craftsmanship of an earlier time.

He shared about how the trees were harvested as greenwood, which contributed to a barn nearly as strong as steel.

“As the wood dried, it shrinks because it had all that water in it,” he said, “and as it shrinks, these joints become unbreakable.”

Many beams in both buildings were hand-hewn.

During his time owning the barns, he’s loved having any opportunity to share what he knows with others.

“I enjoy teaching people about different aspects of these barns,” Sidel told us. “The jointery that’s involved in making them, talking about some of the woodworking elements of the barn as well.”

“These barns are not here forever,” he continued. “I’ve probably seen a dozen barns like this one in the area, that have either fallen to demolition or fires, and they’re not being built any longer like this. Enjoy them while they’re still here.”

September 25, the Sidel family barn will be open to the public to check out, as part of the Indiana Barn Foundation 2021 Tour.

You can learn more about that event here.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out:

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