Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Monday, December 6, 2010


On the night of Sunday, November 21, Karla Kauffman, Willard and Kathy Fenton-Miller and Steve and Jan Stuckey gathered to eat, talk and tour barns in the dark. Listen in to this whimsical early winter tale of two barns, competing for history, competing for our attention. (Photos thanks to Kathy Fenton-Miller)

Okay, here we go with a REALLY BIG BARN STORY!
Why, everyone can see, even driving by on 131 before they get to Three Rivers,
Gleason Meadows, est. 1849.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You know you lie!
Well, at least if you are claiming that 49-er fame for yourself!
I was the 1849 barn, the original barn,
the Gleason homestead barn.
Just ‘cause you can’t see me from the road
does not mean I am not famous!

Hold on here, I know, I know!
But just because people don’t speak "barn"
doesn’t mean I don’t have a story.
How do you know I am not as old as you are?
People can only wander around and poke at my beams, guessing.

You, well you’re just a transplant.
Why, no one even knows any more who built you
and where you came from…
I’ve heard some people would suggest
that they tear down YOU to restore little old me!

Tear me down?! Now who said that?
Not that new woman owner, was it?
I clearly heard her say she thought she would tear YOU down to fix me!

No wait one darn minute! This will only get us all fired up.
And you know what that can mean to us old barns…

Remember that lightning bolt…

Now hold your horses (hah! if you only could!)…
How about we band together to get this story told.
I mean, realistically, we are both in danger.

Unless someone loves us a lot, we are both goners, sooner of later.
Those folks creeping around here in the dark with their lantern and flashlights seeing what they could “reveal” deserve the down low.

Okay, I get your point, “O Wise One.”

Oooh. I like that.
Just call me Wise.
And you can be…


Sounds kind of timely (chuckle, chuckle).
But, in all fairness, Wise, I guess you get to start.

At the beginning….
The Gleason family moved to this land from New York
in 1849 to homestead.
A lot of folks were moving in about then.
And me, my beams and boards were hewn
from the 80 acres of timber that were on this farm.
I am home grown.

Well, you know I’m from these same parts.
All the barns around here from that day were the good Michigan trees made barns.

Yes indeed, we are beam brothers.
Not too sure what the original plot of the farm was,
but five generations later Gleason Meadows had 400-600 acres.
Started with cows.
I had a generous hay loft for hay and bedding straw.
Sure lots of acres grew corn, hay, oats, to feed those cows.

That city woman walking around said you were an “Old MacDonald Farm.”
Jeez, what does she know?

Well, according to the song
I, and the other outbuildings that cropped up,
were not far from her city girl notions.
Why about the turn of the century,
sure, there were cows to milk, eggs to gather from the hens,
(the wife could always use a little egg money),
a sheep or two, definitely hogs.
Heck, farmers had to feed themselves,
and use the horses to work the land.

Yea, I guess we were a pretty normal farm.
But no E-I-E-I-O that I recall…

Let’s get the Gleason part straight.
First, in 1849, there was Alva and Laura Gleason.
Then Henry Caleb Gleason.
Third generation was Harry and Lucy Gleason.
Fourth, Henry and Aileen Gleason.
And finally there was Jim.

Interesting how some of the wives names have disappeared…

Well, you know farming has always been
a father and son thing.
And Jim, well, he had two daughters,
so in the end the farm went for auction in 2003
– in parcels, that is.
And Karla,
well, she is one of those liberated farm daughters from Ohio,
and now we belong to her.
Now we are Maple Tree Meadows.
That’s what Karla named us.
And that’s that.

That’s that? What? You left out all the juicy parts, Wise!

Well, Big Ben, you never were shy of letting it all hang out.
Go for it.

Well the whole reason I got moved here, beam by beam, number by number,
was because of the big fire.
You were lucky, Wise.
When that lighting bolt struck in 1902 all the buildings burned down
except for you.
Sometimes I do wonder if you lost half your beams when…

Now, don’t get personal on me, Ben…

Well, in 1905, after that fire,
one of those Henry’s or Harry went to find ME at a nearby farm,
and I was SO IMPORTANT that they put me back together again right here.
I had a hay trolley so that when the hay wagon pulled in my big hook
could hall up bales and fill my mow (that towers over yours, by the way).

What an ego!
Now, you know that by 1915 we were working together.
Why, the whole farm had a reputation
as a dairy forerunner with our new Holstein herd.
Other folks still had Guernsey’s,
but those black and white Holsteins had lots of milk, low fat.
Sounds pretty 21st century, if you ask me.
That Harry Gleason was some dairyman!

In 1950 I had a brand new milk house attached.
Cows milked by machine.
Milk pumped from the milk house to the milk truck.
We were pretty smooth, you and me, Wise.

Ah, those were the days at Gleason Meadows Farm…

But you know that story “of which we must not speak.” You know the PBB…

Well, that is not a secret, and it was not OUR problem.

All the dairies, all the animals in the whole area were given feed
tainted with that PBB – doesn’t even have a real human or barn name.
Got hooked up with the “C” word, and out stock was done for.
Some people say it is still stored in people’s fat cells,
percolating cancer around here.

The whole herd – 150 cows -- was sacrificed, put down
– wasn’t that about the mid- 70’s? –
to make it right.
And they paid. Oh, they paid for that PBB mess.
All new herd.


Tried raising veal.
Lot’s of problems keeping those little cows healthy.
Had a “maternity barn,”
but that didn’t work too well, either.

Went from cows to horses. Stalls made over. Still stored hay, straw.

But I think in Jim’s day,
most of the farms were struggling around here.
Seed corn was in.
Small farms….well,
not too easy to keep even
a BIG small farm like Gleason Meadows thriving.

And then there was the auction….
So, here we are in the new day of barns.
You know, I hear that some folks on the west coast are going around
finding barn beams to make their designer houses.

Not sure what Karla is up to.
Got to admire her guts –
buying us two old men of barns,
the old farm house, and twelve acres
while she’s in her fifties.

Maybe it takes someone whose joints are aching to love another…

Shhhh….we’ve got to keep in her good graces.

I think she’s thinking, praying about us.
She’s gone a lot.
Her dad, the dairy man who gave her this “barn love”
died last year.
His farm will go to a young Ohio farmer now.
Then she will settle back in with us.

She says she wants to “grow people” here.
Women come and study the old ways, plant gardens, pray.
Friends and neighbors store tools, tractors, boats in me.

And I sometimes look the part of a Nativity play.
You know what they say: “He was born in a barn!”

Guess all we can do is join our new owner in pondering.

Listening to the pigeons and swallows…

And the cats…

And the wind…

And waiting for Maple Tree Meadows
to be “barn” again.

Oh, Wise...
Some things never change…


  1. lunatic Mennonites ... as in luna, of the moon, of course ;)

  2. This is simply wonderful!! Thank you for doing this!