Grand Opening of the Center for Rural History

Several past and present members of the Friends of Schumacher Farm board cut the ribbon on the Center for Rural History during Sunday’s grand opening. With the scissors is current President, Carol Bleifield with Park Administrator, Amy Jo Dusick on her right and Vice President, Jim Ableidinger, on her left.

After nearly 15 years of planning, Schumacher Farm Park’s Center for Rural History opened to the public Sunday with a grand opening.

What has for many years been referred to as the Red Barn is now a fully functional space for receptions and educational programs about Dane County farm life in the 1920s and 1930s.

At the July 14 grand opening, the Friends of Schumacher Farm celebrated the project’s culmination with county staff and officials.

Darren Marsh, county parks director, noted that that the project preserves the community’s history and the legacy left behind by Marcella Schumacher Pendall, who donated her family farm for the park in 1978.

Dane County Supervisor Dave Ripp spoke of the efforts on the part of the board and county officials to get the project done. “This is a wonderful place, but it’s not finished,” he said, adding that a farm machinery shed is needed to store and repair vintage machinery.

The project began as the Friends of Schumacher Farm envisioned a larger space for educational programs with indoor plumbing where artifacts could be on display. Fifteen years ago, a neighboring farm offered its barn for such a purpose. The Ed Kaltenberg family donated the barn, and it was moved to farm park in 2004. It sat on footings until in December, and just a week before it was to be placed onto its foundation, a wind storm destroyed it.

Bauer & Raether Builders erected a new barn afterwards, built to similar specifications as the original barn using traditional techniques. The Friends of Schumacher Farm Park launched a capital campaign to build out the structure, but the Great Recession hit it in 2008, putting the project on pause.

In 2015, The Friends launched a new capital campaign to raise $750,000 for the Dane County Park project to not only build out the Center for Rural History but also a Farm Machinery Museum, where existing 1920s-30s farm equipment could be maintained, stored and put on display.

As the Friends planned the Center for Rural History, the costs grew, mainly due to building codes that the commercial building had to meet.

By the end of 2016, with $400,000 in contributions from Dane County, funds from the Town of Westport and Village of Waunakee and money raised throughout the capital campaigns, the project went to bid. In the summer of 2017, bids came in over budget, however. The Friends of Schumacher Farm renewed the request, and in 2018 Bauer & Raether Builders – the original builders of the barn – was chosen for the project .

Jeff Spruill, project manager with Bauer & Raether, told the Tribune then some of the crew who worked on the barn years ago were still with the company. “Everybody here is just tickled to be working on it,” Spruill said at the time.

The project entailed more than just a build-out of the barn. The gravel barn floor had to be prepared for installation of plumbing, and site work including the extension of utilities, pavement of an entry road to the west of the structure and parking for 18 stalls, along with two handicapped stalls.

Within the barn itself, two men’s and two women’s restrooms were built. It also includes mechanical areas, a kitchen area and an office. About 1,015 square feet is available for a gathering room to display artifacts, host educational programs and serve as a visitors’ space for large group programs.

The hope was to open the Center for Rural History to the public last summer, but Spruill said some changes to the project, including openings and windows, caused delays. Windows were ordered but arrived at the wrong size causing further delay. That delayed the painting, as well, as the windows had to be installed first. Still, the painting is not completed.

“That’s a heartbreaker for the volunteers,” Spruill said. “They’re heartbroken that it’s not a nice red with a white trim.” The landscaping, too, was delayed by last year’s flooding and a backed up schedule this year. Still, volunteers who have worked on the project for many years had much to celebrate Sunday.

Rosa Ropers previously served as President of the Friends of Schumacher Farm Park Board of Directors. At Sunday’s grand opening, Ropers emphasized the dedication of the Friends and volunteers to complete the work but said more work can be done. “We do have a beautiful second floor to the building, but we have no access,” she said. Costs for an elevator were prohibitive.

Jim Ableidinger helped spearhead the capital campaign. Waunakee architect Bob Arntz helped with the technical work as the Friends planned the building’s interior.

During his talk at the grand opening, Ableidinger explained how the project became delayed. Because it is a commercial building, it had to meet several building codes. With the building on hill, a pump suppression and booster pump were needed for the sprinkler system and flush toilets.

Ableidinger added that the Madison Foundation provided grants, so the Friends could put lumber from ash trees cut down in Madison to good use. These were used to build the Center’s interior walls.

Ableidinger encouraged others to enjoy the park.

“Friends would like Schumacher Farm Park to become a destination – a place to come and enjoy being here for hours,” he said, noting that the Center for Rural History will allow the Friends to expand its programming to groups, organizations, business and families.

“Remember, this is a Dane County Park which is free of charge to you to come and visit, walk the trails, have a picnic…enjoy the prairie and the buildings,” Ableidinger said.