|Architect John Portman's Renaissance Center in Detroit. |
Other than the barns and field stone homes of the Middle River Region of Michigan the most common and hard to miss structures that dot our landscape are the grain silos. They are an invention of the late 1880's when at the same time in Chicago and New York innovative steel frame structures also shot skyward in the form of skyscrapers. The skylines of the Metropolis and rural horizons were no longer dominated by the church steeple. You could make a pretty good argument that the silo was an even more important invention than the skyscraper though the structural part of its innovation has more in common with a pickle barrel than an erector set. Pictured above is the ruins of a ancient barn, its stone foundation giving way to nature, yet its silo, an interconnecting puzzle of curved precast tiles banded with wire, stands straight and tall raising a metaphorical finger to the passage of time. Indeed, the combination of these elements, structural steel frames clad in precast cement or glass panels, is architecture in these wonderful modern times. The similarity between silos and the skyscrapers to the right is hard to miss.
Before silos hay was stored in huge barns to feed cattle and horses through the winter. It was difficult to store enough hay to feed even a small herd of the thousand pound animals through the long cold months. Often a farmer would sell off much of his stock in the fall rather than trying to winter them over. Inexplicably, wonderously, this discovery was made. When unripened corn was stored in air tight cylinders it fermented the green stalks and ears into a supercharged animal feed called silage. In 1915 Hiram Smith, farmer/scientist, kept detailed records and found he could winter three cows on the silage produced from one acre of corn while he could winter only a single cow from two acres of hay. Simply put, using corn silage, he could feed six cows for the price of one! Cattle loved silage and because it was moist they also drank less water and yielded more milk. Silo Mania ensued and by 1924 the state of Wisconsin alone had 100,000 silos. Remember, man and woman of the new millennium, every bit of water and feed had to be toted by hand every single day and night to maintain farm animals. No days off ever. We won't even talk about removing the steaming manure from the barn stalls all winter long. It was back breaking work. Edna Meijers remembered her childhood days when her "progressive" farming father built an early silo and it fell to her to collect the silage from deep inside it, "I was always scared because you had to get into the bucket to go down and I was always afraid they wouldn't be able to hold the rope steady or let go of it or something and I would have a fast ride." These chores were what the old timers thought the Good Lord made kids for.
Silo technology was a major productivity tipping point just like the assembly line and micro computer would be many decades down the road. Herds grew, people were fed, and milk was drunk. Silos shot upward like mushrooms in the warm spring sun and tractors soon out ran horses as the main source of pulling power. Farmers made more money, more efficiently, with less labor and their now obsolete kids (the cheap labor) left the family farm and went to the cities to work in skyscrapers and factories creating today's modern population. Consider, in 1900 60% of the population in the U.S. lived in a rural setting. Today that figure is 20%. World wide we reached the 50/50 mark about 2008.
Modern life is the grand illusion. We imagined into being a heaven on earth, a place where all our needs are met without turning the soil. Can everyone live in a mansion where all that is left for us to do is praise god and play harp or in this practicality grow fat on processed food and play video games? In today's American suburban neighborhoods poorly constructed five thousand square foot McMansions have become a study in despair as these cheap facades rot from the inside out just a decade or two from construction. The faux luxury and ease of 1990's suburban life, as it turned out, has more in common with purgatory than paradise.
We are first and foremost children of the earth, sun, air and water even though that connection has lately been obscured. The hardships of farm life a hundred years ago left its mark on the soul of it's people and I think we're missing some of the integrity and purposefulness of those times. Perhaps this observations grows more acute here in the Middle River Region where the old ways compete head on with the present and the relative merits and foibles of each lay not in the circus of our imagination but in the cold stone reality of these ancient walls.
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That is a fantastically beautiful barn and silo. . . and is that the same house you posted a while ago? The one I fell in love with?ReplyDelete
This is a different home. There are so many of these stone homes in the Middle River Region I can hardly make up my mind which ones to show. I'm glad you love them too, there are many more to come!
Thanks for the history lesson. Your photos are lovely.ReplyDelete
Thank you Marcia, this was interesting research!ReplyDelete
Great photos illustrating your well-done essay! I love learning (or reviewing) history this easy way -- thank you for doing the work.ReplyDelete
I've been reading Willa Cather's books set on the prairie and the part about all the work involved was once again familiar from reading her books. I love the quotes you put in your essay from people who lived that life.
I will look up Willa Cather's work on your recommendation. History is our great teacher. I hope there is a balance we can strike between our natural relationship to the planet and our naive desire for dominance of it. Humans from every generation have taken part in this folly and there is no doubt it is a tricky road to follow even with the best of intentions.
I love the old barns and silos and the stone house.
I don't get the rotting from the inside out part though.
Is it the material they used?
Sorry the text is a bit vague but I was speaking about modern McMansions built in the last twenty years rotting from the inside out. I was trying to get at the modern illusion of wealth and status as compared to the permanence of the stone construction of the past.
Thanks for the read!
There is much food for thought stored in these silos... I shall be ruminating on the various elements here, but I agree with you on all points. "Modern" society leaves much to be desired, and we could see much by just looking to the past... Thanks for taking us on your journey...ReplyDelete
Intresting read of some of your areas farm biuilding history and as always Lovely images to aid the text, nice one SpringmanReplyDelete
Thanks for the read Owen. It's an odd experience to live in a place where where the past and the present meet. There is much about the past that seems to work better but...I don't want to be "bled" next time I'm feeling under the weather. Maybe we can develop a hybrid lifestyle.ReplyDelete
I enjoy the research and picture taking. I'm glad you enjoy this information too. There's more to history than War!
Wow! What a wonderful post! So informative. I love how some of those skyscrapers in Detroit almost look like silos. Your history was wonderful to great and the photos were fantastic.ReplyDelete
Wonderful silos! I especially like the silo in the third photo as I have NEVER seen one like it!ReplyDelete
Great photos and commentary! History has a lot to teach us if we will just listen. It's amazing when you think about how long some of these old buildings have stood and the tools that were used to build them.ReplyDelete
I sure enjoyed this post...loved the history lesson and loved the pictures...sure love that house.ReplyDelete
Wow thanks for sharing this information. I ask hubby what they put in their silo before he said it's corn. I like to climb our Silo here but I am afraid it might be too weak now. Your photos are amazingly beautiful! Thanks!ReplyDelete
Great info to go with these awesome photos. I'll never tire of looking at those long lasting stone beauties.ReplyDelete
Great info and photos. I especially like the first because the lighting on the silo set it off from the sky giving a nice 3D look. Thanks for sharing! Here is my entry.ReplyDelete
Fantastic photos and I appreciate the history lesson too!ReplyDelete
People seem uplifted by this, when it sends me into a deeper depression. What am I missing?ReplyDelete
When I see what is happening to UK farming, I could write something very similar. We now seem to be living in a mouldering themepark which is socially, morally and economically bankrupt. The head-to-head may not be quite as acute as the one you describe from the middle of the 20th century, but it is leaving the same residue of discord and despair.
I don't think your missing a thing. Your analysis is spot on. These things are difficult to write about because the historical perspective needed to perceive the "Big Lie" can hardly be expressed in a hundred words or less. It's a lot to expect of a reader who came looking for pretty barn pictures to wade through abstract ideas. I struggle to express cogently and concisely these issues. However, I don't share your depression. Human existence on this planet is a relatively recent experiment and I trust our societies will evolve to accommodate our species in some sort of unified, low impact lifestyle. It could happen!
That's a pretty cool silo in the 3rd pic & that BIG red barn is awesome! Very interesting & informative post... =)ReplyDelete
You reckon that the globe as a whole is robust enough to withstand what we are doing to it? I wish I could share your optimism. After 20-odd years on a UK sheep farm, run beautifully and with great care for the environment, I am watching it disintegrate not through lack of care and determination, but through red tape. It is breaking my heart and possibly colouring my judgement.ReplyDelete
And then of course, there is the genuine threat of the UK losing its age-old forests. Any day now our (Conservative??)government will take the right to repeal the laws that protected them for five hundred years or more and give itself the right to sell them off. It doesn't bear thinking about. Can you imagine the Appalachian Trail, or Yellowstone Park being sold to Chinese or Russian investors to do with as they see fit? It is making me shiver.
Please feel free to take our comments exchange off. It might spoil the mood :-)
Your writing style is exquisite and to the point. Very impressive and in need of a wider audience.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights!! Great essay - it went to the heart of the perplexities of modern life. There is no turning back the clock. By the way in the region of dairy farms in Germany where I grew up there are no silos. The feed is stored, and made into silage, under large plastic wraps weighed down by worn-out tires.ReplyDelete
Thank you Hilke. By the way my research showed that the modern rediscovery of silage making was German in origin, a process already used there to make sauerkraut!ReplyDelete
ohh la la! I'm loving that first shot- the sky and the snow and the vines creeping up the silo - awesome stuff!ReplyDelete
Great building selection, Springman!ReplyDelete
What wonderful shots!ReplyDelete
I'm a fan of lone silos and this one is wonderful against that gorgeous sky!
Beautiful blog! :)
I really enjoyed these photos! Great shots once again! I really like barns silos and old buildings.ReplyDelete
background is our fantastic teacher. I wish there is typically a harmony we are able to strike in between our organic romantic relationship towards worldReplyDelete
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