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Opening the barn door

Chris Padgett/SVS Gary Cassens of rural Sterling leans on the silos near his barn on Freeport Road Saturday as he describes the barn’s history. The Whiteside County Barn Tour, featuring 10 barns, continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.

STERLING - Beyond the big box shopping centers and industrial parks, past the golf courses and commercial strips, the red, wooden farm buildings that once were the backbone of local agriculture can be spotted near the city. Barns surrounding Sterling took part in the Whiteside County Barn Tour this weekend, which celebrated the pastoral history of 10 different sites. Included in the tour was the Cassens barn at 2712 Freeport Road, which was originally a dairy operation when it was built in 1935. As the first electronic milking parlor in Illinois, the barn was once considered one of the most modern dairy operations in the Midwest. One of the most unique features at that time was the addition of electrified fly-killing doors. With wire coils running horizontally near the cow stables, the doors were charged with the same voltage that the rest of the facility operated on - a hefty 110 volts. "So it kills flies ," co-owner Gary Cassens, 56, said with a laugh. "It kills anything that touches it." About 6 years ago, Cassens began restoring some of the windows around the perimeter of the barn with four-bar windows to stay true to the original design. He also installed them in the original but unusual fashion: soaking cedar wood to cushion the window, which expands after it dries. "You soak the wood for the jams of them and sweat it in and then they swell. And now it's solid," Cassens said. The barn also features two open-topped, concrete silos that are roughly 40 feet tall. Cassens estimated that the staves that the farm's original workers had to carry up into the silos weighed up to 200 pounds, all of which were carried by hand. "So they were big men," Cassens said. "Those were the guys you didn't want to [anger] in the bar at night, because they really could have hurt you." Dating all the way back to the 1880s, the Rosenberry Barn, at 30858 Fulfs Road, has an intimidating interior, with high ceilings and almost entirely original planks throughout its 3 stories. The barn is still supported with a unique mortise-and-tenon construction, which is held together by wooden pegs. Located next to the cow's loafing shed was the bull pen, a space of roughly 10 feet by 10 feet. The original, rusted chain that a resident bull was once tied to still hangs from the wall. "Not much of a life till when the cow came in," said owner Chuck Rosenberry, 77. Barn tour continues today HOURS: The second and final day of the Whiteside County Barn Tour is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. TICKETS: Available at Country Market, 928 First Ave., Rock Falls, and Candlelight Inn Restaurant, 2907 N. Locust St., Sterling. Cost is $15 per vehicle and includes a booklet and a map for the self-guided tour. SPONSORS: Whiteside County Farm Bureau, the Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce, and Blackhawk Waterways Convention and Visitors Bureau. INFORMATION: Visit www.rockfallschamber. com/barntour.

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