I call this fun… Wisconsin Barns

Jim Widmer’s ‘Spirit of Rural Wisconsin,’ Part III [wisconsinhistory.org]


This is the third in a three-part series featuring the images of Jim Widmer. Widmer grew up in the Dodge County town of Theresa, population 611 in 1978. His photographs capture everyday life in a small town and embody the spirit of rural Wisconsin. Part Three of Widmer’s “Spirit of Rural Wisconsin” focuses on barns in Theresa Township. More about Widmer’s career and image collection is available in the first part of the series.

Barns and Their Owners in Theresa, Dodge County

This gallery consists of more than 300 black-and-white images of barns and their owners selected from 1,191 photographs in Widmer’s “Barns in Theresa Township” collection. Widmer photographed owners with their barns, taking two photographs of each structure, and often including entire farm families. Shirley Widmer took notes on addresses and history given to her by the owners. At the end of the project, Jim commented that the owners had become more interesting subjects than the barns because the stories they told or their peronsalities illustrated the self-sufficiency, creative invention and thrift that characterize Wisconsin rural residents.


Theresa Township is home to several notable barn types, including the Wisconsin porch barn and the Wisconsin dairy barn. The first consists of an overhanging upper floor supported by wooden posts and is related to the German bank barn. The second type is certainly a familiar sight around the state, with its gambrel or round roofs. Some barns consist of both types, having added sections and silos over the years. There are also several examples of rare Pomeranian-style barns in the township of Theresa.

Jim and Shirley Widmer photographed the barns during a deliberate documentation project between April and September 2004. They maintained a single photographic method throughout the project. In the first image, the owners stood five to 10 feet away; the second image consisted of the exterior taken from a different angle or of the interior.

Images of barn interiors have a magical quality to Widmer, who said stepping into the barns is like “stepping into another era.” In the notes associated with the photo albums, he nostalgically recalled the smell of hay and the shafts of light coming through the wooden slats of the walls.