Grandfather’s Barn journeys to rejoin family

Tuesday, April 25, 2017
The barn makes a cautious trip over a rural road bridge en route to Varina Thursday. / Photo by Scott Kilbride

It felt like a member of the family coming home.

“My grandpa built it, my dad helped him when he was young. We lost my dad recently to cancer, and it just seemed kind of fitting to get it back.”

Nancy Kelly speaks of the timeless barn originally from her family’s farmstead, which on Thursday made the slow, careful three mile trip from a nearby farm to Main Street Varina. The barn had been out of the family for a number of years after being purchased and moved, but when she learned that the owner no longer wanted it, Kelly stepped in to save the landmark.

She plans to expand her vegetable garden on several acres of land her father left her, celebrating her family’s agricultural legacy and using the barn as a shop to sell the fresh produce. She’s considering options for other possible goods. Kelly also plans to create a small vineyard, selling the ripened grapes to wineries around the region.

Kelly feels that her grandfather, Edward “Joe” Kelly, would be pleased.

“He was the son of Irish immigrants, and the American Dream was to farm,” she said.

“This barn brings back many memories for me, my brothers, sisters and cousins that grew up here. I think Grampa and Dad would be proud to know I saved this beloved icon of the American farmer.”

She’s still working on a name for her operation, and plans to open late this summer, as soon as her tomatoes and peppers ripen. A 90-foot high-tunnel greenhouse will extend the growing season.

The barn proved to be pretty solid, and the move went off without a hitch. “The movers were great, although we did have to have a few overhead utility lines moved,” she says. Once a foundation is prepared, it will be set permanently in place. Kelly hopes to restore the exterior to its original appearance, and notes that the family has no exact history on the barn including its year of construction. She would like to hear from anyone who may have photos or information.

“It’s good to have it back in the family. When I told my sister about the plan, she said, ‘The Kelly barn belongs on Kelly property.’”

The same could be said for Nancy. Growing up in the rural area and attending Fonda High School, she left at age 21, and has resided since in Illinois and the Quad Cities area. “I was gone for over 30 years. I came back to help my parents out as they got older, and then my dad was diagnosed unexpectedly with cancer, and I stayed.”

She reflects that an unplanned return to county living has been good to her. “The pace is so much less stressful. It’s very different but I think it’s better. I’m happy here.”

Nancy Kelly has set up a GoFundMe account for any donors who would like to help her get her project off the ground:

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