The Mayers’ barn deck offers sweeping views of the countryside and historic Holy Hill basilica. The barn is handicapped accessible and holds 320 people.
PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
The Mayers’ barn deck offers sweeping views of the countryside and historic Holy Hill basilica. The barn is handicapped accessible and holds 320 people. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
    RICHFIELD, Wis. – When Dwight and Shelly Mayer decided to restore their family’s 1850s barn, the thought of hosting weddings and other milestone events was far from their minds. The original goal was to ensure the structure stayed standing for years to come. However, bringing the building back to life stirred up ideas of transforming it into an agritourism site – a destination they could share with the public to   tell the story of agriculture and host special groups and events.
    Since 2017, Folk Song Farm in Richfield has been the site of numerous weddings, birthday parties, farm-to-table dinners, corporate and community functions, and other special events. Last year, Folk Song Farm was booked every from May through October.
    Built in 1853 on the Mauer homestead where Dwight’s grandmother grew up, the barn was seen as a liability and valued at only $600 when it came into the Mayers’ hands six years ago. Dwight, who goes by the name of Ike, was not willing to watch the barn at Folk Song Farm be destroyed. He and his family were determined to save it.
    “Some people wanted us to light a match to it or push it over,”  Ike said. “I told them, ‘You don’t understand – this is more than a barn – it’s our heritage.’ Our relatives built this barn with their own hands. This place is special.”
    The Mayers milk 60 registered Brown Swiss and Holstein cows and farm 200 acres at Mayer Farm, a mile north of Folk Song. Ike and Shelly farm with their son, Devin, their daughter, Cassandra (Cassie) Strupp, Devin’s wife, Kayla, and Ike’s brother, Dennis. Devin and Cassie also work full time off the farm. Devin does installation, service and maintenance for Gehring Sales and Service in Rubicon. Cassie is program manager for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin. The Mayers’ son, Dylan, is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.
    Ike is the sixth generation on his family’s farm, and his children are the seventh. Cassie’s son, Gabriel, will be the eighth generation at Mayer Farm.
    Ike’s aunt, Marge Mayer-Slaughter, bought Folk Song Farm from Ike’s uncle, Henry Mauer, in the 1970s and lived there until her passing in 2011. Marge, who was both a teacher and professional clown, who went by the name of ‘Oopslaw’, put herself through college at UW-Madison in the 1940s by calling square dances and is the one who gave Folk Song Farm its name.
    “She was a smart, fun, whimsical and artistic person,” Cassie sad. “She always had a vision of doing something special with Folk Song. She had once said about the barn, ‘I always thought I’d hear music in here someday.’ I’m glad we were able to make her dream come true.”
    Ike and Shelly agreed.
    “We had a close connection with Aunt Marge,” Shelly said. “She was a dear friend.”
    The Mayers purchased the 48-acre property from Marge’s four children in August 2014 and proceeded to turn a falling-down building into a living piece of history. The remarkable transformation occurred over a three-year timeframe and cleaning out the barn was the first order of business.
    “I come from a family of collectors and the barn was chock full of stuff, including an entire house that had been taken apart,” Cassie said. “We had to get everything cleaned out before we could do anything else.”
    Trunks full of records, books, sewing machines and other oddities, along with many dead critters, had accumulated in the barn over the years. Raccoons frequented the building and had left behind piles of waste 4 feet high. The granary was waist deep in oats, and piles of stacked-up wheat had to be forked out. The Mayers also pitched out stalls and removed hundreds of bird nests. It took an entire season to clean out the main level, and when they were done, the barn’s contents filled 32 industrial-size dumpsters.
    “Our family invested a lot of capital in this barn,” Shelly said. “And everyone put a lot of sweat equity into cleaning it out, which was a huge undertaking.”  
    The Mayers restored the barn beam by beam. The worn-out barn was crumbling around itself, yet the center of the ceiling remained intact. Made from white oak, all the beams are original to the homestead, hand-hewn and pressed together. Every beam and cross beam came directly from the barn or was salvaged from other buildings on the property.
    “It took a lot of love to give it a sound structure,” Cassie said. “The barn had the bones but needed cosmetic help. We were able to save the infrastructure, restore it and make the building solid once again.”
    Working with Amish woodcrafters to preserve the barn’s integrity, phase one of the restoration began in the spring of 2015 as the barn received new siding and a new roof along with other fixes to make it structurally sound.
    After seeing the barn’s potential as a historical agriculture event venue, the Mayers began phase two of the restoration – bringing the barn up to code to make it safe for public use.
    “The floors were not walkable and had to be replaced,” Shelly said. “That was the hardest thing to get rid of. The wide-plank floors were beautiful, but they just weren’t safe anymore.”
    Widening a staircase by two-thirds of an inch and moving a door 6 inches that was lined up too close to another door are examples of intricacies the Mayers had to tackle to bring the structure up to code.   
    The barn’s original stone wall serves as the foundation, and the Mayers retained the rectangular-shaped silo that creates a stone backdrop in the upper level. The Mayers also added a deck to the side of the barn that offers sweeping views of the countryside and the historic Holy Hill basilica.  
    Resurrecting a barn from shambles, the Mayers retained the authenticity of Folk Song Farm – paying impeccable attention to detail to give it a breathtaking new look. White curtains draped around doors, soft white lights strung around beams, and chandeliers suspended from the ceiling create a warm and glowing environment.
    Restoration of the barn was completed Nov. 30, 2016. The following year, the Mayers hosted 100 tours, six weddings, two farm-to-table dinners, several community groups, a fundraiser for an area conservancy group and a 4-H club chili cookoff. The barn is handicapped accessible and holds 320 people.
    Filled with nearly 170 years of history, Folk Song Farm’s nostalgic atmosphere, country charm and rustic character beckon guests from near and far for events ranging from elegant to casual. The first event held at Folk Song Farm was a farm-to-table dinner. Every summer, the Mayers host three farm-to-table dinners at Folk Song.
    Much of the lower level has remained intact to showcase the barn’s historical use and has become a focal point for tours and an opportunity to educate the public about agriculture. The barn’s original wood stanchions and gravity drinking cups as well as the original barn cleaner that hangs from a track on the ceiling are in place. The museum includes signs telling a story about the past, and the Mayers plan to add an auditory portion.   
    “This is a venue barn, not a wedding barn,” Shelly said. “Agritourism is our highlight. We restored an old dairy barn because we’re dairy farmers – this is who we are.”
    At Folk Song, guests are treated like family and are promised an unforgettable experience.
    “This is not an investment property,” Shelly said. “This is our home, and we’re sharing it.”
    The Mayers also hold family gatherings of their own at Folk Song, such as Cassie’s wedding reception in the fall of 2018, Devin’s wedding reception in the fall of 2019,  and Gabriel’s first birthday party this July.
    “We’ve held a lot of celebrations at Folk Song, and I hope we have many more first birthday parties here,” Ike said. “Our greatest legacy is our family, and this barn is a place where families can gather and grow. This project was an investment in agriculture, our community’s heritage and is a way to honor our ancestors. Folk Song Farm is not just a place – it is our heritage.”