The Barn with a Bright Future

Looking back at its 117 years, the Wencel barn on the Braly Open Space, west of Hygiene, is going to receive critical repairs thanks to a $200,000 grant from History Colorado’s State Historical Fund.

Named after its builder, Mathias “Matt” Wencel, the barn is a symbol of farmer ingenuity through its use of locally-sourced building materials, including the use of tree trunks to provide the ground level framing posts and the loft level roof support system.

Wencel came to America in 1888 from the village of Ratzersdorf in present day Slovakia. After arriving in New York, he ended up in Denver and found work switching narrow gauge to standard gauge tracks between Denver and Lyons. While working for the railroad in the Hygiene area, Wencel quit his railroad job in favor of farming. He rented a farm in the area for five years, then in 1899 purchased the property. He constructed the large hay barn to support his family’s farming operation beginning in November 1900 and completed the project in 1903.

Wencel and his wife Ernestine raised their four children on the farm. The family planted wheat, corn, sugar beets and hay, and also raised turkeys, ducks, geese, dairy cows, and chickens. The barn served as a centerpiece of the farm to milk cows, store hay, and provide shelter for horses and other animals.

After Matt Wencel retired from farming, his two sons Frederick and Edward kept the farm going. Matt Wencel died in 1958 at the age of 92.

In 2000, Boulder County acquired the property and the farm’s remaining agricultural outbuildings. The property is managed by the Parks & Open Space Department under the St. Vrain Creek Corridor Open Space Management Plan. The 112-acre property is closed until resources are available to prepare the property for public visitation by constructing trails, parking, providing fishing access, and developing environmental and cultural interpretive opportunities.

A Symbol of Farming History

The Wencel barn, along with the remaining outbuildings on the property, will be a highly visible element for visitors to enjoy after the property is opened to the public with a long-term goal of allowing visitors inside the barn.

Beginning this summer, repairs will strengthen the existing walls, floors, and roof framing systems, replace failed structural elements, and integrate a lateral force resisting system to secure the overstressed roof support columns in place. Future phases will include rehabilitation of the barn’s siding, windows, and doors, as well as roof repairs to the dairy barn addition.

This project embodies the county’s long-standing vision of preserving the rural character and cultural resources of unincorporated Boulder County. The Wencel barn is an important and enduring symbol of the area’s farming history. It represents the type of family farm that has rapidly disappeared due to increased land value and decreased farming profitability.

Restoration Project Funding

The Colorado State Historical Fund is a statewide grants program that was created by the 1990 constitutional amendment allowing limited gaming in the towns of Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk. The constitutional amendment directs that a portion of the gaming tax revenues be used for historic preservation projects throughout the state. State Historical Fund grants are distributed throughout the state through a competitive application process.

Visit boco.org/WencelBarn in the coming months for project updates and photographs.

The Wencel family in 1897