A Pretty Old Barn

I commute to a university in a rural area, and on the way, I pass many old barns and farms with horses and hay bales.  It is a beautiful drive, one that takes me all the way up the shores of the Great Salt Lake and through a canyon that makes me feel closer to the skies. The canyon turns colors in the fall and is sometimes treacherous because of blizzards, but the beauty of the area always makes up for that.  Just a few weeks ago, as I drove through some snow flurries in that canyon, I saw a red, heart-shaped balloon fly through the air and the snow.  It must’ve escaped during Valentine’s Day, and it happened to cross my path that day.

After I leave the canyon, I enter a large rural valley. About halfway through that valley and to the university, there is a remarkable barn that stands out above all of the others; there are many. This one, weathered and brown, has words on the side of it.

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These words are curious to me.  What exactly is a woman’s tonic?  Who is Dr. Pierce?  What is the history of this old barn?  Why do the owners continue to maintain its antiquated message?  I’m glad that they do, but I had so many questions after driving past it so many times.

I finally stopped to take pictures.  As I pulled off of the highway onto a side road to do so, I came to a small parking area with a plaque.  It explained the story of the barn and the mystery was solved.

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Apparently, the barn was painted during the Depression to promote Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce’s products.  He was borne in Starke, New York, on August 6, 1840.  There is some doubt as to whether he was an actual doctor, but the Woman’s Tonic was supposed to cure diseases caused by “feminine complaint.”  The tonic contained Lady’s Slipper root, Unicorn root, Blue root, Oregon Grape root, and Viburnum.  The original formula may have also contained opium and alcohol.  The plaque says, “According to the locals, it contained ‘a baby in every bottle.'”

The barn was not Dr. Pierce’s.  It belonged to Lovenus and Mary Olsen, who received $25 for the initial painting and $10 annually for rent.  When the barn fell into disrepair, members of the community raised money and donated time to restore it in 1998.

I am glad I stopped to read the plaque, an Eagle Scout project of a local boy.  I wouldn’t have known was there unless I stopped.  I’m also glad I finally got some pictures of it.

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20 thoughts on “A Pretty Old Barn

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  1. What a beautiful commute you have! I love driving through the country and speculating on the history of all the tumbledown houses and buildings along the way. So many that we will never know the history of. I wish there was a plaque for each one. Interesting story!

    1. Me too! There should be more plaques for sure. There’s another barn just at the mouth of the canyon that is run down but still in use and I often wonder how long it has been there.

  2. Emily, I love these old barns. Thanks for sharing. Might this have been the first “Mother’s Little Helper” that the Stones sang about. More than likely it was a placebo which was sold on the psychic nature of its cure.

    In the south, we have many of these barns in various states of disrepair, but I must tell you the prettiest barns, in general, are in Virginia, especially when you drive up I-81 and see them backdropped against the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am sure there are lovely barns elsewhere, but it brings me joy when I drive through this lovely state.

    Take care, BTG

    1. Ah! that makes sense. Certainly a placebo! And your comment reminded me of the first part of John Denver’s song: almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains… He knew what he was singing about.

      1. …..country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home this country road. I hear a voice in the morning hour she calls me…..

  3. Wow, you do have a lovely commute! 🙂

    The Woman’s Tonic advert reminds me of an old advert painted on the side of a building near where I live: “Nightly Bile Beans keep you healthy, bright-eyed and slim”. It was recently repainted to preserve it. I found a photo of it here: http://www.mattcornock.co.uk/blog/matt/nightly-bile-beans-old-design-tips

    I think adverts like these are interesting pieces of history. Perhaps painted adverts are the origin of modern billboard advertising.

      1. Photographing and writing about different adverts like these would be an interesting project for a blog. I wonder how many countries around the world have historic signs painted on buildings and where this form of advertising originated. It is certainly a highly effective form of advertising!

  4. This barn belonged to my grandfather and my father was raised in the house next to it. It is a source of community and family pride. The mountains behind it are just as beautiful.

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