2017-03-16 / Front Page

Barn’s builder a craftsman; ‘walking man’

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

As political discussion over the future of a county-owned barn built in 1911 drags on, you have to wonder if the barn’s builder — if he were alive — would have walked over and fixed it by now.

And walking was the common mode of transportation for John Schettek, who constructed several barns in the Cedar and Maple City areas during the early part of the 20th century.

“He would walk a lot of times all the way from Cedar to work on this place,” said Arlene Schettek from the family farmstead on South Maple City Road between Maple City and M-72. “He did a lot of walking. He cut down a lot of trees and pulled the roots and planted potatoes.”

Mrs. Schettek never met her fatherin law, who died when her husband, Paul, was just a boy. But she listened intently as family members recounted stories about a hard-working James Schettek who built several barns in the Maple City area and hauled potatoes to Cedar on a horse-drawn wagon to be shipped downstate from the railroad depot.

Maple City resident James Schettek never knew his grandfather either, but he seems to have inherited a love for building from him. Schettek and his business partner own David Webster Construction.

Some of Schettek’s favorite projects are fixing up old barns. At one time several years ago, in fact, he submitted a bid to repair the county-owned barn located across from Myles Kimmerly County Park.

He can’t recall the amount of the bid. But no contractor was chosen for the work, and the barn was left to deteriorate further.

Recently some estimates have put the cost of repairs at about $100,000.

“I think to redo the foundation and make it structurally sound you could easily do it for less than that,” Schettek said. “And if you went all out, you could spend well above that.”

Schettek recalls repairing the barn on the Schettek farmstead as a reference.

“We fixed it up 8-10 years ago, with structural repairs and a coat of paint and painted the roof. I think we had $12,000 to $15,000 in that. But from what I can remember it was in good shape other than the foundation,” he said.

Bid requests to raze the county barn went out this year to 28 contractors with only one responding with a price of $66,300.

Schettek said lumber for the county barn likely came from trees harvested in nearby forests.

“They would have been cut from local properties and milled. If I remember right, it’s a mixture. A lot of those barns were built with hemlock in the upper portions, and a mixture of hardwood and softwood for the beams on the main floor. That’s how our barn was built,” he said.

Why mix hardwoods and hemlock?

“I’m guessing it’s what was at hand. Hemlocks were used on the exteriors, because it’s the closest thing to cedar as far as exterior resiliancy. It repelled water.”

Schettek was surprised to read that the county barn was built from a kit shipped to Leelanau County from Montgomery Ward.

“I have no idea where that came from. When I read the first article (in the Leelanau Enterprise), I wondered if it was a different barn,” he said.

Schettek brought up the subject of the barn’s authenticity to his aunt and mother, who said, “That’s the first I ever heard of that.”

New information, however, has surfaced from barn historians who have taken an interest in the issue showing that the Montgomery Ward barn burned in 1911 and was replaced that summer with the Schettek-built barn.

He also wanted to correct the spelling of his family name, which was “Shetteck” in an Enterprise opinion piece. The spelling came from reports of historians researching the barn. “We say ‘Sheet Tech,’ but it’s pronounced different ways. It’s Polish. Dad went between Holy Rosary (Catholic Church in Isadore) and St. Rita’s (in Maple City), but mostly St. Rita’s,” he said.

Schettek wishes that he had known his grandfather.

“He died at a fairly young age, in his 40s. He built many of that style barns in the area. And he was the head carpenter or foreman back when they built the Isadore church ... that’s how I know he was a good carpenter.”

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