Famous today as America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin was once the Nation’s Breadbasket. Many Wisconsin families, including the Weltys, found prosperity in the mid-nineteenth century by growing wheat. Migrating from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin in 1848 with their eleven children, they established a wheat farm and built this threshing barn, a Grundscheier. Though similar to an English three-bay barn, its design is likely Germanic. Henry Welty, the second-oldest son and a carpenter, probably raised the timbers that frame the side-gabled barn, but the builder of the rock-faced stone walls is not known. The walls have loop-like slits for ventilation in the German fashion. The rear walls are made of vertical boards. To thresh wheat, the Weltys either flailed the grain on the barn floor or had their livestock trample it. Then they opened the large doors in the front and rear walls (the existing sliding doors probably replaced hinged doors) to allow a cross breeze to blow the chaff away and the seeds to fall to the floor.
By the late 1860s, soil depletion and competition from western states combined to devastate Wisconsin wheat farming. In 1870, the Weltys, like many of the state’s wheat growers, sold their farm. As dairying spread across southern and western Wisconsin, most threshing barns were converted into basement barns, with cattle quarters downstairs. The Welty Barn is one of the few threshing barns to survive unchanged.