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Heart of Louisiana: Old Dairy Barn

The Dairy Barn at Central Louisiana State Hospital (Source: www.alexandria-louisiana.com/) The Dairy Barn at Central Louisiana State Hospital (Source: www.alexandria-louisiana.com/)
(WVUE) -

It all started with a roadside picture. An attention-grabbing dairy barn sparked an interest in photography for a Central Louisiana woman, and now she is part of a crusade to save the historic landmark. Dave McNamara takes us to the city of Pineville in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

Kendra Van Cleef first saw this giant barn 11 years ago. She and her husband had just retired and were moving to Pineville.

“I made my husband stop in the car immediately and I grabbed my camera and took a picture. It was so beautiful,” Van Cleef said.

Van Cleef is familiar with dairy farms and the barns used for milking cows.

“I was raised on a dairy farm in Oklahoma - Ada, Oklahoma,” she said. “I don't believe there is anything like this, not just in Louisiana, I believe in the south.

The barn was built in 1923 on the grounds of the Central Louisiana State Hospital, a state-operated mental health facility in Pineville.  The structure is now a national historic landmark.

“It was built by a former patient that was considered cured,” Van Cleef said. “It was considered therapeutic and self-sufficient for the state hospital to milk the cows.”

But when the dairy business changed with pasteurization in the 1950s, the milk production stopped.

“See each one of these with the holes, they were stanchions that held the cow inside the pen,” Van Cleef said.

You can still see the curved rails that delivered hay to the cows as they were milked. Some of these parts come from mail-order kits. But the most impressive feature of this barn is its cathedral-like roof and the loft for storing hay.

“And the pitch of the roof, of the loft, is designed for snow,” Van Cleef said. “We don't have snow down here like that. It's like a Noah's Ark inside of there turned upside down. It's just stunning.”

Van Cleef's interest in photography was sparked by the pictures she snapped the day she first set eyes on the unique structure.

“I was moving into retirement age and I took a photograph,” she said. “It took me to nationals, and then I've been shooting ever since.”

A few years ago, this big barn was open for tours. But then they noticed the front wall was starting to bend.

Van Cleef noticed the change in her pictures.

“In 2014 I knew there was something changed, something different about the north face of the wall,” she said. “And so I dug out my pictures and I couldn't sleep that night. You can see the bulge in the north wall.”

There is now an effort to raise an estimated $70,000 to save the old dairy barn from collapse. Van Cleef is part of a group that is a third of the way to that goal

“It's an icon to our area and it is breathtaking, and I can't wait to get back to what it was,” Van Cleef said.

If that happens, the bright colors may return to this faded structure that sits high on a hill, catching the attention of people who drive by.

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