THE INDUSTRIALIZATION of the American economy between 1862 and 1893 provided pioneer farm families with the means to realize their dream on the Minnesota prairie. Now the last of their original farmhouses are disappearing. "There was no way to save them," writes author William Gabler, "but their great homeliness and variety could be recorded in photographs. The text is illuminating, the photographs stunning.
"The thorough text is complemented by historic photographs of vibrant farmhouses juxtaposed with Gabler's haunting photographs of farmhouses in decline. . . . His dust-to-dust depiction of the prairie farmhouse serves as a reminder—and a retainer—of the past."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Connie Nelson/Star Tribune
Once upon a dream house
Abandoned farmhouses dot the rural Minnesota landscape. With their gaping doors, their collapsed roofs, their windows open, staring like lidless eyes, they seem to be mute remnants of a silently fading past.
But to William Gabler, these vacant houses contain rich and riveting stories of Minnesota's past. He tells those stories in his new book, Death of the Dream: Farmhouses in the Heartland.
Using text and 70 tritone photographs, he charts the rise and fall of the family farm on the Minnesota prairies. Though it includes information on the wheat boom and the prairie ecosystem, the book focuses on the family farmhouse—giving detailed explanations of the evolution of the structure from the simple sod hut to the popular L-shaped design to the extended family farmhouse complete with Victorian embellishments.
The thorough text is complemented by historic photographs of vibrant farmhouses juxtaposed with Gabler's haunting photographs of farmhouses in decline. Gabler uses the heart-rending photos to document how the houses disintegrate, noting that "As abandoned houses decay they come apart in approximately the reverse of the order of their construction."
His dust-to-dust depiction of the prairie farmhouse serves as a reminder—and a retainer—of the past.
Larry Millett/Saint Paul Pioneer Press
Another recent publication from the Afton press, William G. Gabler's Death of the Dream: Farmhouses in the Heartland , takes a loving look at the vernacular farmhouses built in the late 19th century on the prairies of western Minnesota.
The book includes a long introductory essay in which Gabler discusses early farm life on the prairies and then describes in great detail the simple L-shaped houses that sheltered so many farm families.
But it is Gabler's elegant, haunting photographs of abandoned farmhouses that give the book its emotional impact, revealing both the harshness and the lonely beauty of life on the prairies.