No injuries were reported in the fire that destroyed a 100-year-old barn on Welsh Road on Saturday, April 25.
But that’s not to say people aren’t hurting over its loss.
The structure contained no animals or hay, according to investigators. What it did contain, other than tools and other storage items, was a century’s worth of deeply meaningful family experiences.
“My family and friends are deeply mourning this loss,” said Emily Walsh Perkins, a cousin of the Pfister family, which owned the barn.
“It wasn’t just a barn. It was a gathering place for my whole life. We had weddings, graduations and seasonal parties. My uncle brews his own beer and had his own bar upstairs with several beers on tap. It was a magical place that was like home to us. So many memories went up in flames.”
The fire engulfed the barn at N1744 Welsh Road in the town of Emmet to the north of Watertown late in the evening.
“I heard some strange popping noises and then saw smoke. John grabbed a hose, but within minutes the whole barn was in flames,” said owner Kelly Pfister. “We’re very lucky no one was inside at the time.”
The barn’s stone foundation was originally built in 1887 along with the farmhouse. George Pfister bought the farmstead in the 1950s. In 1986, it was bought by current owners John and Kelly Pfister, who they raised their three children there. John Pfister is the son of Ralph and Jacqueline Pfister, who owned the Pfister Pontiac-Cadillac car dealership on Third Street in Watertown.
Over decades, the barn was a Pfister family and neighborhood gathering place, as well as a craft home brewery and bar. Neighbors would get together to home brew and share unique craft beers in the barn. Many family gatherings were held to celebrate the Pfister family’s Irish and German heritage, namely their annual “OktoberPfist” and “IrishPfist” community celebrations.
The barn hosted an annual event “Barn Ride,” a family tradition that started in 2009. “A group of us would cycle from Madison to the barn,” said Adam Paulsen, Barn Ride organizer and Pfisters’ nephew. “Mostly it was a celebration of friendship and family in a place I grew up.”
The Barn Ride was used as a fundraiser for friends or family in need, including raising money for a scholarship to remember a friend who died of breast cancer.
“The beer was always delicious and John always made sure to have something to suit every taste from sour to IPAs,” said neighbor Jim Schwartz. “Everyone was amazed at the collection of beer glasses and mugs from breweries all over the world.”
John made tap handles from wood artwork collected from his public health work in Africa.
Several family members were married in the barn over the years. John’s youngest daughter, Kate, and fiancé, Cameron Zwieg, are to be married at the farm this August. All of their wedding decorations and handmade picnic tables were lost in the fire.
“My dad put his heart into this place and it meant a lot to him.” said Kyle Pfister, John’s oldest son, “Anyone who visited over the years felt the love and we have a million memories to hold onto.”
“It was tough to watch years of sentiments being burned down in front of our eyes. But we are grateful for the memories we still have,” said Molly Howard, Pfisters’ middle child.
The cause of the fire, according to Watertown Fire Chief Kraig Bielfeld, was overheated equipment. Damage was estimated at $75,000, including the barn and its contents.