The Smiley Barn sits on land originally settled in 1839 by David Finley. Anton Kaderabek purchased the 200-acre holding, known as Villa Pine Farm, in 1897. He added the barn to house a herd of Brown Swiss dairy cattle. In the early 1960’s, Highway I-94 was built through the farm, splitting it into two pieces and leading to the sell-off of most of the land to developer Ted Morey in 1969.
The iconic smiley faces were created in the mid 1970’s. The faces were constructed of plywood and affixed to the unpainted, weathered gray surfaces on the East and West ends of the barn. The barn was converted to an indoor mall occupied by several independent businesses, including a cheese & sausage shop and a candy store. In 1982, Dick Smith’s Live Bait, Tackle & Taxidermy became a new tenant. Dick Smith convincingly suggested painting the barn yellow and it grew into a treasured landmark.
In 2001, Patricia and Dan Leavitt purchased the barn with plans to remove the smileys and open a furniture store called “The Amish Barn”. When word got out that the smiley faces were coming down, community members collected over 600 petition signatures in an attempt to save them. The campaign was unsuccessful, however, and the smileys were moved to other Wisconsin barns. One was traded to The Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago, WI for an apple pie, the other was sold for a dollar to Heintz Agri Enterprises, a tree farm in North Prairie. In 2014, the barn was painted solid black when the furniture store re-branded and adopted a new name, “The Montage”.
In 2018, Maria Luther purchased the property with plans to restore “the smiley barn” and open a toy and candy store inside.
The Smiley Barn was built about a hundred years ago, near the turn of the 19th century. It originally housed Brown Swiss dairy cows and was the centerpiece of a 200-acre farm. The construction of Interstate Highway 94 in the 1960’s cut the farm into two pieces and most of the land was sold to developers soon afterwards. The barn was refurbished and hosted a collection of independent businesses. Giant smiley faces were affixed to the East and West ends of the barn and eventually the entire structure was painted yellow, becoming a cheerful, treasured landmark.
In 2001, new owners purchased the barn with plans to open a furniture store specializing in Amish items. They decided to change the color of the barn to red and remove the smiley faces because – as explained in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article – the Amish discourage the placing of human features on inanimate objects. A petition drive was launched to save the smileys, but in the end they came down. The building was renamed “The Amish Barn” because that was the name given to the furniture store, not because the structure was Amish-built.
The Smiley Barn was painted completely black in 2014. The change was part of an effort to re-brand the furniture store as “The Montage” and achieve a more modern look.
After the furniture store’s 16-year run, the owners decided to close shop in preparation for retirement. There were three offers to buy the barn – two bidders wanted to tear it down and use the highway frontage for fast-food restaurants, and one bidder wanted to restore the barn and open a toy and candy store inside. Fortunately, the toy store entrepreneur won!
Plans are now underway to restore the well-loved barn and put back the smiles. Needless to say, the community is welcoming the return of The Smiley Barn with great enthusiasm! The fact that it will now be a place to find high-quality toys and specialty candy make it even more exciting for everyone. The store will be designed as a gathering place, where children can play with sample toys and find out what’s most fun for them. It will be staffed by people who understand the important role of play in helping children develop social skills, cognitive ability and creativity, and who take pride in putting together a curated collection of the best toys.
We’re excited to see the transformation of The Smiley Barn into a magical place for kids and grownups alike, and look forward to seeing everyone at our grand opening in August, 2018. Smile on!