Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Wing-nut" watch - Jim Pendleton's Barn House

This is an 18-minute documentary about the astonishing Barn House and the man who built it. Some jerk burned it down a few years ago- pisser if you never saw it in person, as it was a world-class example of what happens when willpower, ingenuity and insanity collide.

Bowling Green, Indiana
Jim Pendleton is the Dr. Frankenstein of house building, and the Barn House is his Creature.
This whimsical monstrosity was sewn together by Jim from parts of over 25 barns he has demolished. He dreamed of the Barn House in the late 1960s in high school, and entered his blueprints for it in the state fair. Actual construction started in 1972, on Hwy. 46 about 10 miles west of Spencer. Jim was soon tearing down barns and houses around the state to feed his obsession.
The Barn House contains 41 rooms, 15 stairways and 15 walking decks. There are secret passages and tunnels, peepholes, a room with 688 hats, a prayer alcove, and a "quickie" room (where a "man and woman can do their business."). Jim recommends that visitors sun themselves in the nude on his sun decks. He has continued building for the last twenty-five years -- his wife left him, and his son and daughter have moved away.
In interviews, Jim drops into dreamer trance and rattles off the minutia of his palace -- number of visitors to date, how many times the Barn House has appeared in the newspapers and television. He fits the profile of other dreamers and obsessed castle-builders.
His second notable project was his "Noah's Ark House," built from salvage to float in times of great floods. It features glass floors with framed family photos below, which might become a wall or ceiling should the Ark house flip over. This is where the family currently lives, while Jim continues work on the adjacent Barn House.
The Barn House - Vague Recollections 

I visited the Barn House in the 1970s. Jim was on hand and led us up and down ladders throughout the place. His kids were selling hot dogs and lemonade out front. He had their pictures, school work, and a sign saying that all money "goes to the kids." He charged a dollar for the tour, which lasted over an hour.
We were nuts to do it, but we clambered up and up and up various ladders in this weird monstrosity built of scrap lumber. He lived in the lower levels, and the top parts were open to the weather. He conducted semi-regular open houses.
How the authorities responsible for sanitary living conditions, building codes, and child protection in Owen County let this go on, I cannot explain. After he got out of prison many years later, he holed up on the Eel River in a similarly uninhabitable dwelling. The building continued to loom up over the fields for years. To find what's left of it, drive east on US 46 out of the berg of Bowling Green to the Owen County line. Take the next right and look to your right.
I've been searching for Jimmy Pendleton (builder of the Barn House) since he got out of jail. He's a friend of mine.I know he's out. His neighbors have seen him. He's not been at his place, at least not when I was around. I did notice the Noah's Ark has burned. Probably by kids when he was in jail. I'll let you know more when I finally find him.
The Barn House - Keep Out!
I recently drove past the Barn House to see if tours are open again. A new sign was added to the front of the house, saying "Do not enter. You will be arrested." I called the county jail where Mr. Pendleton may be held to get a pass but he is now in the Bloomington Jail. The Barn House is still closed to the public.


  1. Any word on Mr. Pendleton? Why was the house burnt down? I never got to see the house, just heard about it. I live about 15 mins from where this house used to be.

  2. Any word on Mr. Pendleton? Why was the house burnt down? I never got to see the house, just heard about it. I live about 15 mins from where this house used to be.