The red barn at 1451 Highview Road is so prominent an East Peoria landmark that residents often use it as a reference point when giving directions, much like the rooster in front of Carl’s Bakery. Construction began on the barn in 1927 and was completed in 1928. In nearly a century of existence, it served as a dairy barn, a day care center and a haunted house before becoming the residence of Diane and Mike Sanna in 1986. While the Sannas have landscaped the property and made additions to the house, they have tried to keep the barn’s interior as close as possible to its original state.
“The barn had nothing on the bottom and a hayloft on the top with a ladder to go up,” said Diane Sanna. “We had to start from scratch. It had no water and no electricity, so restoring the utilities was a big challenge. It was also difficult to decide how we were going to make the space we had work. It wasn’t like we could start our own blueprint. We had to go with what we had. We had to raise a family here, make sure there were enough bedrooms, and still keep it looking authentic.”
The first order of business in preparing a dairy barn for human habitation was to remove five layers of shingles and install a wooden shake roof. Then, the Sannas pressure-washed the entire barn and replaced windows. The property was pasture land and lacked a single tree, so extensive landscaping was required to create outdoor relief from central Illinois summer heat. Over the years, the Sannas have added a sunroom, a potting shed, and a second garage. While they rely on indoor plumbing for their drinking water, they pump water from the two wells on the property for irrigation purposes. They have also retained the barn’s original brick silo.
“It evolved over the years,” said Diane Sanna. “Our living area and kitchen are downstairs, we kept the loft, and then we have a loft above the loft. It’s en suite, and there are two bedrooms up there.”
Construction on the barn began after a barn nearby was blown down in a tornado. The owner of the property, on learning that the city was tearing up the road in front of the Palace Cafeteria, offered to take the bricks, which were used to build a new barn. The Simon family, who owned farmland from present-day Vonachen Court to the current Illinois Central College, bought the property in 1929 and owned it until 1976. The land subsequently changed hands three times before the Sannas bought it.
“The house was a day care center for nine years,” said Diane Sanna. “I lived on Regal Lane and would see the barn as I went to work every day, and it always had a ‘For Sale’ sign. The sign finally went down. I knew the owner and asked her about it. She said the city wanted the barn torn down because the neighbors were saying it was an eyesore. I went to my banker and told him I wanted to buy the barn.”
The latest renovation project was the installation of a new corrugated galvanized metal roof to replace the decaying wooden one. The Sannas drew inspiration for the project during their travels through the Midwest.
“Looking at red barns in Indiana and Ohio, we noticed that original barns all had the old galvanized-looking roofs,” said Mike Sanna. “We felt that with the deterioration of the wood shake roof we’d had since the 1980s, it would be a good time to get the roof fixed. It seemed that a corrugated galvanized metal roof would be a good fit for ours. We hired River City Roofing, who specializes in sheet metal roofs. They took on the project for us and completed it last month. Every year, we look at what we think the barn’s most in need of, and we look at how we can address those needs.”
People remember the barn for different reasons.
“The barn is a landmark because it has been here since 1927, and everybody seems to remember it,” said Diane Sanna. “Some people remember the spook house that the East Peoria Jaycees (Junior Chamber) ran, others remember the day care center, some remember playing there, and some just remember saying ‘go past the big red barn,’ when they were giving someone directions.”
Future projects include masonry work and new lights for the front porch.
"So, we're really proud of this barn," Diane Sanna said. "My husband and I...have done as much we can to make it a landmark, an historic place for people to say, 'Yeah, just go past the red barn on Highview Road.' So, we're proud of it, and we're proud to be part of East Peoria's history and also part of Peoria's history, too."