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What's the story of the old red barn near DIA?

An old red barn by Denver’s bustling airport scene has managed to remain standing since the early 1900s. 9NEWS reveals the history behind its mystique.

DENVER — As the busy world of airlines, large hotels and nonstop airport traffic make for a noisy landscape just east of the city, in the middle of the organized chaos sits a quiet old red barn that has been in the area long before the invention of the passenger jet. 

The barn, which can be seen just on the east side of Peña Boulevard a few miles from the airport, now has its own Google review page where intrigued people leave comments and reviews.

“It’s a barn doing barn things,” one commenter wrote. 

After going through property records, historical land documents and other public records, the author of this article tracked down surviving members of the Race family who fondly remember growing up around the red barn. 

“It’s real. There were people who lived there. It’s not a secret portal to the tunnels underneath the airport,” Ed Race said laughingly. 

Ed, Don and Debbie shared vivid memories of their childhood in the 1950s when their parents, Dean and Delpha Race, managed a dryland wheat farm just a few miles west of where the airport operates today.  

Credit: Tom Cole/9NEWS

The farmland included the red barn, the Race family home and farm equipment. Before the 1980s, there was nothing but open farmland. 

“Our closest neighbor was two miles,” Don Race said. “Just that whole area out there, it’s changed so much. It was all dirt road,” he added. 

The Race family began sharecropping in the area in the 1930s until the City and County of Denver bought the property in the 1980s to make way for the airport and highway. 

The Race family home and other structures around the barn were eventually knocked down, but for some unknown reason construction crews decided to keep the red barn and move it a few hundred feet to make room for Peña Boulevard. 

Today, the barn remains standing near where it was originally built sometime before 1930. 

The city still owns the property and maintains a barbed wire fence around the barn to keep people out for safety reasons. 

Credit: Tom Cole/9NEWS

Life on the Farm

Before his family was forced to leave the farm in the 1980s because of airport development, Dean Race once told a local newspaper, “‘Right now, I think we need a new airport like I need a third leg.’” 

His children laughed at their father’s quote and fondly remembered the sacrifices their parents made to keep life moving along on the farm. 

Dean Race farmed most days and also worked another job in the metro area to keep food on the table while Delpha sold eggs. 

“I don’t think we lacked for anything,” Debbie said. “It was just what we grew up with and what we had,” she said. 

Credit: Jeremy Jojola
Inside the red barn

“We made our own fun, but dad said, ‘You can’t play until your work is done,’” Don Race said. “We were driving tractors out in those fields when I was eight years old,” he said. 

“Before school we’d have to do our chores and feed our pets and livestocks,” Ed said. 

Ed, Don and Debbie remember playing games like “war” in and around the barn and daring childhood friends and family to jump into haystacks. 

When they were not playing or working on the farm, the Race kids went to a one-room school nearby. 

In the wintertime, the barn not only doubled as a storage place for grain, but it was a warm shelter for the livestock. 

Sometimes different farmhands would also sleep in the modest top level of the barn mattress. Delpha would take the worker supper at night or sometimes he would sit at the family table. 

“We were a product of the land. Hard work. Dedication. Along with that, it brought satisfaction,” Ed said of the bygone time. 

Credit: Race Family
The Race family began sharecropping on the land in the 1930s.

City life and commercial developments are creeping closer 

As noisy vehicles zoom past the red barn at 65 miles per hour, large swaths of new commercial development can be seen less than a mile away, like hotels, restaurants, a marijuana dispensary and convenience stores. 

Several years ago, Debbie captured images of the barn after it was the target of vandalism—a sign city life is literally touching the structure itself. The city repainted the barn a few days later to its original red color. 

According to recent traffic stats, nearly 130,000 people drive by the red barn on Peña Boulevard everyday, and traffic is likely going to increase as more development in the area is planned. 

In August, United announced the purchase of more than 100 acres on agriculture land just south of the barn.  

The 1,200 room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention center, which opened five years ago, towers nearby. 

As of this publication, the city has no plans to knock down the barn or sell the property.

“At one point we talked about relocating it and maybe creating a plane spotting area. Another time we talked about creating a public art piece out here and trying to do some restoration.. We really have no plans for it right now,” Stacey Stegman, the airport’s spokeswoman said.

The Race family said they would like to see the red barn preserved because it’s a symbol of the farming history in the area. 

“These small farms that we grew up on like as a family, those are gone, for the most part,” Ed Race said. 

If you have any information about this story or would like to send a news tip, you can contact jeremy@9news.com

Credit: Tom Cole/9NEWS

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