One of the most satisfying ways I have used my time here across the State is chairing the Heritage Barn Program. In the past three years I have been privileged to tour barns older than 50 years, speak with many of their owners, share stories, and look at old pictures. What fun!
Most of the older barns in Washington were built in the early 1900's to shelter the horses that worked the farms, store the hay and grain that fed them, and have the place to milk a few cows. The horses cleared and plowed the land, hauled the lumber to build the barn and other farm buildings, then hauled in the hay and other produce to feed the family of people and animals.
The milk cows, usually only a few at first, gave the milk to drink and the cream for butter and cheese, plus the calves to replenish the herd and give meat to eat. In some areas of the State, dairies grew where there was a market for the milk and huge barns were built to accommodate the animals and the feed. I had to laugh at one barn in the Spokane area. The cows were named for 40 ladies in the community and those names were inscribed on the stanchions.
In the forested parts of the State, the land was purchased with the plan of using the timber for the farm buildings. In rocky parts of the State, the rock was used for foundation. Sometimes the rocks were put into cribs since cement wasn't always available to keep them in one place. Most of the barns were built from materials found nearby as transportation was not available.
Often those early settlers came from other countries, working their way across the U.S. on the railroads or in the mines until they came to the Pacific Northwest and decided to work the timber or the land. They saved up their money to send for the rest of the family to complete their dream and to help with the work.
It's amazing how many of the heritage barns are still in the same family after 3, 4, and even 5 generations. Those are the barns that are cared for the best because the family still remembers who built it and at what cost.
The problem with barns is the expense of maintenance. The roofs cover a large space and are so expensive to replace. Many farmers and ranchers have chosen to use metal roofs because of cost and durability. If the roof isn't kept stable, the whole barn sags and leans. Then it doesn't take much wind or weather to send it to the ground. Many barns, especially in western Washington, also have problems with foundations crumbling because of the continually wet ground around them.
The other factor in deferred maintenance is the decrease in use of some barns. They are not needed to shelter work horses since the tractors and other machinery do that work now. The regulations surrounding dairy barns have made the old ones obsolete, so the best use for most of them now is storage. They still store hay, grain and other farm products. They also store machinery, but the use of barns is so much diminished that the farmer can't justify the huge expense of upkeep.
I hope all of you have memories of walking into a barn where it is cool and quiet. I remember it not only as a place of work, but also as a place of peace. I treasure my barn memories and want others in this frantic, busy time to experience that sense of place and history.
- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her Across our State column for local readers while the couple is residing in Olympia.