In the Wallowa Valley, barns are more than just agricultural buildings, and Darrell Witty of Enterprise knows the history of about every barn in the area. He is one of the guides for the annual Wallowa Valley Barn tour held each autumn from Enterprise.
More than a dozen barns are showcased during a driving tour of barns on farms in the Wallowa Valley and, according to Wendy Hansen, executive director of the Enterprise Hometown Improvement Group, "Many a farm wife toiled away in a substandard log house while the family's first money and precious labor was spent building the more substantial barn."
The barn sheltered the horses and protected the hay, and early-day farmers worked harness in the barn, fed stock in the barn, milked cows in the barn, played in the barn, danced in the barn, and in some cases prayed and wed in the barn. Each of the barns visited carries within it the echoes and spirit of things past.
Barns reflect the combined knowledge and technology of their times.
"Many of the barns in the Wallowa Valley were built by the Daggett Brothers and have the same style of construction," Witty said.
Barn design and construction was influenced by memories of where the builders came from and what they dreamed for the future. In the earliest years of barn construction, the American barn did not have glass windows or metal hardware because of the heavy tax imposed by the Crown. Doors swung on hickory hinges and nails were made of oak pegs.
The early American colonists settled in three widely separated areas: Virginia, Plymouth and Philadelphia. The western frontier made different demands in terms of climate, terrain and available materials. Even so, the barns of the American colonists and those of Pennsylvania, Indiana and Nebraska represent a bridge from the past to the Northwest.
The architectural features of line, shape and grace that distinguish the typical old barns have been reflected in the design of many private dwellings for more than 200 years.
Barns in the Wallowa Valley mainly were built as shelter for livestock, and there are more than 100 barns in the Wallowa Valley; not a large number considering the Midwest once had 10,000 barns, and where about only 100 remain. In Vermont, for instance, the state loses about l,000 of its 30,000 barns a year to fire, collapse and the developer. Many barns have been renovated into attractive homes.
Some modern farmers find the old barns an eyesore and a tax liability and their disappearance in recent years is due to housing developments that have swept away farmland and barns even in areas that are still largely rural. The United States had 6.5 million farms in 1920. There were 2.2 million farms in 2000, and including barns that survive defunct farms, there are roughly three million barns across the nation.
Several barns in the Wallowa Valley are listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in order to save the old structures. Perhaps this is why so many of the barns here are so well-preserved; that, and the fact that many are still being used. Even if a barn's useful days are past, farmers are maintaining them for their rustic look.
"Once an old barn is destroyed, we lose more than a building, we lose a sense of place," Hansen said.
Last autumn's tour included many old barns that vary in maintenance and repair. The 1913 red barn on the Ira Pace farm near Lostine, is possibly the oldest on the tour. The land upon which the barn rests can be traced to an early pioneer, John B. Pace. The land passed to the Shell family in the early 1900s and the current owner, Wayne S. Wolfe, suspects the barn was built by Pace in late 1800s.
The tour stopped at the Alford Barn near Joseph. The freshly painted barn was built in 1915 by Henry B. Davidhisar who owned and farmed land in the area of Prairie and Crow Creeks. Merle Alford's son John and his family live on and work the farm.
The Alford family have owned the land since 1936.
Originally from Missouri, the Alfords moved West to Texas and then New Mexico in the early 1920s. Drought forced the family to move to Wallowa County in 1925 where George Alford worked on various ranches and farms before he and his wife, Merle, purchased the ranch.
The barn was set up as a stable for horses as well as for a dairy. The Alfords used the barn for dairy operations that provided milk for a large cheese factory on Hurricane Creek Road near Enterprise.
An octagonal barn near Joseph, owned by Carpenter Land and Cattle, is a stately and unique structure. Built in 1906, it has an intricately glazed cupola and a large fork house where hay was hoisted by fork into the loft by a team of horses.
Mrs. Henrietta Gavin whose uncle, Clyde Harris (of the recent Harris Pine Mills in Pendleton), owned the barn for years, says the barn originally housed horses before it was converted to grain storage in 1920. Mrs. Gavin and her former husband, Gordon Quinn, ran the ranch for 22 years. The name "Crossed Sabers Ranch" is inscribed over the barn doors to commemorate owner Allan Carpenter's stint in the cavalry.
The Buckles Barn near Joseph was built on Fisher property near Hurricane Creek in 1916 and was a true "working" barn with box stalls for horses or calving, a dairy area, and storage for hay and grain in the second story. The hay loft has remnants of a frame for the movie screen that was used for showing movies. Dances also were held in the loft. The building was featured on the cover of the 1999 Barn calendar of Country Life magazine.
James Buckles, the current owner, recently completed a major restoration of the barn which took 47 gallons of red paint. Actually, a painted barn was usually indicative of late 19th century construction. Paint materials were skim milk, red iron oxide and lime, with linseed oil added for penetration, to provide a red-tone finish associated with red barns.
The tour included the Eggleson Barn near Enterprise, owned by Anne Marie (Eggleson) Bush and built around 1910 by J.A. "Bert" Eggleson, her paternal grandfather; the Johnson Barn near Enterprise, built between 1900 and 1906, was purchased by Leonard C. Johnson in 1918 and members of the family currently own and occupy the ranch.
The Haas family originally homesteaded the land where one of the older barns on the tour was built around 1900, primarily for use as a horse barn for it has two tack rooms and horse stalls. The ranch was once a well-known quarter horse operation known as the Arrowhead Ranch. It was disbanded in 1962. The Hammerstroms own the ranch today and have done extensive renovation of the buildings.
Other barns visited included the Wade, Kooch, Hackett, Friedenburg and Hayes. The tour did not include the Walter Brennan barn on Prairie Creek, but the tour passed nearby since it's a familiar landmark along the Imnaha Highway. The striking barn with the huge symbol of the ranch's brand, "OK Quarter Circle," is painted on the gable end of the barn.
The barn was built about 1933 by the Daggett family for Ben Marks, the original owner. Mike Brennan the current owner, is the son of Walter Brennan, the famous actor, who owned a ranch in the Lightning Creek area for years.
The barns in the Wallowa Valley vary in the way they are situated on the land and oriented to the severe winter weather. They were never built as showplaces although some have attained that status. So far they are not disappearing as are the barns in New England and the Midwest.
The farmers and ranchers brought the early design and style for their barns to the Western frontier, and the Wallowa Valley has some of the nation's most well-preserved, distinctive, and attractive barns. Old barns are landmarks today.
According to Hansen, each year different barns are featured on the tour. Information is available from Hansen, Hometown Improvement Group, P.O. Box 91, Enterprise, OR 97828. Tel. 541/426-0219. FAX 541/426-8109.