Saving Oregon's beautiful historic barns
Nearly 70 farmers, history buffs and preservationists came from across the state Saturday to gather in the Shipley-Cook Barn in Lake Oswego, an historic holdover from Oregons pioneer days and a fitting venue to discuss their shared passion for barn preservation.
Fittingly, caution tape marked off the northwest corner of the barn, which was built in 1862 and is slated to be upgraded pending a $40,000 stabilization grant. The half of the barn that functioned as a makeshift meeting room Saturday was added in the 1930s.
These stories are the bread and butter of Restore Oregons workshop, now in its third year.
Before the barn workshop, there was no program or toolkit or resource for barn owners or enthusiasts to learn about how to maintain and reuse older and historic barns, said Brandon Spencer-Hartle, a senior field program manager for Restore Oregon. But there is a relative wealth of what he calls agricultural heritage in the state: about 11,400 barns that are at least 50 years old.
Family farmers uniquely value the legacy thats embodied in the barn, Spencer-Hartle explained. In many cases, people who have these family barns may have a newer or renovated house, but the barn is sort of the icon that remains from the grandparents or great-grandparents generation, because it was a tool for achieving their whole farm operation.
The existence of these often ramshackle outbuildings may seem incomprehensible to roadtrippers and city slickers, but as attendee Tom Harpole pointed out, Theyre utilitarian. Theres always something you can store in a barn. Taking it down is expensive, too.
For the past 29 years, Harpole has owned a farm on Childs Road in Lake Oswego. Now his nearly century-year-old barn is sinking into the ground, having been built without a foundation.
Its listing to one side, Harpole said. I went to the Planning Commission, and their concern is that if I repair it to 1920s standards and then repurpose the barn, I might be in violation of city ordinances.
Going too far with upgrades would also make it ineligible for listing on historic registries exactly the kind of bind that Restore Oregon aims to help barn-owners navigate.
Attendees at Saturdays workshop enjoyed a full-day of seminars on best practices and preservation policies, case studies of rehabilitated barns and a presentation on Washington states Heritage Barn registry. In the afternoon, Amy McAuley of Oculus Fine Carpentry and David Rogers of Logs and Timbers LLC both gave hands-on demonstrations on barn preservation practices that are era-appropriate.
Attendees learned, for example, how to hew a log.
In Willamette Valley, what we would call a timber frame was how barns were constructed until the late 1800s, Spencer-Hartle said. With most barns, at least the frame was constructed by hand. Many of those barns need replacement work, and teaching people how they were built shows them how they could be prepared.
Its about understanding the craftsmanship of 150 years ago, and thinking forward about how we can steward barns using a blend of old and new technology, he added, so we can keep the character of the barn while allowing it to be modified and rehabilitated, so it can continue to function.
Participants also had the opportunity to hear about funding opportunities, which are somewhat limited compared to other states, and how to value barns as unique historic assets even if the owners are considering other, more unusual uses, for them.
That in itself was a timely discussion: As Spencer-Hartle pointed out, the state Land Use Board of Appeals handed down a decision recently that would likely give a new path forward for barn owners and other rural building owners to allow new uses in those buildings.
Theres a property in Sandy that was a test case for this, and (Restore Oregon) wrote a brief to the court saying these rural agricultural buildings are worth preserving, and the owners need to have the ability to create new uses. LUBA agreed that owners should have flexibility to come up with new ways to do it. Maybe its a dance studio or a wine-tasting room or a farmers market, or taking a barn and putting in a residential unit. It opens up doors we havent had opened in 40 years.
Suzana Radivojevic, a wood scientist who attended the workshop, explained that even some of the oldest barns are still viable buildings.
A wooden structure can stand for a very long time, for centuries, if it is designed correctly and if it is being used and maintained, she explained.
Radivojevic, whose research on the material properties of wood have led her into the area of historic preservation, said the workshop was one of the really rare opportunities not only for professionals but for barn owners to learn how to take some concrete action toward saving their barns, which are disappearing very rapidly from our landscape.
For more information, visit restoreoregon.org/heritage-barns.
Contact Saundra Sorenson at
503-636-1281 ext. 107 or