Learn about local efforts to save San Juan County's barns

On May 13, historian Boyd Pratt and members of 100 Friends of Old Island Barns will present a community lecture entitled,
On May 13, historian Boyd Pratt and members of 100 Friends of Old Island Barns will present a community lecture entitled, 'The Historic Barns of San Juan County,' 7 p.m. at the San Juan Historical Museum, 405 Price St. The event is free to the public.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Special to The Journal

From cracks between the sagging walls
The sun slants to the dusty stalls
I hear the barn doors rusty rasp
The summer breeze, the broken clasp ...

— The Old Barn, by Marlin Pine

For more than two centuries, American barns have stood as a symbol of hard work and a rural way of life. They are one of the most prominent relics of San Juan County’s agricultural past, yet no one knows how many historic barns there are on the islands.

Occasionally, a roadside barn will succumb to fire or demolition, alerting the public to the ephemeral state of these beloved icons. When a old barn falls, we lose more than a building. We lose a sense of place.

Most private property owners with historic barns and farm buildings on their lands would like to save them. However, the cost is often daunting to individual owners, and few if any resources are available locally to support their efforts.

100 Friends of Old Island Barns
Many island residents are interested in helping to save local historic barns but don’t know how. Last year, local preservationists, barn owners and other barn enthusiasts formed the 100 Friends of Old Island Barns to advocate for barn and farm building preservation countywide.

The first order of business for the new group is the task of compiling a comprehensive, county-wide inventory of surviving heritage barns. Once completed, the group will have the information necessary to assist the county, the local community, and historic preservation organizations like the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation in prioritizing barns for preservation efforts and financial support.

San Juan County awards grant
In October 2008, the 100 Friends, in collaboration with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, applied for and was awarded $6,464 from the San Juan County Historic Document Fund to begin the inventory field work and documentation. Boyd Pratt, local architectural historian and historic preservationist, was contracted to survey each of the ferry-served islands and to compile photographs and other data documenting all historic barns that are at least 50 years old, regardless of condition. This work is currently in progress.

On May 13, Pratt and the 100 Friends will discuss the project's findings to-date in a community lecture entitled "The Historic Barns of San Juan County." This event takes place at 7 p.m. at the San Juan Historical Museum, 405 Price St. The event is free to the public.

State Heritage Barn Register
In 2008, the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation created the Washington Heritage Barn Register. The goals of the State Register are similar to the inventory being compiled by the 100 Friends. Already, eight county barns have been voluntarily placed on the State Register by local barn owners.

The San Juan County Historic Barn Inventory process and database will facilitate adding more local barns to the Register on a voluntary basis, based on owner interest. Funding, technical assistance and other resources for barn preservation that are available through the DAHP and other preservation organizations will likely be channeled to listed barns. Local preservation efforts and support will not be dependent on State listing.

Help identify heritage barns
The public is encouraged to help identify heritage barns on any San Juan County island by contacting Boyd Pratt. Information may come from barn owners, neighbors or any interested county resident. Information about the location, history of ownership, builder, agricultural use, and archival or contemporary photos, as well as any other information about the building and site’s history, will add significantly to the completion of the inventory.

Boyd can be reached by calling 378-7172 or by e-mail to

— Sandy Strehlou is historic preservation officer for the Town of Friday Harbor.

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