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Barn yesterday, some treasures still stand

One of the island’s rare and nearly forgotten cedar shake barns. They served the island’s strawberry industry during the World War II era.      - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
One of the island’s rare and nearly forgotten cedar shake barns. They served the island’s strawberry industry during the World War II era.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

In the ‘Year of the Barn,’ funds have been tapped to preserve their heritage.

Recently, I saw one of the most beautiful barns in the state only minutes from my home. The timing could not have been better since this was declared “The Year of the Barn” by state legislators, who have earmarked funds to help preserve heritage barns.

In 1992, near tears, thoughtful Leroy Tudor, a lifetime second generation islander, came into the Bainbridge Museum and announced, “I’m leaving the island and want to give you two gifts – things you may never see here again.”

One was planting trays of Marshall strawberries, the kind grown by island farmers before World War II.

Tudor drove to Moses Lake to the Koba family farm, where the Kobas still grew them as they had here before that war. Setsu Omoto and I transplanted them into island soil, and word of their story spread.

They once were the pride of the island; the largest, sweetest and juiciest berry eaten fresh or canned and shipped up and down the coast. Kay Nakao remembers when some in 1939 were fed to the Queen of England. At the 2007 Harvest Festival, flats of Marshalls were sold by our historical society.

Leroy’s second gift came from an old barn – two hand-split cedar shakes, ten feet long. He described where the collapsed barn was located. I could never find it. We carefully stored the rare cedar.

Over the years, we’ve explored many old Kitsap County barns. One by one, most have disappeared. The really old ones here collapsed in the five feet of snow that fell in January, 1880. A few log barns withstood that blizzard.

On Poulsbo’s Finn Hill, one had a sauna built right into one corner. At the south end of the Big Valley, hearts broke when one of the county’s oldest and largest log barns lost a battle to “real estatic” dreams. Near Meig’s Farm and Highway 305, Luke McRedmond’s small cedar log barn is now disassembled, awaiting re-construction next to Luke’s 1865 log cabin.

Several rustic fir pole and cedar shake barns in forests – behind Sportsman’s Club Road, atop Springridge Road, on McRedmond Road – are all gone now. The greatest loss of all was when wet snow brought down the towering four-story, drive-through circle barn at Port Gamble with its rough hewn, knot-free, lengthy rafters.

Some barns were saved for a while and transformed into residences. The finest of these was the first all-electric dairy barn in the Pacific Northwest. It was originally built circa 1925 in Port Madison, near today’s Frog Rock, by A.W. Leonard, president of Puget Sound Power & Light.

The late state Sen. Charles Elicker and his creative wife, Marian, transformed it to include walk-in fireplaces – a favorite place for Republicans to warm themselves.

Several families treasured it thereafter including former Kitsap Planning Commissioner Fred Mann. New owners unceremoniously bulldozed it.

A few barns survive from the island’s strawberry industry. The post-World War II Koura Barn on Bayhill Road served the island’s largest berry farm.

The rustic structure, built by Mr. Chihara, needs a new roof. It could be restored to house farming artifacts in Strawberry Hill Park – part former Chihara land – or at the Nidoto Nai Yoni Memorial interpretive site.

The first property listed on the State Historic Register by island residents Elaine and Jerry Hellmuth was the 1887 Bucklin Barn and Farm House. The Hellmuths founded a school there.

Another, Hyla Middle School, became its steward in recent years. Last year, Hyla folks spent $100,000 to restore their island and state treasure, without state help. They deserve high praise and consideration. I’ll never forget the magic of their students’ Bucklin Farm history theater hosted in the barn.

Then, last week, I stumbled into an old barn of the sort Leroy mentioned. It lives! It’s made of all hand-split cedar timbers and shakes, 5 to 12 feet long. Its watershed was once rich with giant cedars – straight, tall and knot-free. Planks were split from them like those over a century-and-a-half ago for Suquamish’s Old Man House.

The barn retains its integrity though likely built during the Great Depression in 1933 by Walter L. Grow, who’d certainly have known how. He was a son of west Winslow’s first homesteaders, Ambrose and Amanda Grow. Their home is today’s Harbour Pub.

The Grow family took to this land “like ducks to water” and “always foraged two steps and a jump ahead of civilization.”

“If pioneers sat on their back sides a-worrying...there wouldn’t be a West today,” Walter’s brother said.

It seems that Walter didn’t let hard times slow him down and used the resources at hand to build a two-story dairy barn. Now, the barn’s owner is excited to preserve this architectural rarity. And the Year of the Barn is a good time to address all barns’ needs.

“The timing is right,” State Architectural Historian Michael Houser says. “We have a new Heritage Barn Register with nominations due December 21. Those structures that are declared Heritage Barns are eligible to apply for a fifty-fifty matching grant for the preservation and rehabilitation of the structure.”

Know of or own a barn? Tell your historical society or preservation commission about it. Call Houser at (360) 586-3076 or see www.dahp.wa.gov/pages/HistoricSites/HeritageBarnRegister.htm.

Leroy Tudor now says he’ll be back next Spring to share more history. When he returns, he’ll get an invite to a barn dance.

Community Events, April 2014

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