After the turn of the nineteenth century, farmers began to take a more ‘scientific’ approach to agriculture, and dairying in particular. Agricultural magazines and books had always promoted good ideas in terms of farm building and management; as early as 1881, Byron David Halstead published Barn Plans and Outbuildings (republished in 1918) and after the turn of the century there were a number of books such as: Sanders Publishing Company’s Farm Buildings (1907); Alfred Hopkins’ Modern Farm Buildings (1913); K.J.T. Ekblaw’s Farm Structures (1914); Howard Armstrong Robert’s The Farmer: His Own Builder (1918); Alfred Hopkins’ Modern Farm Buildings (1913); and Deane G. Carter and W.A. Foster’s Farm Buildings (first published in 1922 with successive editions through the 1940s).
This ‘modernizing’ effort was aided by federal and state legislation that established agencies for experimentation and dissemination of new agricultural crops and methods. In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which established “cooperative extension” as a partnership of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant Universities; a year earlier, the Washington State Legislature had already established such a system at Washington State College (later Washington State University [WSU]). This institution had a decided influence on farm building design: the Western Washington Agricultural Experiment Station in Puyallup issued a Monthly Bulletin starting in 1913, and the Station at the State College in Pullman published Leslie John Smith’s Plans for Small Barns (Popular Bulletin No. 123) in 1923. In 1919, the first WSU Extension Agent, Russ Turner, came over from Island County to San Juan County one week per month; two years later the first full-time County Extension Agent, William Ness, arrived in the islands. This period also saw the establishment of agricultural societies such as the Grange (Friday Harbor 1908; Lopez Island 1909); the San Juan County branch of the North Pacific Berry Growers Association (1923); and the San Juan Dairymen’s Association (1924). These and other institutions were no doubt instrumental in the dissemination of standardized plans for barns and other farm buildings.
The private sector was also doing their best to sell farm plans, equipment and machinery, and even whole barn kits. In 1919, for instance, the Louden Machinery Company of Fairfield, Iowa, published the first in a series of barn plan books with the slogan “TO MODERNIZE YOUR FARM LOUDENIZE YOUR BARN.” In 1919 the James Manufacturing Company of Ft. Atkinson, Wisconsin, published The James Way, “A book showing how to build and equip a practical and up to date Dairy Barn.” Several companies offered barn plans in their publications, such as the Orange Judd Publishing Company of New York and the Sanders Publishing Company (The Breeder’s Gazette) of Chicago. William Radford, who offered house plans through his Radford Architectural Company of Chicago, even established a separate farm building department in 1909; the firm offered sets of blueprint plans from its Radford’s Practical Barn Plans. Several upper Midwest lumber companies partnered with mail order retail companies to sell complete barn packages, which included all of the lumber and hardware needed for construction, with each piece labeled for ease of assembly. These included Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago; Montgomery Ward & Company of Chicago; Gordon Van-Tine Company of Davenport, Iowa; Chicago House Wrecking Company/Harris Brother Company of Chicago; and the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan.
Although there is no direct link in terms of extant records of plans or correspondence, from evidence such as the almost uniform plans of milk houses and the consistent layout and design of concrete milking parlors, standardized plans were used in constructing barns and farm buildings in San Juan County. It is not known, however, whether any kit barns were built in the islands, although some features of one barn on San Juan Island point to that conclusion.