Barns are structures used for storage of agricultural products, such as hay, grain, and fruits, and the sheltering of livestock, such as cattle, horses, and sheep. The specific use of a barn determines the structure’s form. Many barns in the San Juan Islands were built for specific purposes, such as dairying or fruit storage. However, because farms in the islands were also small and diversified, many barns were used for several purposes.
General purpose barns were constructed to house livestock and store farm products. On small, diversified farms, the barn might house work horses, both dairy and beef cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, and turkeys. However, because milk and other dairy products easily absorbed odors from other animals, and were in danger of contamination from dust and flies, when farmers expanded their dairy production they often built separate dairy barns or segregated the dairy operations to a milking parlor or shed separated by walls from other livestock. The most common farm product stored in barns was hay, piled in areas called mows. However, grain could be stored in bins within the general purpose barn, as well as some vegetable products such as squash.
General attributes of most barns included convenience, sanitation, economy, and appearance. Convenience consisted of minimizing the labor expended in regular farm chores such as feeding, milking, and cleaning. Sanitation, which was important for both the health of the animals and the wholesomeness of farm products such as milk, was observed through the provision of adequate lighting, drainage, and ventilation. Economy encompassed the provision of the most cost effective and functional spaces and procedures for the practice of successful farming. Finally, farmers did not neglect appearance: a beautiful barn expressed the farmer’s care and attention as well as representing the value that they placed on their livelihood.
Specific uses of barns are described on these pages:
Note: In the specific uses, the statistics on various crops are generally taken from the Agricultural Census of the United States, the earliest of which was conducted in 1880 for San Juan County. The last one noted herein, 1959, coincides with the end of the period of significance of this study. These censuses were initially conducted in sync with the decennial census of the population—1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, and 1920—and then every five years, excepting 1935, until 1950. The next census was taken four years later—in 1954—and then continued every five years thereafter.