BUHL • Barns once dotted the southern Idaho landscape. They were everywhere.
But as farm sizes grew, the number of farms — and barns — shrank. Many barns became outdated and were torn down to make room for larger, more modern structures. Some were demolished for subdivisions. Others were victims of wind. Or rot.
Later, barn wood came into vogue, and some barns were torn down to salvage the wood.
“It’s interesting that the barn wood became more valuable than the barn,” said Katherine Kirk, executive director of the Idaho Heritage Trust. “We’ve lost some of our beautiful barns as the wood was repurposed.”
With each barn we lose, the desire to save others intensifies.
The Alfred Carlson dairy barn, built by Henry Schick in 1913 in the Northview area northeast of Buhl, is an example of a barn that was sold for salvage, but it was already on its way down, said Martha Busmann, who used to live on the dairy farm when she was young.
“My stepfather, Ralph Skinner, rented the 80-acre farm for many years. I was lucky enough to grow up there,” Busmann said. “The barn had fallen into such sad shape that it had to be destroyed. Some of it was salvaged, and the rest was burned and hauled away.”
As a result, the Carlson dairy barn was removed from the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
“Our barns are being threatened by decay,” Kirk said. “There is high cost to maintain the barns, unless they are being used.”
If maintained and used, many barns could last several hundred years, Kirk said, especially the barns built with concrete walls.
Sometimes, even a concrete-based barn loses its battle with the weather.
The Art Maxwell barn, south of Buhl on 1700 East, was demolished by a microburst in about 2000.
Gustave Kunze hired Schick to build the dairy barn for his daughter Frieda and her new husband, Art Maxwell, in 1915. The Blair family operated the dairy farm for several generations, and Diana Blaehr owned the barn when it went down.
“I do miss the place,” Blaehr said.
The barn’s concrete walls still stand. Although nearly destroyed, it will probably remain on the National Register.
“The Maxwell barn will likely not be removed from listing unless the owner asks us to de-list it,” said Belinda Davis, historic sites registrar with the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office. “Our policy in recent years is that our office does not instigate removal unless requested to do so.”
A few miles east, visible from Twin Falls’ Pole Line Road, stands a wooden dairy barn that is going down fast. Painted white with striking red details, the Tegan barn is a prominent landmark. But it’s leaning hard to the south, its roof and eaves warped into waves, its red paint emphasizing the distortion.
D.F. Detweiler built the home and barn on 2300 East prior to 1917. Arlee Tegan and her husband, Howard, bought the property in 1939.
“The barn was built to milk cows, but we raised feeder cattle,” Tegan said.
The barn, now in other ownership, has sagged against a large cattle scale that the Tegans installed. The scale appears to be all that’s holding it up.
“It’s so sad,” Tegan said. “It was a good old barn.”
The Tegan barn has a large basement where grain was stored, said her daughter, Sandy Vickers. It has been suggested that the basement may have been used to hide a still during Prohibition.
“Oh, I can’t say if there was a still,” said Tegan, 96. “That was before my time.”
Local lore is part of the appeal of the Magic Valley barns that still survive from a century ago. So is their beauty, and their symbolism of a life connected to the land.
On Magicvalley.com, a gallery of reader-contributed photos of southern Idaho barns was among the most-viewed galleries this year.
And over the past year, amateur photographer Cathy Wilson made a series of images of a deteriorating barn, at 3800 N. 1400 E. in Buhl, capturing the structure in various natural lighting as it crumbled to the ground. By August it was a pile of rubble.
One more casualty of time.