Candy Moulton: Reading the West 4-23-12
April 23, 2012
I used to travel across Montana with a friend who led tours of the state. He liked to detour down dirt roads and blue highways to show off some of the state’s photogenic barns. He said he intended to someday write a book that would showcase all of them.
I’m still waiting for him to do that, but now I have something to fill the void. Chere Juisto and Christine W. Brown have dished up a great book, “Hand Raised: The Barns of Montana,” which features the photographer of Tom Ferris.
Beginning with a general history of the building of barns and the agricultural settlement of Montana, the authors set the stage for the stories and photographs of more than 125 barns. They are built of log, of wood and stone. They are large, and small. They are, some of them, incredibly old. All have stories about their construction and their use.
In addition to the stunning color photographs taken by Ferris, there are dozens of vintage pictures that show the barns in use in earlier days, and in many cases the people – the families – that built them, used them, care for them yet.
I have always thought barns have faces, shaped by an open doorway (as a mouth), with windows that represent eyes, nose, sometimes even what could almost be ears. One real good example of this is the Cook Company Sheep Barns. That face shows (to my imagination anyway) a toothy grin, a nose (made of double Xs and a three-quarter circle) that is a bit of a pug, and two wide-set eyes with double dimples. And this “face” has a jaunty peaked “cap” for a roof.
The Doncaster Round Barn, near Twin Bridges, is one of Montana’s most famous barns, rising three stories from the Beaverhead Valley. It may have been inspired by the great horse barns of Kentucky since it has interior stalls that give each horse its own window for peering out at the Tobacco Root Mountains.
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Equally impressive is the J.C. Adams Stone Barn, built by two Swedish stonemasons over a three year period 1882-1885. Adams came from Kentucky although in many respects this barn is stylized like the great European barns. Although the facade is made from locally quarried sandstone, the side walls are made from rubble stone and the back wall is wooden.
Although many of these barns remain in use, some are standing primarily because of preservation efforts from a variety of individuals and organizations. Some barns have been moved from their original locations, and often putting them to different uses, such as the Slack Barn, which is now an interpretive center on the Teller Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis, Mont. Of course, others have not stood the test of time so well. The MacDonald/Rossmiller Round barn in Chouteau County is an example. Although this barn is no longer is use and the roof and walls have begun to deteriorate, it is still a striking example of round barn design.
I highly recommend this book for the interesting stories, and for the outstanding photographs of these great Montana barns.