Barn Restoration Begins

Mule Springs barn prior to restoration.

“The old barn in the landscape evokes nostalgia and affection” –Arthur A. Hart

It would be much easier to build a new barn, but we like the look and feel of “old.”  The barn at Mule Springs was built somewhere between late 1860 and late 1870, and though we don’t know the precise history of the barn we can guess its approximate date because it pre-twentieth century vertical siding, and the barn was built using square nails.  Like many barns of yesteryear, our barn was added on to as needs changed, but the original construction was completed with hand forged nails and mortise and tenon joints.

Various hand forged square nails from Mule Springs barn.

Hand-hewn logs and square nails are reminiscent of pre- WWI when America was a “ horse-powered rural economy.”  In addition to providing storage for hay, these early barns needed to provide, “shelter for horses and cows, and often a place for chickens, hogs, and sheep.”  When most Americans lived on the land, the “all purpose barn was the rule.”

Nowadays most farms are huge monoculture agribusinesses, and the former farmhouses are vacant or they house “seasonal laborers.” The old barns are used to store machinery or have been dismantled and the barn wood sold for decorative purposes in modern homes.  Picture frames made with old barn wood, wide plank flooring, and curio bathroom trim are examples of uses for these “relics” from America’s early farms.

Our barn will provide shelter for animals, storage for hay, grain, and machinery—plus will have a rustic guest room in the loft.  It will be a twenty-first century “all purpose” barn created from a nineteenth century foundation.  The reason the skeleton stands is because it’s so dry in this part of Oregon.  In a wetter climate the barn would have rotted and fallen long ago.

The next few posts will show our progress with the barn.  When you look at these images and see what poor shape the barn is in, does it seem possible we will reach our goal?

Author’s Note: Many of these photos were taken by Tim and Laurie Southworth.

Before we bought the farm, the barn was used to store this barbed wire. Quite a sticky job to get it out!
Original flooring to be replaced with concrete slabs.
Cornerstone boulders have held up barn for more than 100 years.
Parts of the roof without tin covering are rotted, but the wood beneath the tin is solid.
Common practice to add on to a barn as needs changed.
Ouzel peers into the stall looking for one of the mules as they wander through.
Two of the twelve mules that graze on Mule Springs and help us preserve our farm status.

9 thoughts on “Barn Restoration Begins

  1. The barn has such character and potential! What a great project! It reminds me of Little House on the Prairie. Have fun with it! 🙂

    1. Everyone feels more positive than when I first saw the barn…I certainly had doubts…:) Restoring is a challenge without changing the whole barn out. 🙂

  2. Of course you can do it! It reminds me of my barn here- circa 1916?- only you’ve got less junk in yours and I have more siding!

  3. Well – Good Luck with this project! it looks like a HUGE amount of work. Very interesting about the square nails.

    1. Hi Alison– I know HUGE! And we just added some plans for a pigeon loft and chicken cop beside the barn. 🙂

  4. I am stunned – you are planning to *renovate*, rather than *rebuild*?

    Wow. You guys sure are tough. 🙂

    Mind you, I *love* the idea of being able to reuse as many of the original materials as possible, but gosh, this does look like a humungous amount of hard work.

    Those square nails are very interesting indeed – have never seen anything like it.

    I am also quite taken by the plans for a pigeon loft, a chicken coop and a ‘loft apartment’ – now those sound quite fantastic!

    1. I think you will REALLY enjoy the next set of pictures, because you will see beginnings of big change. It is all amazing to me too. I was talking with the contractor yesterday and I asked him ” have you ever restored anything like this before?” He said, “not by half” meaning they have never undertaken such a challenging project before–yet everyone is enthusiastic, and feels up to the challenge. I am thrilled by what they have been able to do so far.

      I leave for Alaska tomorrow and have so much to do to get ready. I have some great new photos of the barn to post, but I don’t know if I can get it done before we leave. But, if not, next week, you will see the progress.

      One rather exciting episode- the contractor said the mules were all stirred up on Friday– racing up the meadow and snorting like wild– the next day the builder found huge bear prints in the dust outside the barn, and he photographed them next to his knife to show how large they are. I identified them definitely as bear prints. I will be posting those too soon… 🙂 Sher

      1. Ooooh, I do indeed look forward to the next series of pics, Sher.

        Have a fabulous trip to Alaska!

        As to… bear prints???

        Oh. My. Wobbly. Knees. You really do live in the Wilds.

      2. LOL and YET Oregon is very tame compared to Alaska where we lived for 16 years. My heart sang when I saw the bear prints, because this area has so many people and wildlife gets pushed to the very edge. To see prints is to know they are still there…sigh…more when we get back. Best, Sher

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