Lofty ambitions: Barns paint picture of Montana families

2011-11-27T00:15:00Z Lofty ambitions: Barns paint picture of Montana familiesBy MARY PICKETT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 27, 2011 12:15 am  • 

After documenting scores of Montana barns for a new book, Chere Jiusto can’t pick one favorite.

“I have many favorites,” she said, reveling in the rich variety of barns across the state.

Some represent early agricultural history of sheep and cattle in the state. Some tell a story of ethnic history. Others are stunning architectural works.

All tell quiet stories about the people who built it, their hard work and how they worked together as a family, Jiusto said.

Jiusto and Christine Brown wrote, “Hand Raised: The Barns of Montana,” published this year by the Montana Historical Society.

Tom Ferris of Helena photographed the barns for the book.

Jiusto is director of the nonprofit Montana Preservation Alliance, where Brown is outreach and education director.

The nonprofit organization helps communities find new ways to use old buildings and gets grants for preservation projects.

“Our book celebrates barns and records the history and heritage and work ethic of those who built them,” Juisto said. “They also are beautiful architectural icons of the past.”

Juisto has long been interested the plight of barns in the state.

According to a U.S. agriculture census, the state had more than 8,400 barns in 2007.

But they are disappearing.

Because many barns date from the homestead era from about 1880 to the 1920s, the structures, most made of wood, are aging. Some barns have

fallen down or were demolished when they became unsafe.

As agriculture has evolved, machines do the work horses once did so farm and ranch buildings aren’t constructed like they used to be, Jiusto said.

Most are now pole barns that use poles as a support structure and metal sides. Although highly functional and more reasonably priced to build, most don’t have the personality of older barns featured in Jiusto’s book.

Jiusto and Brown spent eight years researching and visiting barns all over the state.

The book has photos and descriptions of 140 barns from the stately St. Ignatius barn in Lake County to a weathered hexagonal barn in Wibaux County.

Jiusto’s book shows that a gabled red barn is not the only way a barn can be built.

There are low-slung log barns, round barns, gigantic barns and modest barns. There are barns made of lumber, brick, stone and even concrete.

Architectural elements that make some barns unique usually are functional, too.

Cupolas allowed air to circulate to keep hay from molding. Windows let in light.

Early barns were made with hand tools and a high level of craftsmanship so they would stand up to harsh weather and use by big, strong animals.

“When you look at the hand-hewn aesthetics, it’s gorgeous,” Jiusto said. “There’s such beauty about that.”

Beauty is just one reason why people are drawn to barns.

Barns take us back to a time when most Americans farmed, giving everyone a connection to the buildings, Jiusto said.

Barns also reflect the ethnic diversity of Montana’s early days.

Croatians and Italians built sturdy barns with stone foundations and walls. Finnish immigrants made log barns according to Old Country traditions.

Metis descendents constructed rough-hewn log barns in Teton County.

The photos taken by Ferris not only capture the beauty and diversity of barns and the spirit of the people who built them, he notices special touches like barn cats and owls, Jiusto said.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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