The Value of Idaho’s Historic Barns

The Value of Idaho’s Historic Barns

When you think of Idaho, what comes to mind?

There are so many great elements associated with our state! Mountains and hiking, rivers and water sports, landlocked sand dunes, mining, forests, open fields...

One of the most iconic symbols of the state of Idaho, however, has always been the potato. We are the potato state after all!

Idaho’s agricultural history and influence goes far beyond just our skills at growing and cooking the best potatoes. Our state’s farmers do it all: beans, beets, wheat, peas, dairy, feed, and so much more. This agricultural success has been built upon since before Idaho was a state, and many of Idaho’s communities developed because individuals and families immigrated here from countries all over the world. These farmers brought with them the knowledge of unique architectural techniques and often built a barn before building their house. Barns were central to building a livelihood.

At Preservation Idaho, we care deeply about collecting the architectural details and history of historic barns built throughout our great state. We believe it is important to capture our historic barns before they are lost to us forever for a number of reasons:

  • Barns are iconic of Idaho’s past. They represent our cultural heritage and tell the story of families who built new lives and communities in the West by living off the land

  • Barns are reminders of the landscapes, culture, and values of our state, which has undergone significant change.

  • Barns protected farmers’ crops, allowing them to keep their stocks fresh.

  • Barns protected additional farming assets from the weather.

  • Barns provided a place to care for cattle and horses.

  • Barns are examples of creative, effective, and durable architecture that reflect building styles from across the world.

For these reasons, Preservation Idaho created the Idaho Heritage Barns Register—an accessible, online resource that lists and recognizes all historic barns, regardless of their current use and status. Idaho’s historic barns are still extremely valuable to Idahoans.

We care about architectural details because they can tell us SO much about a barns lifespan and can be a substitute when there is little to no written history about a structure. For example, if a barn has a Jackson Fork or a Jackson Fork rod, we can tell the approximate age of the barn and that, at one time, workers had to use horses to load their hay into the top of a barn for storage before newer techniques and equipment had been developed. If a barn predominantly has square or rectangular nails in some of the boarding, then we can tell that part of the barn was built circa 1870s or earlier because round nails did not become common use until closer to the turn of the 20th century. 

Because architectural details matter, we’ve created an easy-to-use form that lays out which details are important to us. Volunteers can fill out any details they can see of a local historic barn and send in to us with associated photos.

Preservation Idaho is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization, and as such we are not a state government agency. What this means is that listing on our Idaho Barns Register does not hold barn owners accountable to adhering to a list of rules on what they can and cannot do on their property. There is no downside to barn owners for having their barn listed on this register, and anyone can contribute to a listing, even if they are not the barn owner.

We are working to raise awareness of our register by reaching out to communities throughout the state and engaging with them about their historic barns and you can help us this Idaho Gives. Your support will help us to extend our presence to each county, which in turn will further grow the listings on our register and show to the world just how much barns matter in our state.

Historic barns aren’t invincible, and we need to capture their brilliance before they are lost. You can help us make a difference by filling out a form for a historic barn near you, spreading the word about the register, or donating at Idaho Gives to support our efforts.