In essence, a barn is a practical thing. The barns that punctuate the Lopez landscape hold everything from horses to machinery to jars of nails.
The Higgins barn on Vista Road, for example, has been a part of working dairy since it was raised in 1938.
Practicality, however, is not the only thing a barn represents. Over the years the weather-beaten landmarks have seen generations of farming history unfold and develop. They may be utilitarian, but they are also cultural treasures.
Now, thanks to a Heritage Barn Grant, the Higgins family can afford to renovate and thus preserve their piece of Lopez farming heritage.
“The idea is to try and preserve old barns,” said Gene Higgins. “The roofs go and pretty soon they rot and finally get torn down.” Once a barn is lost to disrepair, Higgins explained, that is it. The barn can never be returned, and that piece of history is gone.
In order to ensure his family’s building remains standing and usable, Higgins took advice form his daughter earlier this year, and applied for a Heritage Barn Grant. “It is a really well built barn, but it needed a new roof,” he said.
The state grant program is administered by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. Started in 2007 with the first grants issued in 2008, Higgins was one of around 75 people in Washington to apply for funding in 2010. Twelve applicants including Higgins were successful.
“Barns are very often a record of our history, there’s just not that many of them left,” said Cathy Wickwire of the Heritage Barn Progran. “They are iconic structures, the physical embodiment of the agricultural history of the area…it is the stories that come out of them [that are amazing.]
Higgens recalls the raising of the barn. “I remember trying to help, but I mostly just got in the way.” That year of 1938 Higgins was eight years old and being raised with his brother George on the family farm. The brothers’ grandfather had bought the farm in 1893 and it has been worked by family members ever since.
There are various criteria for the award, Wickwire said that the urgency of the structure’s need, and the feasibility of the project are two important factors. Continuing agricultural use is also a consideration. Higgins added that the fact that the county road runs past their barn, making it an accessible and visible landmark, also helped the Higgins’ cause.
Construction on the barn’s roof began in October and was finished the following month. With the new roof intact, the Higgins farm can go back to using the barn for what it was built for, life stock. Although Gene Higgins now resides in Mount Vernon, his brother continues to farm the property which will in time go to the next generation. The barn is now equipped to watch this passage of time for just a little longer.