STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Topographical maps and the back roads of Oklahoma, Brad Bays has scanned them all and driven most looking for relics of agricultural past, the utilitarian, but simply beautiful, farm barn.
“What fascinates me, probably more than anything,” he states, “is the love people have for them and the affinity they have for them especially if they grew up in the area where they’ve seen it all their lives.”
It’s been more than 10 years since he started a survey for the State Historic Preservation Office to document structures like one near Mulhall, Okla., built of native sandstone around 1890.
Bays also took us to a pair of barns built around 1907, one as a dairy, the other for draft horses.
“Most barns, these included, aren’t used for the same purpose they were originally built for,” he states.
It was a five-year project.
Bays spends weekends and time off scanning horizons and asking questions.
His survey eventually included more than 700 structures, 100 of them important enough to be included on the National Historic Register.
He argues, “There are many, many out there and all that I ever did was sample them.”
His survey is still on the record, added to and subtracted over the years.
Barns had their ‘hay-day’ from settlement days to right after World War II when tractors replaced horses and round balers removed the need for hay lofts.
Bays insists, “That’s why they’re dying away. That’s why they’re disappearing is because they’ve lost their function and often become more of a liability to the homeowner.”
From the oldest log barns in Northeast Oklahoma, to the stone structures of Northcentral Oklahoma, to the huge cotton barns of Southwest Oklahoma, some sag with their age like old nags.
Many of the barns of which Bays took pictures are already gone.
Those that are left still provide a kind of window to the past.
Their timbers or stones tell stories of the hard work it took their builders to feed the world a century ago.
To read about or see photos from Bay’s survey of old barns, go to www.okhistory.org/shpo/thematics.
To find out more about a series of webinars Brad is hosting called ‘Shut the Door! Barns in Oklahoma”, go to www.okhistory.org/calendar/location/virtual.