Storehouses of history
Missourians will recognize the idyllic farm scene complete with
the quintessential red barn like this one in St. Charles County.
Though the Missouri countryside is dotted with old barns, many are
lost each year to the ravages of time and development. The book "Barns of Missouri" tells the
story of the barn's development and changes which mirror changes
in farming itself.
Missouri and the state’s electric cooperatives will publish
the 160-page book, “Barns of Missouri: Storehouses
of History,” by Howard Wight Marshall, professor emeritus of
art history and archaeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and
former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center.
has spent most of his career studying buildings of one kind or another
and farm buildings, especially barns, hold a special place in his heart.
He’s photographed barns all across the United States as well as
in Scotland, England and Wales. A drive with Marshall through the Missouri
countryside is a rolling lecture on how barns were developed and used,
what they say about the people who built them and how they changed over
time with changes in farming.
history of barns in Missouri cannot be told in a single book, but we hope
to provide Missourians with just a glimpse of a building so common as
to be almost invisible to many of us as we drive around the state.
reading Marshall’s history of the barn and looking at the many barn
photos, both color and historic black and white, we hope readers will
never look at a barn quite the same again.
Included here is an excerpt from the book’s preface, which will
be available through Rural Missouri
Howard Wight Marshall
have been photographing old barns for something like 40 years. And in
working on this book I engaged a number of friends and compatriots to
help. Certain regions of the state will be better represented than others.
Travelers know that some parts of Missouri are thick with old barns while
in other regions barns are scarce.
stout barn in Warren County contains hand-hewn beams.
facts are sharply reflected in the settlement and economic history, and
indeed the environmental history, of our state and people.
many parts of the Ozarks, settlement was sparse and the rocky, rolling
land did not allow the kinds of large farms we see in prairie counties
like Pemiscot, Audrain, Saline or Buchanan.
visitor to St. Louis County finds urban development, highways and commercial
infrastructure laying concrete and building on every available inch of
ground. A few historic barns and buildings survive there, for which we
are thankful to the citizens and forward-thinking town councils.
the other hand, there are parts of counties where rich bottom lands and
rolling hills continue to be marked by family farming operations going
back six or seven generations. We can visit farms where the first barn
built, from 1820 if not before, remains in good repair and in daily use.
families are lucky their ancestors happened to settle on comparatively
remote and fertile ground the miners and the loggers did not want, rather
than where interstate highways, recreational lakes and dam projects and
urban centers were to develop.
story of barns cannot be told without including the people who not
only built barns, but also those who relied on them. Billy Lee, who
grew up in Warren County, created this carved image of the family
farm, complete with barn, where he grew up. The farm no longer exists.
people think the barns scattered across the landscape are nothing more
than relics or simple shelters for crops and livestock. Some see old barns
as charming bits of nostalgia reminiscent of The “Good Old Days.”
Some see them as scruffy eyesores. Rural fire departments often consider
decrepit barns as good places to practice putting out fires. The traditional
hay and livestock barn is an endangered species.
the introduction to one of the memorable 1880s Missouri county histories,
the anonymous writer offers this:
lapse of time, the advance of civilization, the wonderful scientific discoveries
that within the past 40 years have added so much to the comfort and pleasure
of the world, have had the effect to make life so roseate with the hue
of an easy-going and tranquil existence that the privations, hardships
and dangers of the pioneer settlers are overlooked, undervalued and forgotten.”
— “History of St. Charles, Montgomery, and Warren Counties,
trust that present and future Missourians will continue to find ways to
deny the bitterness in such statements. Recording and offering some commentary
on our past, in books like this one, offers one way to convey today’s
heritage to the future.
learn about history from their environments, books, depictions in the
media and stories told around the supper table. A major element in our
feelings about history is the buildings we see and know. We learn about
our past by experiencing architecture. Buildings shape our ideas about
who we are and where we come from. For a more complete picture of our
Missouri past, we need barns. The house and barn of the pioneer are more
than just shelter, they are statements of family history, ambition, economy.
walnut beams and center post stand sturdy in a Warren County barn.
are essential in the workaday world, yet the kinds of old barns we treasure
are rapidly being erased by the intractable currents of change. Perhaps
through this book, we may come to better know the wealth of barns in Missouri.
we may begin to challenge ourselves, beyond nostalgia, to find new ways
to appreciate these old structures and find ways to conserve this great
legacy for the benefit of future generations.
about ordering the book, “Barns of Missouri: Storehouses of
is available by calling (573) 635-6857, ext. 3426. Order forms for the
book are also available on line.