Creaking boards, the smell of dust and hay and the wind whistling through rafters conjures images of a time long ago, a simpler time, perhaps, but one often built with sweat and hard labor. Agricultural barns across America are vanishing rapidly, and the local preservation of this important cultural and historical resource was the focus of Monday night’s 46th Annual Meeting of the Bulloch County Historical Society.
Held at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, the meeting focused on the Society’s efforts to find ways to preserve the unique historical blend of agriculture and architecture.
Using quotes from the National Barn Alliance, a nation-wide, non-profit organization that works to save America’s Historic Barns, Brent Tharp, Bulloch County Historical Society president and emcee for the evening, said, “Barns are the story of America, from pioneer times to our modern rural landscape. The barns of America have stood as witnesses and guardians of our collective history.
“From tiny log pens cut into wildness to ornate castles in the middle of vast fields, they tell the story of hard work: they tell stories of dedication, tradition, aspiration and creativity. It is our nation’s story told in wood, brick and stone.”
The program for the evening focused specifically on two very different approaches to preserving local barns: art and science.
Attendees of the sold-out event first enjoyed the barns of Bulloch County through the artistic eyes of photographer Cal Avery. Known locally as “the barn hunter,” Avery captures photographs of barns that combine color, light and landscape to achieve what he describes as “that right moment when everything just comes together.”
Avery often returns to photograph a barn in different lighting, weather or season to contrast and compare the images.
3D scans of barns
Next on the program was a description of the collaboration with the Bulloch County Historical Society and Dr. Gus Moldanado, Dr. Marcel Maghiar, Mariah Peart and undergraduate students of Georgia Southern University’s Department of Civil Engineering and Construction to create 3D virtual scans of local barns.
Peart shared in detail the intricate use of Terrestrial LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and a method called visual alignment that resulted in 3D virtual models of several Bulloch County barns. Using quite-pricey pieces of equipment placed in dozens of positions at each barn, Peart and others collected huge numbers of scans. Those scans were then aligned back in the lab in a process that takes several hours to produce the 3D image.
Participants of the event were treated to 3D flythrough movies of barns belonging to Edwin and Danalyn Akins; Remer Dekle; Gerald Edenfield; Georgia Southern Botanic Garden; Bonnie Dekle Howard; Betty, John and Lynn Rushing, and Dave and Carrie Welter.
Behind the circa 1910 farmhouse home of Edwin and Danalyn Akins in Stilson, the Lee Akins barn served as the storehouse for corn and other grain and has an overhead, enclosed loft. The roofed area to the right of the enclosed area originally consisted of five animal stalls with dirt floors.
Danalyn Akins said she used to crawl into the hayloft as a youngster and vividly remembers some of the animals that inhabited the stalls.
“We had an old sow, and when she had babies, she could be so mean,” Akins said. “When Daddy went out to feed her one day, she ran him out of the barnyard!”
Akins said that most of her farm days were spent barefooted. “One time, I was in a hurry to go gather eggs. We had this stick that we had to gently prod underneath the chickens, because sometimes snakes got in there to eat the eggs.”
Akins said she was concentrating on checking for snakes, but by the time she’d finished gathering eggs from the chickens, she learned a lesson to never go barefooted in the chicken house again.
Another memory Akins had was helping take care of the pigs on the farm. “Sometimes a sow would have a bigger litter than she could take of, and I’d wrap that little runt up in a blanket and take it in the house and bottle feed it.”
Akins said the bottle-fed piglets would often follow her all over the farm like a pet. “When it came time to go to market – then that was really hard.”
Akins commented that she “went to college on the backs of those pigs,” so she never minded the labor of taking care of the livestock.
Remer Dekle also remembers fondly the barn that was built by his father around 1941. Logs were cut on the property and a sawed into lumber at a nearby sawmill. Other than some renovation in 2017 to accommodate larger farm equipment, very little has changed.
Dekle remembers playing hide and seek in the hay bales upstairs in the loft and making forts with the bales.
“We had corn cob fights, too,” Dekle said. “We ran around the barn trying to elude whoever was trying to throw cobs at us.”
Dekle even remembers the names of most of the farm horses, especially his favorite: Susie. “We got her when I was about four and she lived twenty years. She pulled the tobacco sleds.”
Bonnie Dekle Howard, sister of Remer, recalls that her grandfather built the barn that she now owns for a total expense of $75 in 1915. “Although it is beyond current day use, the barn still serves as a storage are for various items, and the loft makes a great place for kids and grandkids to play.”
The Gerald and Sharon Edenfield Barn was built around the turn of the century from lumber cut on the farm. When the Edenfields restored the barn, the lumber for repair was once again cut from the farm, and today the barn is often used for special events.
The Botanic Garden Barn was originally owned by Dan and Catherine Bland and now houses an exhibit of farm life during the 1930s when the Bland Farm was active.
The Rushing barn was constructed with two floors. The bottom wooden floor had a center ramp to allow mules and wagons to enter the barn with loads of corn and hay to be unloaded inside. Stalls for mules and cows were on the north, east, and south sides.
Access to the second level was by way of stairs inside the front door. Porches allowed hay to be lifted by pulleys to the upper floor. Over 1700 pounds of nails, 37,000 red cypress shingles and a boxcar load of bricks comprised the structure.
The Dave and Carrie Welter Mule Barn, built in the early twentieth century, originally housed mules awaiting auction at the livery stable in Statesboro. After repair in 2008 to restore it to its original state, the barn is now used for barn dances, parties, receptions and photo shoots.
The Bulloch County Historical Society invites the public to view the 3D virtual barn models by visiting their website, at www.bullochhistory.com.