The Bulloch County Historical Society is aware of several “beautiful barns,” some relatively well preserved, some renovated, but is calling for information on other barns, in all conditions, as part of its Bullochian Barns project.
One of the beautiful barns is behind the circa 1910 farmhouse home of Edwin and Danalyn Akins in the heart of the Stilson community. As their situation shows, the interest in old barns isn’t just in the buildings, but in the people and stories associated with them.
In the process of restoring the old farmstead, the Akinses tore down remnants of some other buildings, including a smokehouse. Then Hurricane Matthew took down the old freestanding garage last October, when several large trees fell in the yard and one smashed the garage. The losses have made the barn more precious in its survivor status.
“Oh yes, very, very,” Danalyn Akins said. “I was disappointed we couldn’t keep the garage and the smokehouse and the other little outbuildings, but they were so deteriorated. Sometimes you have to realize you’ve reached that point and there’s nothing else you can do.”
She grew up on this farmstead as an only child after her parents, Dan and Evelyn Lee, purchased it in the early 1940s. Dan Lee earned most of his income as a rural mail carrier, and his father, Charlie Lee, owned and operated a general store in the then-thriving town of Stilson. But her parents also worked the small farm.
The barn wasn’t constructed by the Lees, but was apparently built along with the house by the grandfather of Judge Perry Brannen of Savannah, Mrs. Akins said.
The Akinses moved back to the place around 2000, when Edwin Akins retired from the grocery distributor originally known as T.J. Morris Co., where he was controller and treasurer. They reworked the barn first so it could serve as storage space for the materials needed in the much more extensive reworking of the house. Although remodeled for their 21st century use, the house retains a farmhouse feel and original features such as tongue-in-groove walls and ceilings, tall windows and hardwood floors.
The barn, now painted red, has three main sections.
Extending from the front of the barn to the back, the enclosed portion on the left served as the storehouse for corn and other grain. Overhead is the enclosed hayloft. But the roofed area to the right originally consisted of about five animal stalls, their only floor being the dirt.
Underneath the hayloft and between the storeroom and former stalls, a floorless passage, wide enough for a wagon or small truck, passes through the middle of the barn.
The Akinses kept an album of before, during and after photos of their reworking of the barn. The first phase began in in 1999.
As the “before” pictures show, the barn wasn’t red then, but weathered raw wood. Many boards were missing, and that wasn’t the worst of it.
“When we started on this barn, that back corner over there was about three or four feet off the ground, and we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Edwin Akins recalled. “It was leaning terribly.”
So he and helpers hitched a cable to the back of the barn and pulled it upright with a tractor until they could brace the barn enough to keep it straight.
“I couldn’t watch too much,” Danalyn Akins said. “I kind of had to look every now and then.”
As with the work on the house, that on the barn was a restoration in spirit, but with remodeling for new uses. The Akinses had a floor and inner walls built for the section of the barn that used to be the animal stalls, creating another storage and work area. They even installed a sink.
Where a ladder inside the grain storeroom originally led to the hayloft, the Akinses put in stairs. More lights were also installed, but she believes the restored outdoor light fixture on the front of the barn is the original one her father installed when electricity first became available in Stilson.
“My daddy was so proud when he finally got a light at the barn,” she said. “Oh, my goodness, y’all cannot imagine.”
When people interested in the Bullochian Barns project met recently at the home of Bulloch County Historical Society executive director Virginia Anne Franklin Waters and her husband Bill Waters, the Akinses were there.
So were Carrie and Dave Welter, who own a large barn, believed to date from around 1918, north of Statesboro. Like Danalyn Akins, Carrie Welter has childhood memories of her barn.
“The barn was just our playhouse,” Welter said. “I mean, we had eight ways of escaping, you know, out the windows and down the stalls, all kind of things, cops and robbers, and we just had a great time with that barn.”
Donna Harville described the cluster of buildings that constitute the Harville place. The main barn has been restored as a wedding venue, found on Facebook as “Harville House Barn.”
One or two other barn owners briefly described their barns and memories they evoke.
“Everybody that has signed up thus far has what I call the beautiful barns, restored barns, and some of you have barns where you have weddings,” said Virginia Anne Waters.
But the society is seeking information about interesting old barns in all states of repair, she said.
“In this project there may be some barns we include that are falling down, and that is part, a very big part, of history,” Waters said.
The Historical Society focuses on three kinds of projects: preservation, education and publication. The society does not have funding for barn restorations but is seeking to preserve locations, details and stories about barns, she said.
The society plans to feature a presentation on barns at its 2018 annual meeting in June, said Historical Society President Joe McGlamery. It could take the form of a virtual tour, with video walk-throughs of barns. A publication could come later, he said.
People with information on other barns can email Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bullochian Barns group’s next meeting is slated for 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, at the Statesboro Herald building.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.