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What I did with My Preservation Scholarship: Vernacular Farmstead Preservation

October 30, 2013

The Peter French Round Barn in Oregon’s Harney County was chosen as the first site for the University of Oregon’s Pacific Northwest Preservation Field School in 1995. Serving as chair of Restore Oregon’s Heritage Barn Taskforce, my passion for igniting barn preservation efforts across the state kept me on the lookout for hands-on experiences to help laterally benefit our underserved rural historic resources. When it was announced that the 2013 Field School would take place at the c. 1930s Comstock Barn in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island, Washington, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. I am grateful to have received an Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship to attend the session on Vernacular Farmstead Preservation.

Attendees repair windows of the Comstock Barn.

Attendees repair windows of the Comstock Barn.

The Comstock Barn was originally built to house sheep, but was later converted to a squash storage building. The structure was remodeled to suit this purpose by re-siding the entire interior facade to board-up the windows while adding wood shavings as insulation to maintain climate control.  The current owner of the barn is interested in adaptively reusing the structure as a potential community event space, and one of the preservation priorities was to re-open the windows.

Graduate students and participants learned traditional methods of restoring wooden window frames, joinery and glazing. The original cedar shake roof of the barn had been severely compromised over time, and previous field work sessions took off existing shakes down to the skip sheathing, which remained in remarkably sound condition. Cedar shingles were chosen by the owner for new installation in an attempt to retain as much of the historic integrity of the barn as possible. Previously sustained water damage also required new joist members to be replaced under the second story hayloft. New flooring was installed once the joists and framing were repaired and secured.

Now that's a big roofing job! New shakes are installed on the Comstock Barn.

Now that’s a big roofing job! New shakes are installed on the Comstock Barn.

In addition to receiving the wealth of first-hand preservation trades practice and training the Field School is known for, a wide-variety of evening presentations complemented the educational experience. Lectures included discussion on the vernacular architecture of the American West, stories of Ebey’s Landing historical events, and information on Washington’s Preservation Plan. Several tours to historic farm sites around the Reserve were also included.

Ebey's Forever Fund helped fund the preservation of the Comstock Barn.

Ebey’s Forever Fund helped fund the preservation of the Comstock Barn.

For as enriching as the week was with respect to the technical craft of preservation, the most compelling lesson I took away from this week was the story of how Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve came to be and how it’s maintained today. Congress created the Reserve as a direct result of grass roots organizing by community members in the 1970s to stop the spread of housing development that would have destroyed the open spaces, farmland and viewshed essential to the settlement history and rural character of Ebey’s Prairie. The protection of land and historic sites on the Prairie is a joint collaborative effort between the nearby town of Coupeville, Island County, Washington State Parks and the National Park Service. The cooperation of these members exemplifies the spirit of mutual participation that rural preservation relies upon in order to develop successful heritage models.

Gina Drew is the chair of Restore Oregon’s Heritage Barn Taskforce and a 2013 Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship recipient.

Apply for an Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship! The next round of applications is due December 2, 2013. Get the details at

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