The century-old dairy barn built by German-Russian immigrant Henry Schick, along with its onion-domed cupolas, was a landmark southeast of Buhl. Twin Falls banker Tom Gilbertson instantly fell in love with the structure when he saw it while inspecting agricultural loan properties 10 years ago.
The barn was never upgraded from its original 1914 design and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. But last year, a gust of wind tore off a corner of the barn’s roof and toppled one of its cupolas.
“My heart dropped when I saw it,” Gilbertson said. “It made me sick.”
Now, he’s determined to save it and is hoping to make it a living museum and a display of early Idaho farm life.
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Henry Schick played a key role in Idaho’s early dairy industry: Along with Tillamook, Ore., dairyman Gustave Kunze, he built the largest dairy barn in Idaho. Kunze had visited the Buhl area in 1910 and decided to stay.
Several of Kunze’s fellow Tillamook dairymen followed him to Buhl. Many of their barns were built, at least in part, by Schick.
They are rectangular structures with a double-sloped roof and distinctive concrete walls.
There were already many styles of barns in south-central Idaho at that time, but the Kunze barn was the first built in the area specifically for dairy. That was the beginning of a significant architectural transition, according to historical architect Fred Walters, who studies the influence of technology on Idaho’s agricultural buildings.
There was a rapid succession of roof styles between 1912 and 1914 so dairymen had more and more space to store hay. In particular, Kunze’s barn was enormous — big enough to house, feed and milk 100 cows. It could store 200 tons of hay and was supported by 12 heavy, 25-foot high posts.
But as Schick began to design barns for other dairymen, he made adaptations. His later barns made a dramatic departure from the earlier ones: They were narrower but proportionately taller, with upward-stretched gambrel roofs that flared at the eaves.
Those roofs feature unique cupolas that created a striking appearance, even from a distance — and stole Gilbertson’s heart almost a century later.
The retired banker formed a nonprofit group, the Historic Barn Society of the Magic Valley, in 2013. Schick’s three heirs split off the barn and an acre of the farm from his property and donated it to the group. Gilbertson’s group had started restoring the barn before it was damaged last year.
The concrete walls remain solid, but the wind took a chunk of the barn’s southwest corner, and the remaining timber is tottering at 38 feet.
“Tom (Gilbertson) has a huge job ahead of him,” said Walters, the historical architect, who visited the barn before the Christmas Eve windstorm last year. He said restoring it won’t be impossible, but will be expensive. The nonprofit will have to hire a contract because the major work can’t be done by volunteers.
Gilbertson isn’t giving up, though.
“I’m not getting frustrated,” he said, “but I’m discouraged that it will take more time now.
“There’s still a lot of mystery about the barn, and I never get tired of discovering more things about it. I wish Schick were still here.”
Weather, neglect claims historic barns
Barns once dotted the Southern Idaho landscape. They were everywhere.
But as farm sizes grew, the number of farms — and barns — shrank. Many barns became outdated and were torn down to make room for larger, more modern structures. Some were demolished for subdivisions. Others were victims of wind. Or rot.
Later, barn wood came into vogue, and some barns were torn down to salvage the wood.
“It’s interesting that the barn wood became more valuable than the barn,” said Katherine Kirk, executive director of the Idaho Heritage Trust. “We’ve lost some of our beautiful barns as the wood was repurposed.”
With each barn lost, the desire to save others intensifies. “Our barns are being threatened by decay,” Kirk said. “There is high cost to maintain the barns, unless they are being used.”
If maintained, barns can last several hundred years, Kirk said, especially those with concrete walls.
The Times-News has posted a gallery of reader-contributed photos of southern Idaho barns.
Barn builder became an artisan
As barn builders experimented to get the most efficient use of space and materials, their designs also revealed the cultural influences and origins of builders and dairymen.
Henry Schick came to North America from Russia as an infant. His family had left Germany in a large migration, then left Russia when the Germans were persecuted in the late 1870s, Musgrave said. Eventually, the family landed in Chicago.
Schick became a homebuilder. His brother taught him how to pour concrete, and he picked up the art of forging iron. After Schick came west, Gustave Kunze got him started building barns and eventually got him interested in starting his own dairy.
Schick built or was involved in the building of many Buhl barns. The main portion of each is a rectangular, two-story, balloon-frame structure with a gambrel — double-sloped — roof. Schick’s barns can be distinguished by their concrete walls. Although Schick’s barns exhibit similarities in materials and workmanship, two distinct dairy barn types emerged: one more squat and the other narrower and taller.
While barns of many styles graced the south-central Idaho landscape, the Kunze barn was the first in the area built specifically for dairying. The architectural transition that followed is significant, said Fred Walters, a historical architect with years of experience in the influences of technology on Idaho’s agricultural buildings.
A rapid succession of roof styles emerged between 1912 and 1914 as dairymen asked for barns with more and more space in the second-story loft to store hay.
Kunze’s barn was enormous. It had to be in order to house, feed and milk 100 cows.
A ramp from the outside to the second story allowed hay wagons to drive into the loft’s 70-by-120-foot expanse to stack 200 tons of hay.
Twelve heavy, 25-foot-high posts were needed to support the 32-foot-high gambrel roof, which obstructed much-needed space and maneuverability in the loft and below.
Midway through construction of the Kunze barn, Schick began the Bowlby barn. That one rested the weight of the roof on the loft, rather than the ground, which opened up more room on the ground floor.
Schick’s third barn, built for Carlson, was similar to but smaller than the Bowlby barn. The main difference in the Carlson barn was its lack of a ramp to the hay loft. Hay was unloaded outside the building under the gable end of the barn. A hay sling hung from the hay hood extending from the roof, which protected the hay door at loft level. Hay was raised in the sling to the loft and stacked, using a track-and-pulley system.
Then Schick’s barn designs began to take a dramatic departure from the first three, as the barns became significantly narrower but proportionately taller.
The upward-stretched gambrel roofs, flared at the eaves, were topped with uniquely handcrafted cupolas, creating a striking appearance, even from a distance.
Schick built the Max Dau barn in 1913, then followed it with his own barn of nearly identical construction, but on a grand scale.