Typically, talks of historic preservation often find architectural wonders such as elaborate mansions and grand public buildings, but a growing appreciation exists for the unassuming workhorses of our past — barns. This is especially true here in the Yakima Valley, where these beacons of agricultural history speak volumes about the region’s carefully cultivated roots. Today, these magnificent and sturdy barn structures still stand, each weathered board and handcrafted beam whispering tales of resilience, innovation, and the enduring legacy of the Yakima farmer.

Yakima Historic Barns
Visitors to the O.J. Gendron Ranch will undoubtedly feel as if they’re traveling back in time to experience the hands-on, everyday farm life of the 1920s. Photo courtesy: Washington Trust

O.J. Gendron Ranch

6702 Bell Road, Yakima

Constructed circa 1912 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, the O.J. Gendron Ranch is described as embodying “the distinctive characteristics of a typical subsistence and hop farm during the early part of the 20th century” on its nomination form. The large, gambrel roof barn sits on a stone foundation and is clad with shiplap siding. Its roof, with its boxed eaves, is covered with cedar shakes and in the center is a simple, vented cupola with a side-facing gable roof. A loafing shed can be found attached to the south façade of the barn, which enabled livestock to get out of the weather.

The east side of the barn has an exterior hoist at the apex of the gable. In the barn’s upper loft space, hay bails and other heavy objects could enter through a large door on the gable end that slides up and down by manually manipulating heavy weights on the inside. Overhead on the inside, the loft extends to the middle section of the barn, with a round granary situated in the northwest corner and a hay chute in the southwest corner. The lower east side of the barn, below the loft, housed the workhorse team and milk cow.

At the front of the property sits the O.J. Gendron farmhouse that started it all, a modest one-story dwelling with a side-facing gable roof and several additions erected in 1904. As the family grew, the building was expanded, and additions were made to the property, including a washhouse, farm shop/garage, pigeon house/tack room, hop kiln, and chicken coop. Visitors to the house and barn will undoubtedly feel as if they’re traveling back in time to experience the hands-on, everyday farm life of the 1920s.

Yakima Historic Barns
The Cornell Farmstead, otherwise known as Marble Ranch, is a rare find in Washington as a round barn. Photo credit: Jon Roanhaus

Cornell Farmstead

Pleasant Road & Old Prosser Road, Grandview

A barn-find of the unique kind can be found in Grandview at the Cornell Farmstead. Built initially for dairy farmer S.D. Cornell between 1912 and 1916, the property boasts a big, red, found barn that is 200 feet in circumference, with a centrally placed silo 50 feet in circumference. This silo rises through the barn’s conical roof, ending about 25 feet above the barn with the words “Marble Ranch” in blank ink against the white topper. While round barns weren’t unusual for the time period, they are quite uncommon in Washington, with less than a dozen round barns believed to exist in the state, which prompted the addition of this regional oddity to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Today, the barn’s interior is one of the most well-preserved in the region. In fact, the lower level, which is accessed through sliding doors, has original wooden floors and once housed cattle in stanchions arranged around the central silo but is currently only used for storage instead of dairy farming.

Along with the barn, the property also includes a frame farmhouse that similarly retains excellent integrity and remains an outstanding example of farmhouses of the period influenced by the Colonial Revival as well as by vernacular cottages. After being sold by Cornell, the ranch was then owned by John Marble beginning in 1945. He quickly became one the world’s leading growers of irises as he turned the surrounding property into an iris farm, using the barn itself as storage. The house and barn are adjacent to extensive orchard tracts and vineyards, further enhancing the old homestead feel of the property, which parallels the concord grapes that used to surround the barn just decades before.

Yakima Historic Barns
The James Gleed Barn is one of the oldest barns in the Yakima Valley, having been built in 1885. Photo credit: Jon Roanhaus

James Gleed Barn

1960 Old Naches Hwy, Naches

Perhaps the oldest barn on the list, the James Gleed Barn was built in 1885 as a cattle and horse barn for Massachusetts native and Civil War veteran James Gleed. The barn was built with hand-hewn posts and beams with mortise and tenon joints, and wooden pegs, with the structure considered an “exceptionally well-preserved example of heavy timber frame and barn construction in the Yakima Valley,” according to its registration form on the National Register of Historic Places. It was added to the list in 1990 and is highly regarded as one of the most important historic structures on a farmstead that now includes extensive orchards, an irrigation canal, and several non-historic farm buildings.

Thanks to the homestead’s prime location, Gleed secured a career as a successful rancher and hay farmer with the help of this early irrigation system. Before settling on the land, he had grown up in Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado before he, his wife, four daughters, and father-in-law packed a covered wagon and set out for Walla Walla in 1878. However, as they edged closer to the city and discovered that Walla Walla was in the midst of a diphtheria epidemic, they decided to keep going to Yakima City, otherwise now known as Union Gap.

Robert Scott of Naches, along with his sons Walter and Bob, built the barn for the Gleed family. It sits on a stone foundation, laid without mortar, and rises to a gabled roof with wood shingles. A one-story shed roof stable projects 14 feet from the barn on the south and east sides, and a polygonal silo is adjacent to the barn on the south. The barn’s interior includes a cattle shed and horse stable on the lower level with a hayloft above. To this day, the barn retains excellent interior and exterior integrity and has essentially been unchanged since its construction over 100 years ago.

Beyond functional structures, Yakima’s historic barns are testaments to a bygone era, offering a unique opportunity for today’s residents to connect with the past, understand the present, and appreciate the enduring spirit of agriculture here in the Valley. By appreciating these architectural workhorses, we not only preserve a piece of history but also acknowledge the vital role agriculture plays in shaping the region’s past, present, and future.

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