Wasatch Mountains
Antique Wood-structured Granaries of Northern Utah

Joan Shaw
 
 

High Creek Granary, Cove, Utah, 1996

From Cache Valley's U.S. Highway 91 near the Idaho border, turn at the Forest Service sign on 12100 North andHigh Creek Granary follow this gently winding route north and east.  You'll pass small, well-kept farms, neat fields, a lot of black and white cows. Behind and to your left will be the pale and misty sweep of the valley in winter. Where the road you're traveling curves to the right through a tangled stand of bare trees and brush, you'll see, looming up ahead of you, a grand old granary that's stood on the banks of High Creek for 133 years - the High Creek Granary, shown at right.

With its rock foundation and four-foot high cupola, the building rises to approximately fifty feet. The bottom half is framed and covered with drop-lap siding. The top half is stacked two-by-fours, each course nailed to the one below.

The east and south are the good sides. The ghost of the attached mill--long gone--shows on the west side of the building in two strips of unpainted wood. There's a good bit of deterioration at the top, and some of the rock foundation has fallen away on the north. The flume could well have been behind this foundation; Florence Allen of Cove, Utah, remembers the stream that had been diverted to it. The granary itself was once part of the High Creek Grist Mill built by William D. Hendricks and Goudy A. Hogan in 1862. (Since this piece was written, and as of November 1999, the roof and part of the top courses of the building have collapsed.)

High Creek Granary 1996

 Another building of this type, pictured above, can be found in Hyrum at First North and Center. It's said to be the tallest wooden granary in Utah, partly by virtue of the square, tower-like structure on the top. It was built by A.J. Peterson over a period of 13 years and opened for operation in 1918. This landmark has just recently been sold and is now destined for a new life as a private residence.

Hyrum Granary There are other two-by-four granaries in Cache Valley, though none so spectacular as these two. There are six still standing within a three-mile radius in Lewiston. Among them is the Bodily's granary on 800 South near South Main which is still used for storing grain, and the 1875 Bergeson granary on a hill overlooking the Cub River which has been restored and renovated into a workshop and apartment.

On 1600 South in Lewiston, there are two granaries with interesting histories. At 200 West, Apostle Marriner Wood Merrill of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints built a granary with a dovecote on the top (now owned by Larry Hyer and pictured below), and at 430 East, the Greg Karren property  has a granary that was moved there by an early settler of Lewiston, William Telford, from its original site at the old Owen's mill on the west side of Lewiston's City Center.

In Richmond, the Valley Veterinary Service operates out of a small converted granary on 250 East. Another Richmond granary stands on the west side of Richmond on the Mendenhall property at 8588 North, otherwise known at Highway 91.

Hyrum Granary 1996

A modified granary set amid a cluster of homes near the Smithfield cemetery was moved there by author Joan Sanders many years ago and refurbished as a studio.

Construction unique to the region?
 
 

Larry Hyer Granary
The Larry Hyer family's granary with dovecote on roof

These buildings are distinguished by a construction that, at first blush, appears unique to this region, in that the corners are not notched or dovetailed as in other horizontal timber-walled structures in the West. (See sketches of corner joints, below.) Rather, the two-by-fours are stacked and nailed at intervals of six to eight inches, in a process some call "false timbering."

In many of these buildings, like the Cove granary and The Valley Veterinary Service office, every other board extends several inches through the corners, shown in the photo below, left.. In others,  the ends are sawed flush; two of these can be seen on Lewiston's Main Street between 300 and 800 South - the Lewiston Relief Society granary, still showing a wash of red paint, and the old Rogers granary  on the Gregory property. A corner of the Relief Society building is shown below, right.

All derive their stability from solid two-by-four walls incorporated as the structure was built, dividing the granaries into compartments or bins. These walls show up on the outside as vertical lines formed by the ends of the two-by-fours. In Hyrum's granary, for instance,  two lines show on all four sides of the granary, indicating nine compartments.

Most long-time residents say that the wood in these valley granaries came primarily from old growth “red pine” found in the surrounding mountains. These trees were believed to have dated from centuries earlier during an era of heavier precipitation in the valley and, in fact, evidence of this growth can be found in sketches made by early explorers. Later studies showed, however, that the “red pine” used by the settlers was actually Douglasfir. Dense and fine-grained, this old wood when cut and planed today is closer in texture and weight to hardwood than soft pine.
 

Corner Extensions Flush corners
Corner Extensions, left, flush corners, right
Accomplished carpenters, rich in woodworking skills

In attempting to discover the origins of two-by-four granary construction, we might look for a few minutes at the settlers who built them. Jenny Bergeson, daughter-in-law of an early Lewiston settler from Denmark, Niels Bergeson, mentions in her autobiography that Niels used the expertise of his shipbuilding forebears in the construction of his own granary overlooking the Cub River. This link with shipbuilding in Denmark and, in fact, in all Scandinavian countries, is one of the more fascinating aspects in searching out the background of these structures.

In early Scandinavia, timber was used widely not only for ships, and not only for farm houses, barns, and sheds, but also for elaborate churches and public buildings. Many of these old buildings in Scandinavia are considered national treasures today, some of them centuries old. Moreover, carpenters who had worked on this type of construction had more than likely learned their trade in the shipyards.

The shipbuilding trade couldn't brook shoddy workmanship; carpentry skills among nineteenth century Scandinavians were therefore honed to a fine edge early on. Scandinavian boys of six and seven often spent time after school working as helpers in the shipyards, and by twelve or fourteen, given enough interest in the work, they left school and  were apprenticed to the trade. By the time carpenters reached journeyman or master, they'd have developed skills that would seem incredible today.
 

Four types of corners in nineteenth century outbuilding construction

An additional fact in historic shipbuilding is that early wooden ships were built from the outside in, with thick planks fastened together, edge to edge, and with the ribs put in only after the shell had taken shape. It's tempting to imagine this edge-to-edge technique carried over to the two-by-four granaries found in this region. But Scandinavian building construction on land invariably employed notched or dovetailed corners, with chinking in the cracks.

Carpentry excellence was not confined to the Scandinavian countries, however. It was prevalent also in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in the British Isles - where, in fact, there had been widespread shipbuilding going on as well.

People from all these countries, rich in woodworking skills, came to Cache Valley, Utah, as immigrants. There were more than enough expert woodworkers here during the early part of the valley's settlement to have influenced the building of these granaries.

The need for quick construction

Perhaps the buildings' origins lie in the simple fact that seasoned wood was a luxury few pioneers could afford. In the best of all possible woodworking worlds, it takes a year for lumber to be considered seasoned enough to insure that boards incorporated into a structure will not warp. The pioneers at the time of their entrance into Cache Valley in the 1860s and 1870s were desperate for quick storage. Nailing stacked two-by-fours together would avoid the inevitable warping of green wood and, what's more, would guarantee very little shrinkage.

However, this rush into construction would not have held true for the tall Hyrum granary, built in the first and second decades of 1900, nor the Valley Veterinary's granary, built in 1906. A number of Lewiston's granaries, in fact, were built around the turn of the century.

 The term "false timbering," mentioned earlier, has the sound of a building technique that might have been used generally in the last century, and not only in Cache Valley. This technique would result in the strongest possible wall at the time, well capable of withstanding pressures exerted by many tons of grain. For all we know, there may be two-by-four granaries still standing throughout Utah and the West, unknown to all except those living near them. In fact, after this piece was first published, many other two-by-four buildings have come to light – located in Idaho and Wyoming.

Published information on Utah's rural outbuildings is scant, and on its two-by-four granaries nonexistent. Questioned about this lack, the architectural historian in the Utah State Historical Society office in Salt Lake described to me a new program to be inaugurated during Utah's Centennial year in which researchers will be sent out into Utah's farming communities to document as much as possible the architecture of rural outbuildings - a subject pretty much neglected up to now. The results of this program will be interesting to read. Perhaps in a few more years, information on Cache Valley's two-by-four granaries will become more available for those of us intrigued by this construction.



Many thanks to Florence Allen of Cove, Ted Kincaid of Hyrum, and Renee and Sid Karren, Edis Taggart, and Virginia Van Orden of Lewiston for help on this piece, and to Melanie Shaw for the corner sketches. Information on Scandinavian shipbuilding and architecture can be found in Evolution of the Wooden Ship by Greenhill and Manning; and Architecture in the Scandinavian Countries by Donnelly. Jenny Bergeson's remarks are found in her autobiography, edited by her daughter, the late Edythe Bair. Copies of this Jenny Bergeson's autobiography can be found in the Lewiston Library and in Utah State University's Special Collections in the Merrill Library on campus.

Illustration Credits:
All photos by Joan Shaw
Sketches of corner joints by Melanie Shaw
This history and the ones following were initiated by Russell N. Hirst, Jr., MD, Mayor of Lewiston, to coincide with Utah's Centennial Year. An advisory board was created consisting of a number of North Cache Valley's older citizens, the mayor himself, and Joan Shaw as writer and researcher.The object was to get as much as possible of these older citizens' memories recorded for future readers. The results were and still are distributed to the people of Lewiston in their montly water bills.These histories are now available in their original form at http://www.lewiston.lib.ut.us/the_history_of_lewiston.htm . Following is the list of people who make up the LEWISTON-NORTH CACHE VALLEY HISTORICAL BOARD, headquartered at 29 South Main Street, Lewiston, Utah 84320. The Board is still in effect and is still contributing raw material to this series.

Steering Committee
Mayor Russell  N. Hirst, Writer Joan Shaw, Research Associate Melanie Shaw, 
  Consultant Anne Buttars,  Acting Curator/Head, Utah State University's Special Collections & Archives
Board members
Florence Allen, J. Arbon Christensen, Dorothy Gilbert, Wells Jackson, Rosa Melartin, Theon Nielsen, Julia Rawlins, Howard Shuldberg, Estelle Smith, Sadie Sorenson, Guy Swendsen, Edis Taggart, Virginia Van Orden, Lloyd Walker


Link for books on the subject of barns, farm buildings, and the history of barns:



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