ROMNEY, W.Va. — In 1902, the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind purchased approximately 140 acres of land between what is now Route 28 and the South Branch Valley Railroad for $4,385.50.
Kids and staff raised all the food students consumed.
There was a cannery behind the administration building and what they didn’t use, they canned for use in the winter. Excess was sold to other state institutions.
The schools operated a farm on the land and in 1930 a state-of-the-art barn was constructed.
Today, the old barn is in need of major repair.
There are holes in various areas of the roof, the grounds are littered with debris and the interior of the barn has been used many years for storage.
A committee has been formed and the huge red barn located on Depot Street and owned by the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind is slated for repair and restoration.
“The barn renovation project is a wonderful opportunity for persons at the schools and in Romney and Hampshire County to work together to maintain a collective part of their history,” said Lynn Boyer, superintendent of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.
Saving the barn is in its beginning stages. Work has begun on fence repair.
Documentation is being made including photos of the damage of the interior and its contents.
Patsy Shank, the school’s executive director of finance and former superintendent, has been researching the purchase of the land, the birth of the farm and other documentation.
“No more interest has been shown in the barn than in the past thirty years,” said Shank. “People are going back to their roots, localizing how they do farming. I can see us moving toward localized farming. Wouldn’t that be wonderful for the kids?”
Getting the barn operating again and producing crops would be a great way to teach the kids, Shank said.
Prior to the opening of the new barn, another barn existed on campus, which held about 25 head of dairy cattle, a pigsty and chicken house. Once the new barn was finished, the old barn was torn down.
The old barn and out structures were located roughly in the vicinity of the current central supply and school greenhouse.
Built during the Great Depression, the new barn had room for 60 cows and eight horses, all divided in sections and separated.
It was actually three barns in one. Two sections measure 74 foot by 36 foot, and each was connected by a third section approximately 43 foot by 30 foot.
The main divisions were for 48 cows and 8 horses. Four pens were isolated from the rest of the herd for sick cattle.
There were two bullpens and two calf pens.
The central part of the upper story housed feed bins lined with galvanized iron.
Two carloads of ground feed could be stored, mixed, and easily transported to feed rooms on the first floor.
The loft could hold 100 tons of hay or other feed and the silo, which measured 14 foot by 37 foot, could store 108 tons of ensilage.
Feed room floors and driveways on the first floor were concrete.
Modern milking machines were installed.
The barn was a state-of-the-art project for its time.
At each of the cow stalls was an automated water fountain. The cow would press its nose to the fountain and could get water.
Cork flooring covered the floors in the stalls for comfort and to keep the cattle from slipping.
An overhead conveyor belt system carried silage down to animals out of the silo.
More carriers took waste and litter away, which was put in the waste treatment pit at the rear of the property.
Cost of the new barn was $16,662.07. Although the schools tried to get funding through the Legislature, they were turned down. Monies set aside for a rainy day fund were used to build the new barn.
Here’s a breakdown of the cost: building materials, $4,054.52; lumber, $2,972.87; shingles, $49.50; plumbing supplies, $56.52; electrical, $102.46; hardware, $939.74; paint, oil, varnish, $601.56; cement, $1,076.95; sand, gravel, plaster, $115.88; cut stone, $308.73; brick, $2,027.99; tile for silo, $692.55; barn equipment, $3,662.80.
In January 1943, the War Production Board in Washington, D.C. requested information on production at the schools.
In addition to acres of soybean and hay, the school reported the following to the war board: tomatoes, 1,633 bushel in 1941, 770 bushel in 1942 and 800 bushel in 1943; sweet corn, 375 bushel in 1941, 512 bushel in 1942 and 450 bushel in 1943.
The schools produced snap beans, carrots, 10,893 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables in 1941, 11,000 pounds in 1942 and 11,000 in 1943.
They made applesauce, canned pears, peaches, catsup and tomato juice, in addition to producing eggs, milk — 30,000 gallons in 1943, pork, and beef.
As the use of the farm decreased, parcels of land were sold and around the 1950s the barn was no longer used.
The schools’ land was sold in parcels over the years. Acreage was sold to build the old hospital, the Army Reserve, Kinney Shoe Factory, the Potomac Center, the city sewer and the state police building. All are now housed on what used to be school property.
Shank said there is a genuine interest to preserve the barn.
She said the agriculture group from the school is currently documenting all items in the barn.
“The state has to determine whether to discard things or if they have to be sent back,” said Shank.
“It’s a work in progress. We are looking back to preserve the past while looking at the future.”