UPDATED 3:30 p.m. July 21
Gerald Bishop watched the barn every day of his life.
He watched his neighbors, the McConaghys, run a thriving dairy out of the barn in the 1950s, their four boys up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows by hand. He watched the barn change ownership in the ’70s after the McConaghy parents had left and the kids had moved on. He watched the barn start to sink seven years ago and collapse after a bad storm last summer.
“I was desperate to try to save it,” said Gerald Bishop, 73, who owns the certified-organic Bishop Dairy on Egg & I Road. In February 2016, he purchased the barn along with the land formerly owned by the McConaghys.
The barn won't be around for much longer, he said. Going south on Beaver Valley Road (State Route 19) toward Port Ludlow, the barn's decimated north side appears, the roof caved in. The south side is intact but lopsided. Inside the 50-by 200-foot barn, debris is piled up to the ceiling.
The Bishops and McConaghys ran side-by-side dairies for more than 50 years in Jefferson County. Currently, Bishop Dairy is the only surviving dairy in the county.
John Francis, the McConaghy kids' grandfather, built the barn in 1915. It was an exceptionally well-designed barn, said Gerald Bishop's brother, Wayne Bishop, with a row of cows down each side, a space for baby calves, a hay loft and a grain cart that ran on a track through the barn. As kids, they made tunnels in the 50-foot haystacks next to the barn.
“It was one of the best barns you could imagine,” Wayne Bishop said.
Don McConaghy, 78, the second-oldest McConaghy boy, primarily remembers milking in the barn. When their dad took a job away from the farm, he retired the milking machines so the boys wouldn't mess around with them, leaving his sons and wife to milk 20 cows by hand. “My dad had manpower,” he said.
The Bishop kids weren't forced to work before school, Gerald Bishop said.
“Pat [McConaghy] would be sitting on the stool, and his head would be leaning into the cow, his hands on the cow’s teats, and be sound asleep,” he said.
Douglas and Opal McConaghy closed their dairy in 1969 and sold their land to Mario and Elizabeth Nicoli in 1973. The Nicolis used the land and barn for “nothing,” Wayne Bishop said. Roger Kennedy, a stepson of the Nicolis, rented the land to Gerald Bishop for 30 years, who used it for his dairy cattle. The Bishops contacted family members about restoring the barn, but they weren't interested, he said.
“It would have taken a lot of money, but it would have been there forever,” Wayne Bishop said.
The future the Bishops imagined for the barn? A dairy museum.
“Now that it's fell down, [people are] taking more pictures,” Gerald Bishop said. “It would have been nice if they could have drove into a place to walk through the barn and look at the way it used to be, the way the farmers used to work.”
The barn was built using old-growth Douglas fir and might have lasted another 100 years with maintenance, Wayne Bishop said. Once the barn is no longer, old timber and siding may be salvageable.
Don McConaghy, who lives in Kirkland, spoke with emotion about visiting the now-collapsed barn with his two surviving brothers last fall and earlier this year. “It's hard for us to [see], because we spent so many hours in that barn,” he said.
Gerald Bishop and his wife Dolores bought the Nicoli property with Chris and Christy Franson, and the four are presently co-owners of the entire property. Their plan to divide the property is currently in the Jefferson County permit process.
Son Derek Franson, who runs Franson Trucking and Excavating, is worried about trespassers and safety issues inside the barn.
“We've had some people steal stuff from the barn and [our] house,” he said of the farmhouse that dates to the early 1900s..
The Bishops have installed fences, electric wire and “keep out” signs to deter people from investigating – or injuring themselves – but have no plans to tear down or burn the barn. For now, they're happy to let the public enjoy it before it's gone.
Margie Gormly of Port Ludlow always admired the barn and is sad to see it slowly collapse. She began documenting the barn's demise with photos, starting in 2011.
“I can only think of all the stories that those red boards could tell,” she said. “Just imagine the people and events the old barn has witnessed.”
Bishop Dairy is living on the edge of survival, too.
For 30 years, Bishop shipped his milk to Darigold, but left after the “Goliath company” started lowering its prices, hitting small farmers hard, Gerald Bishop said. In 2007, he started selling to Organic Valley, an independent cooperative of organic farmers around the country.
“I was just a number, only a number to [Darigold],” he said. “When I got in with Organic Valley, I meant everything to them and they called me by my name.”
If Organic Valley had arrived five years earlier, a few more farms might have been saved, Wayne Bishop said.
Unable to find enough workers, Gerald Bishop considered quitting dairy altogether last year and began mixing in beef cattle.
“I had a lot of people disappointed when they heard I was going to shut the dairy down, and I was more disappointed myself,” he said.
Buying the Nicoli land was the way to keep the dairy alive, he said. “I kept driving down the road looking at [the land], thinking if I didn't have it, where would I be?”
The Bishops are third-generation farmers, and the McConaghys arrived in Jefferson County in the 1890s. Bishop hopes to preserve his farm, but part of the problem is that kids don't like to work anymore, he said.
After they graduated from high school, the six McConaghy kids had no interest in continuing farming – likely because they were worked so hard as kids, Don McConaghy said.
Life is both easier and more complicated now, the Bishop brothers said.
“Our entertainment was fishing on the creeks, picking cascara [bark], riding our bikes into Chimacum and Port Ludlow, every direction no traffic,” Gerald Bishop said. “We weren't staring at a cell phone, no drugs at all. Much fuller life than the kids have today.”