Researchers can now access a great collection of drawings of agricultural and rural structures. Rural electrification, architecture, agricultural innovation, and even animal welfare are just a few of the themes that could be explored through these documents. Other possible topics for study include the history of women and children, as well as leisure studies. These drawings were created by the Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering and disseminated through the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. They have recently been inventoried by Special Collections and added to the department’s records.
More than 1100 drawings range in date from the 1920s to the 1990s. They include plans, elevations, details, and depictions, mostly of agricultural structures for cows, pigs, and chickens, but also for rabbits, sheep, and turkeys. They were used for feeding, breeding, and shelter. Some are structures built specifically for North Carolina county fairs. There are also plans for privately-owned farms and plants throughout North Carolina, usually for particular structures or landscaping elements. Farm equipment is also represented, such as feeders, spreaders, harvesters, and hay driers. Interestingly, designs for non-agricultural buildings and objects are also found in the collection. These include local community houses, 4-H camps, playgrounds, athletic fields, roadside stands and markets, cabins, vacation houses, and recreational equipment. They provide a rich historical archive of agricultural and recreational structures of North Carolina during this time period.
Some drawings reflect transitions in agriculture during the twentieth century. Those of a 1940 mule barn reflect old practices still in effect at the end of the Great Depression. From the 1940s, electric brooders and dehydrators show the impact of rural electrification. From 1976, a bulk curing barn for tobacco reveals the spread of new production techniques that resulted from research at colleges and universities (in this case, procedures developed at NC State). Also of note are drawings for curbside markets, used by rural women in home demonstration clubs to sell produce and earn their own money, and plans for a Swansboro, North Carolina, 4-H camp, originally a segregated facility for African American youth.
Many drawings were created through the Cooperative Farm Building Plan Exchange. Through this program, each land-grant university submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which then disseminated them to other land-grant institutions across the country. Farmers obtained plans from their local Cooperative Extension agents, free of charge, for construction on their farms. Therefore, this collection may document structures not just in North Carolina but throughout the entire United States. Some plans may have also been modified for the specific needs of individual North Carolina farms.
The drawings in this collection can be viewed at the Special Collections Reading Room of the D. H. Hill Library. Interested persons can select drawings from the inventory and then request them through our webform. The records of the Biological & Agricultural Engineering Department have not yet been fully digitized, but some texts and video are available on Special Collections’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections website. The Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering has existed since 1940, although courses in agricultural engineering date back to the founding of the university. A history of it exists on the department’s website.