Barn lovers are a dedicated group. They will spend hours in a dark room on a beautiful day looking at slides of barns and swapping photographs and stories. They will endure freezing temperatures in unheated haymows studying the structural systems of post and beam barns or marveling at the cathedral-like spaces shaped by homemade trusses.
They also will fight for the buildings they love. During the last year barn lovers have rallied in unprecedented numbers to save our nation`s historic barns. A recent workshop in Wichita, Kansas, attracted 226 participants, most of them farmers. "People are hungry for information about how to preserve and use their barns," says workshop organizer Bob Neier of the Sedgwick County Extension Service. Another 500 Midwesterners participated in similar workshops in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. More than 140 people have joined the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, a statewide barn preservation organization, and a similar organization being formed in Wisconsin has already attracted more than 100 members. "There`s a great interest in historic barns, and it`s growing,"says National Trust Advisor Bill Kimball, a professor emeritus at Michigan State University.
When the Mountains/Plains Regional Office of the National Trust and Successful Farming magazine launched the BARN AGAIN! program in 1987, historic barns were considered doomed. Obsolete for modern farming needs and too expensive to maintain as family heirlooms, old barns appeared destined to be preserved only in photographs and memories. "Those old barns are okay for farmers who farm the old way," one farmer said, "but modern farmers need new buildings." Agricultural professionals scoffed at the idea that older barns could be economically used on working farms and suggested we instead direct our efforts at saving a few barns as museums. Nine years and hundreds of success stories later, that attitude is starting to change. Through demonstration projects, case studies, publications, technical assistance, and an awards program, BARN AGAIN! has been chipping away at the widely accepted premise that new is better. The program has shown how historic barns can be adapted for new farming uses ranging from dairy, hog, and cattle operations to machinery or grain storage.
Barn preservation techniques have proven to be cost-effective alternatives to tearing down the old barn and putting up a new building. "Our statistics show that farmers save more than two dollars for every dollar spent rehabilitating an older barn," says program confounder John Walter of Successful Farming magazine. Today, the BARN AGAIN! program, still operating out of the Trust`s Mountains/Plains Regional Office in Denver, provides advice, information, and referrals to an average of 600 barn owners each year. The program has published several technical guides, including the new Barn-Aid series, specifically targeted to owners of historic barns.
To draw national attention to the personal efforts of farmers and ranchers who are quietly doing their part to preserve historic rural resources, BARN AGAIN! sponsors annual awards for the best examples of historic barns rehabilitated for farming use. Award-winning projects are used as models to demonstrate preservation techniques and new uses for older barns. BARN AGAIN! also works with partners to develop statewide barn preservation programs and special projects. A partnership with Nebraska Educational Television produced the popular public television program Barn Again! Celebrating the Restoration of Historic Farm Buildings. The program is currently working with SITES, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, to adapt the National Building Museum exhibit Barn Again! to a traveling exhibition which will be available in both small and large formats starting in February 1997.
|Since BARN AGAIN! was founded in 1987, six states have developed their own barn preservation programs.
- Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana in cooperation with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service recently organized BARN AGAIN! in Indiana, a series of workshops for owners of historic rural buildings. Contact Marsh Davis, HLFI, (317) 639-4535.
- More than 900 Michigan residents have participated in 13 barn preservation and rural revitalization workshops cosponsored by Michigan State University, the Michigan Bureau of History, and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Contact Vera Wiltse, Michigan Barn Preservation Network, (517) 772-0911, ext. 302.
- The North Dakota Historical Society has sponsored a series of barn rehabilitation workshops and has encouraged the state`s farmers to apply for national BARN AGAIN! awards. The society also produced a traveling exhibition on historic barns of North Dakota. Contact Lou Hafermehl, Deputy SHPO, (701) 328-2672.
- The Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Historical Society`s Preservation Office launched BARN AGAIN! in Ohio in early 1996. The program offers a series of workshops and technical information for barn owners. Contact Jim Papritan, OSU Extension, (614) 292-7851.
- Vermont BARN AGAIN! is a statewide awards program cosponsored by the National Trust, the Vermont Department of Agriculture, and the University of Vermont EPIC Program, with funding from the Kellogg Foundation. Since 1994, 34 Vermont farmers have received a total of $20,000 in cash awards for their preservation efforts. Contact Jennifer Grahovac, Vermont Department of Agriculture, (802) 828-2416.
- The University of Wisconsin-Extension, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation started the Wisconsin Barn Preservation Initiative "to help preserve and protect many of Wisconsin`s historic agricultural buildings." The program includes workshops and technical information. A statewide barn preservation organization is being formed to focus attention on barn preservation in the state. Contact Chuck Law, UW-Extension, (608) 265-2501.
Publication Date: July/August 1996