BARN AGAIN! began as a regional project by the Mountains/ Plains Office of the National Trust. It was 1987, when the country was in the midst of a severe farm crisis. Barn owners were being told by agricultural engineers, extension agents, banks, and fellow farmers to demolish their old barns -- many built by relatives and countrymen generations before -- and replace them with shiny new pole barns and metal sheds better suited toward the new types of large-scale farming. With farmsteads generally located far from populated areas, there were few options for adaptive use.
But were the historic barns really obsolete for farming? The National Trust and Successful Farming magazine joined forces to find out.
A three-page spread in Successful Farming asked the public for ideas on how historic barns could be kept in use and introduced a national awards program. This was conceived as a one-year program, but when hundreds of entries came in, it became clear that BARN AGAIN! had just touched the surface of barn owners’ needs and barn enthusiasts’ interest.
The program’s approach from the beginning was to show how new mass production technologies could be incorporated into older farm structures by making adaptations, such as creating larger door cuts and using trusses to open up interior clearspan space. Four demonstration projects were undertaken in 1988, with funding provided by John Deere and Pioneer Seed. BARN AGAIN! paid for design services and materials in exchange for the opportunity to document the process and costs. The results were outstanding; many repairs were done for as little as a third of what building new would have cost (using farmer labor to minimize expenses), and the finished product contained more square footage and was of higher quality. Two of the barns were listed in the National Register of Historic Places and received the 20 percent federal rehabilitation tax credit, and another received the 10 percent credit.
Program staff produced BARN AGAIN! A Guide to Rehabilitation of Older Farm Buildings in 1992, followed by the popular “Barn Aid” series providing advice on repairing foundations and roofs, taking care of exterior walls, and modifying interiors for new agricultural uses. A one-hour public television program was produced with the help of Nebraska ETV Network/University of Nebraska- Lincoln Television. An exhibit on historic barns, co-sponsored by the National Building Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, has been in 24 states.
The ideas presented through these projects have gradually entered the consciousness of many barn owners who might have otherwise destroyed their historic treasures. There is now less opposition to the idea of saving older rural outbuildings. Barns are still being lost due to farm consolidation, suburban sprawl, and benign neglect, but these losses have, in turn, awakened others to appreciate these buildings’ traditional craftsmanship and role in America’s rural heritage.
This growing concern has led to the creation of 11 statewide barn preservation programs, some directly guided by BARN AGAIN!, others evolving from local efforts. BARN AGAIN! provides advice and encouragement to all these groups as it works to draw them into a cohesive network. This connection allows for the exchange of ideas; for sharing of speakers, contractors, publications, bylaws, and resource lists; and for obtaining services together at a reduced cost.
Today the BARN AGAIN! program has been reenergized thanks to a generous gift from Matthew and Ellen Simmons. BARN AGAIN! is currently fighting for federal funding to implement the Historic Barn Program included in the 2002 Farm Bill. It is working in various states to encourage tax relief and grant or loan programs for restoration work, and to discourage unfair insurance practices. The program is also investigating new roles for historic barns and farm buildings in New Agriculture, which develops natural and organic products, direct-to-market sales, and localized marketing to spur premiums for smaller operations. And it is researching possible adaptive uses. These efforts, along with its core work of advising individuals and organizations and raising awareness through demonstration and education projects, will keep BARN AGAIN! busy and enthusiastic for some time to come.
Publication Date: July/August 2004