The Preservation of Historic Barns
By Michael J. Auer
A mid-19th century barn in Litchfield, Maine
From the days when Thomas Jefferson envisioned the new republic as anation dependent on citizen farmers for its stability and its freedom, thefamily farm has been a vital image in the American consciousness.
As themain structures of farms, barns evoke a sense of tradition and security,of closeness to the land and community with the people who built them.
Even today the rural barn raising presents a forceful image of communityspirit. Just as many farmers built their barns before they built theirhouses, so too many farm families look to their old barns as links withtheir past. Old barns, furthermore, are often community landmarks and makethe past present. Such buildings embody ethnic traditions and local customs;they reflect changing farming practices and advances in building technology.
In the imagination they represent a whole way of life.
Unfortunately, historic barns are threatened by many factors. On farmlandnear cities, barns are often seen only in decay, as land is removed fromactive agricultural use.
In some regions, barns are dismantled for lumber,their beams sold for reuse in living rooms. Barn raisings have given wayto barn razings. Further threats to historic barns and other farm structuresare posed by changes in farm technology, involving much larger machinesand production facilities, and changes in the overall farm economy, includingincreasing farm size and declining rural populations.(1)
Yet historic barns can be refitted for continued use in agriculture,often at great savings over the cost of new buildings.
This story encouragesthe preservation of historic barns and other agricultural structures byencouraging their maintenance and use as agricultural buildings, and byadvancing their sensitive rehabilitation for new uses when their historicuse is no longer feasible.