BARN AGAIN!: Before and after
By Mary Humstone and John Walter
BARN AGAIN! has been around for 25 years, but there's never been a barn rehab quite as remarkable as the one undertaken by Roy and Karin Clinesmith of Benge, Washington. Hoping for financial assistance from the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, the Clinesmiths set out to fix up their former dairy barn and use it for storing equipment. They were awarded a grant from the state agency in February 2010 – and then the roof collapsed. Undeterred, they enlisted the help of neighbors and friends, including a local crane operator who had once milked cows in the barn.
In a dramatic rescue operation, the crane lifted the center section of the roof off of the walls and held it up for two weeks while the barn was rebuilt underneath it. The heavy timber frame was repaired, walls were lifted upright, and the roof was gently lowered back down. After repairs to the roof, some siding replacement, and rebuilt windows and doors, the barn is back in use and is a major historic attraction in Adams County.
When Successful Farming magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation teamed up to launch BARN AGAIN! in 1986, farmers were asked for their ideas on the best ways to save older farm buildings. BARN AGAIN! created a contest, offering cash awards to farmers who had rehabbed their older barns for new or continued farming use. More than 500 farmers responded – not only completing the contest form but also sending along scrapbooks, essays, poems, and family photos. Because of this outpouring of interest, the one-year program became a long-term commitment.
Over the past 25 years, the program has shared innovative ideas from farmers about new uses for older barns and has developed technical information to help guide the barn rehabilitation process from roof to foundation. Along the way, the program inspired hundreds of individual barn owners to fix up their barns, and it helped states and counties develop their own barn preservation programs.
Still going strong
To find out how the award-winning barns have weathered the years since that initial program, Successful Farming magazine recently conducted a survey of 188 BARN AGAIN! award winners from 1988 to 2009. The majority of respondents say they continue to use their barns, primarily for traditional farming uses such as livestock, machinery storage, and hay or grain storage. New uses include a feed mill, seed processing, packing produce, Christmas tree sales and wreath making, farm market, carpentry/woodworking shop, and weddings.
Furthermore, 70% say their barn is “always in use” and “very important” to their farming operation. All but three say the barn is important to their family “for personal or aesthetic reasons.”
Old barns reborn
In the true spirit of BARN AGAIN!, Eugene and Jeff Marshall of Elm Creek, Nebraska, write, “We take great pride in the fact that we preserved a local landmark and yet have upgraded the facilities to be a modern working cattle facility.”
Others demonstrated the versatility of older barns. Like many farmers in the 1980s, Dan Dykstra of Wayland, Michigan, had converted his barn for hog farrowing at the time of his award. “The hogs are gone, and now the barn houses a feed mill for making feed for turkeys. About 8,000 tons a year of feed is made in the barn,” he writes.
Former hog farmer Curtis Pilgrim of Thomson, Illinois, converted his barn into a first-rate woodworking shop. “It smells a lot better these days,” he jokes.
Most award winners have been motivated to improve their barns more because of their importance to a family history or their status as local landmarks than by the money saved over building new. As Pat and Ron Hartman of Elgin, Illinois, put it, “The barn is our claim to fame.”
For some, barns are poignant but loving memorials. Kevin Gowdy of Cades, South Carolina, writes, “My father has since died. This was a labor of love for him. Every time I look at these barns, I think of him.”