New Interest in Barns

Conserving Ohio's historic barns is obviously a matter of good stewardship. Barns that are still in use have a much greater chance of survival than those that are not, but farming methods have changed greatly since the 19th century, and many barns are no longer considered worth maintaining. Keeping these barns from being lost will either require support from community or governmental agencies or a change in perception by their owners as to their value. Neither of these goals is easily accomplished.

Governmental sources of funding are slow in coming but some states have realized the importance and significance of their barns and have established grant programs for barn conservation. New York State began a program in 2000 that made $2,000,000 available for barn repairs. The program was set up on an application basis and roughly 50 barns are selected each year to receive funds based on their needs. Program administrator Randy Nash soon realized the dilemma created by the program. Although many more applications were received than could be accepted, finding the qualified contractors needed to do the repairs was impossible. Many of the original repair grants have yet to be fulfilled.

A similar form of legislation which passed at a federal level in 2002 also met a roadblock. Although the Historic Barn Preservation Program was accepted as part of the Farm Bill, the $25,000,000 it made available has yet to be funded. If this funding were to become available it would be distributed through State Historic Preservation Offices and statewide non-profit organizations established with a focus on barn conservation. Many states have seen the establishment of these types of "grass roots" organizations. These include the New York State Barn Coalition, Michigan Barn Preservation Network and Friends of Ohio Barns. These types of organizations provide information through newsletters, workshops and conferences to barn owners as well as barn lovers about the history of barns and barn types as well as barn lore and maintenance guidelines.

On a national level the National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsored its first "barn tour" during the National Preservation Conference held in 2002 in Cleveland. The sold out bus tour visited several barns throughout Geauga County including a working Amish farm still using the barn to support their horse powered farming operation. Another successful program focused on barns is the The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

If Ohio's beautiful barns are to survive as a symbol of our great agricultural heritage, some basic changes have to occur. These changes can happen at many levels from owner awareness to state budget line items, but nothing will happen without public interest and support. The steady decline and loss of the barn as a symbol of Ohio does not have to be inevitable, but if it goes unchecked we will no longer have to suffer looking at barns collapsing along our roadways. They will all be gone.