My Best Sources for Barn Information
By Charles Leik, Editor, The Barn Journal
|I like to characterize interest in barns "as shallow but wide" and by that I mean that people who value Americana such as covered bridges, lighthouses and grist mills, naturally like barns but usually have limited knowledge of rural buildings and agriculture. They need help to understand the barns they view from the Interstate.
Likewise, those seeking resources to appraise the condition of their barns and find materials and contractors are frequently at a loss of where to find information. You already have in your hands an issue of Period Homes that is a wonderful source of barn information and I'm happy to mention other resources valuable to the barn preservationist and aficionado.
When I helped found The Barn Journal (TBJ) in June 1996 I quickly learned that finding information on barns was a major impediment to owners with maintenance and preservation goals. The compilation and organization of information has been one of TBJ's principal contributions towards its purpose of "Increasing the appreciation and preservation of vernacular rural architecture." However, the publishing of accurate and current information is daunting. Contact information changes, new officers are elected, contractors enter the business and others leave, and museums routinely change their hours of operation.
Nevertheless, TBJ has begun to organize lists of contractors by state, a schedule of barn-related activities such as self-drive tours and festivals, a bibliography of books, and a list of "wanted" or "for sale" barn frames organized by state. Other TBJ resources are a Guestbook that now contains hundreds of readers' comments on barn-related topics, and Internet links. A click lets you access a wealth of knowledge and experience. Please visit TBJ at www.thebarnjournal.org.
The prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsors the Barn Again! program. Barn Again! supports preservation by annually recognizing families that find adaptive uses in agriculture for barns, by sponsoring a series of traveling exhibits that popularize barn preservation and publishing technical information on building preservation. The Trust can be visited at www.nthp.org.
The Timber Framers Guild has about 1400 members whose set of skills are very relevant to barn preservation since until the 20th century most barns were post and beam construction. Timber Framers also do homes - both new and barn conversions - and repairs to other timbered structures such as church steeples and covered bridges. The Framers are at www.tfguild.org.
Barn Preservation Networks have been established in a number of states, primarily in the East and Midwest. The Michigan Barn Preservation Network (MBPN) is a good example. The MBPN publishes a newsletter and holds an annual conference at Michigan State University. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York have similar programs.
Farm-oriented museums and events are located throughout North America. Usually the staffs are knowledgeable in interpreting farm buildings of different types and periods. Examples of these museums are the Living History Farms, IA; Landis Valley Farm Museum, PA; Malabar Farm, OH; Upper Canada Village, ON; Carroll County Farm Museum, MD; the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm, MI; Garfield Farm and Inn Museum, IL; Shelburne Museum, VT; and the annual Fulton County Round Barn Festival, IN.
In this age of the Internet, books and videos are holding their own. Besides the "coffee table" books with inspiring photos (Barn, Endersby, 1992), books range from scholarly treatments (The Pennsylvania Barn, Ensminger, 1992 and The Old Barn Book, Noble, 1995) to drawings of period barns (American Country Building Design, Berg, 1997), and reminiscences (Stories from the Round Barn, Jackson, 1997). Simply use the search word "barn" at Amazon.com or at your favorite "bricks and mortar" bookstore and you have a plethora of barn resources.
I have a number of videos in my collection that feature barn raisings or the efforts of a barn preservation group. If you are interested in post and beam construction you will enjoy videos of the barn raisings at Malabar State Park, OH, 1994 and the Herrick Barn at Newark Valley, NY 1999. Videos are available at many farm-oriented museums.
Agricultural extension services at state universities will at the least have staff who can furnish leads. At best the school will have personnel who are expert in barn preservation and can recommend technical and human resources in your area. Thomas Visser, University of Vermont; Chuck Law, University of WI; James Papritan, Ohio State; Bill Kimball, MSU, East Lansing; and Neal Harl, Ames are excellent examples of these resources.
Historical societies are organized on every level of government-from the state to the township and village. Some are general in nature while others were founded to save a specific building. If you are new to the locality, members of historical societies are an excellent source for local lore and information on your property, and a great way to network in a new community.
The classified pages of rural publications often carry several ads of individuals specializing in barn straightening, painting, roofing, structural work, moving and stone masonry. Another source for contractors is a local building supply store. Recently, I needed a new roof on a barn in suburban Virginia and found a contractor by calling a lumberyard. They were happy to recommend several of their leading customers; another call and the contractor arranged to provide an estimate.
Many of the most relevant resources are local in nature and available through word of mouth; it sometimes takes ingenious sleuthing to find this information but you do meet the nicest people along the way.
A famous advertising slogan for the Packard car was, "Ask the Man who Owns One." I've had only good experiences in introducing myself to owners of interesting barns that I saw from the highway. Most people like to talk about their property and if the barn is well kept and obviously valued, you have found an energized teacher and lead to networking with other barn owners.
Good Luck! I know that your project is going to "deepen and broaden" the interest in barns!