4-H Barn Owl Day in Schenectady County (NY)!

In June, NBA Board Member Keith Cramer lead a workshop for Schenectady County 4-H in building nesting boxes for barn owls. Fourteen 4-H’ers each built an owl box. The boxes will be exhibited this summer at the County Fair.

Later, we had a presentation by Wes Laraway, Director of New York Wildlife Rescue Center, about  “Bringing Barn Owls Back to Eastern NY State”. The stars were two beautiful owls that had been healed of injuries at the Wildlife Rescue Center. Mr. Laraway explained the important role barn owls have in controlling rodents on a farm, and that if our farms had a place for the owls to nest, they would return. All these boxes will eventually be mounted at the 4-H’ers farms, so we will see if it works.

The workshop was a success and we already have some orders to sell more owl boxes. We hope to turn this into an annual event and help bring these wonderful birds back to our area farms.

Site Sponsor & Host: The Mabee Farm Historic Site.

Co-Sponsors: National Barn Alliance (NBA)  and Dutch Barn Preservation Society (DBPS).

The Heritage Barns of Indiana Project

McFadden Farms Stagecoach Barn in Posey County.

The Heritage Barns of Indiana Project is an on-going painting project which focuses on our dwindling heritage of early Indiana barns. The artist, Gwen Gutwein, a Barn Alliance member and  owner of

Gwen painting the Normandy Barn at the Indiana State Fair Grounds in Marion County.

a fine art studio/gallery in Fort Wayne, started this huge and important project in 2004.  She is striving to do paintings of at least two old and/or historic barns from each of Indiana’s 92 counties.  Along with the paintings, Gwen collects the barn’s distinctive history.  To date, she has completed over 110 out of the expected goal of 184 paintings.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art sponsored the traveling exhibit: First Fifty, Heritage Barns of Indiana.  They took Gwen’s first 50 completed paintings and their histories and put them on tour throughout Indiana.  The exhibit has cataloged over 168,000 viewers!  The painting tour is coming to a close this year after over three years of traveling.  The first fifty paintings will be available for purchase after the tour is completed.  The next group of 50 paintings will be available for exhibit soon.

Hippensteel Barn in DeKalb County.

Inspiration for the Barns of Indiana project sprang out of Gwen’s desire to focus attention on the beauty and demise of our barns.  The world zooms past the old barns, without a glance.  As the seasons pass into years the barns from earlier centuries quietly bow their heads, close their eyes and vanish.  Indiana has a treasure, our barns.  Venture into any old barn and you will be amazed at the building materials used, the unique designs and the quality of construction.  They reflect the diversity, ingenuity and integrity of our ancestors and are chocked full of rich history…a treasure to behold…an Indiana treasure.

Since 2008 Gwen has published a calendar with a barn painting featured on each month. The calendars also include each barn’s rich history.  The 2013

Amy & David Dance Barn in Lake County.

calendar is nearly complete with extensive information on a working hay press barn.  The calendars sell for $16.00.  Visit Gwen’s web site for details.

Thinking about moving a barn?

Guest post by member, Charles Bultman. He is an architect in Ann Arbor, Michigan who has been saving and adapting old, unwanted, barns into new uses; including homes, offices and retail spaces. 

The scene is easily conjured; a barn in a field, quietly marking time. It’s a picture that lingers. Few things are as simple as an old barn. But that simplicity evaporates when we consider their future?

There are about 660,000 historic barns left in the United States. And while that may sound like a lot, at the peak  of farming in America, around 1910, there were 6 million farms. If each farm had only one barn we have lost on  average 50,000 barns a year. But obviously their demise does not come about ‘on average’. As the years pass more and more barns fall into ruin; making 660,000 seem like a frighteningly small number to me.

So what is to become of relics like barns when the country has been steadily moving to a non-agrarian lifestyle, and shows no real sign of turning back? These icons in the landscape are stranded but they are not without love. That’s why it is not so simple.

Barns in our landscape are sublime. Like a mountain or a river, they have existed there for so long that you can come to believe they will be there forever. But they will not. We have all heard the reasons; too much to maintain, farm equipment is too big, fewer farms and fewer farmers, etc. etc. etc.

But didn’t we agree that barns are loved? Why does that not swing in their favor?

With few exceptions old wood barns are destined to one of three possible futures. The first is that the barn is maintained, or restored, to be a barn. This is the most obvious requiring simply that the foundation be kept in good repair, the roof be replaced in a timely manner, and the frame and siding are kept dry and secure. But of  course this costs money and most people do not spend this kind of money unless they need to. Without a farm these costs are difficult to justify, which is why the second future is the one we see the most; do little or nothing.

We all know many barns that are neglected and falling down and in most places they far outnumber those that are well-maintained.

Ironically, letting your barn fall down does not stir up the same level of passion as the third option; barns can be adapted to another use. While it may be the best use of a barn to keep it as a barn, the majority of barns will not be afforded that future. Maybe the farm has been developed into a sub-division or an office park and the barn is an anachronism in its location. Or maybe the road has been improved and widened leaving the barn right at the curb. Whatever the reason most barns will not be maintained and used as barns. So why not give them a new future?

Adapting barns gets complicated fast. Unlike other 100 to 200 year old buildings, old barns suffer a different fate, which leaves them in a specifically barn-like state of disrepair. Barns were never heated like occupied buildings were; except by the residual heat of animals and manure. So their foundations have been subjected to the relentless forces of freezing and thawing each year which slowly breaks them apart. Most barns’ stone foundations succumbed to these stresses years ago. But while broken many of these barns did not fall; they just languish with gaping holes in the old stone walls.

Also on many barns the most expensive maintenance item has been left undone; replacing the roof. Holes in a roof is a barn’s death knell. Once water is tracing through a wood barn, boards and timbers alike begin to rot. In a relatively short period of time nails no longer hold boards on, mortise and tenon joints open and rot, and the building begins to sag. Just a few seasons of this kind of exposure can reduce a massive timber-framed barn to the point of no return. But like great shipwrecks, the hulk of the barn can remain for decades.

Barns are tough however because they are timberframed. Unlike ‘modern’ carpentry, timber-framing is an ancient way of framing that uses continuous wooden beams which join together post to post to post to create a singular structural network that knits floors and walls and rafters into one structural organism. In direct contrast to a house of cards, which cascades to the ground when any one card is upset, a timberframe is joined together such that if one element becomes weakened, or is compromised, other elements get loaded differently and the frame continues to do its job despite the failure.

Even the way the timbers are taken from the log contributes to the timberframe’s success; embracing the natural strength of the tree. An onion is a fairly strong spherical form until it is sliced in two and the layers begin to unravel. Wood does much the same when squared. The beams in a timberframed barn are taken from the center of the tree leaving as many rings as possible uncut. And many of the beams in a barn are not even squared at all but are still ’of the tree’; they are rounded, tapered or limb-like. This retains as much of the natural and complete strength of the tree and was less work; removing more material to make the beam square just made it weaker.

When you also factor in that the trees these barns are built of, came from slow-growing, first-growth forests you really can understand why they are still standing after hundreds of years.

What does it take to adapt a barn?
Adapting a barn has an array of considerations that must be dealt with in order to have a successful project. And while those considerations can be itemized it is important to note that opinions will vary, even between seasoned professionals, as to the best way to meet all of a project’s goals. Also for this discussion I should point out that there really is no limit as to what an adapted barn could be used for. Old barns have been used to make new houses as well as offices but there are also stores, restaurants, and convention centers all made with barn frames. Many uses can easily be accommodated in a barn.

The first consideration with respect to adapting a barn is the foundation. As mentioned before, most of the time they are damaged beyond being reasonably repaired. But even if they are not damaged a stone foundation is dramatically inferior to a new reinforced concrete foundation with provisions for both insulation and drainage, such that using the old foundation is always difficult to justify. Also, as mentioned, the barn may be in a location that does not suit its future use, so the consideration goes quickly to moving the barn. A barn frame can be moved either intact or after some kind of systematic dismantling. Selecting which tactic is best is usually a balancing act weighing how many utility wires and bridge overpasses are between the existing and new sites, against the time it would take to dismantle the barn and put it back together again. A short move with few wires may prove economical as barns are fairly light buildings and their form and materials take the stresses of the move well. However given the ubiquity of modern utilities and other improvements there are many obstacles to moving a barn great distances while whole.

When it is decided that there are too many obstacles between where the barn is and where you may want it to be (and this turns out to be the case most of the time) we have the barn dismantled in somewhat the reverse order in which it was built. The roof and siding is stripped off, salvaging all of the materials possible, and then the frame is dismantled by pulling out the pegs and sliding tenons out of mortises. If done properly all of the framing materials are whole and unbroken. The barn’s parts are then loaded on trucks or into shipping containers, and then can be sent anywhere.

There are additional benefits to dismantling a barn right down to its original beams and posts, particularly when it is to be adapted. When a barn is dismantled each beam can be inspected, even the joints, and if parts are found to be weak or broken, structural repairs can be made. Sometimes these kinds of flaws can go unnoticed in a barn that does not come apart and if the building is to be sent to an environment where it will be more heavily taxed, like snow or earthquake areas, it is best to know more about the condition of the frame being adapted. Taking the barn apart also affords the ability to thoroughly clean the frame. Barns are dirty environments. As shelter for farm animals and their food, a barn became the habitat for other animals such as birds, bats and opportunistic rodents. As the shelter for all of this life the cracks and crevices of a barn became filled with all kinds of unmentionables. Taking a barn apart releases decades of debris and ensures that the barn is just that much cleaner when it gets reassembled.

Lastly there is the consideration of the barn’s new use, which is a very broad topic deserving of its own separate discussion. In short though, there are a handful of important issues that must be carefully considered as they will lead directly to success or failure. The following is my list of the most important issues to be dealt with for any barn adaptation, in no particular order. I also cannot recommend how each should be solved for any given project as they each must be dealt with, basically from scratch, each time; thoroughly thought through to evaluate the impact of each decision on the project as a whole.

Structure – Barns are strong but… they are not magic. Barns were not built with respect to today’s codes and must therefore be evaluated to see how they may relate to today’s structural codes. In general we focus on the beams as the posts tend never to be overloaded; in particular the upper beams such as purlins and the rafters tend to need evaluation as do elements on the inside of the structure because the new exterior skin will contribute strength to the perimeter. Beyond this cursory mention it is not possible to predict what will need attention structurally because every barn is different in so many ways. The barn will need to be evaluated by an experienced professional team; every barn conversion does.

Insulation – An old barn is not insulated but all buildings now are required to be so, well except barns. So adapting a barn to be used as something else has to solve the issue of insulation and roof ventilation. During the last 10 years or so many new insulation products and tactics have been introduced to the marketplace making this easier to solve but with more cost and performance implications.

Circulation – Circulation is one of the most regulated events in a building. Stairs, head heights, guardrails, hallway widths etc. are always a challenge when trying to locate them within the barn without compromising the barn’s beauty. Modern stairs require more room than most barns want to allow so typically something within the barn has to move or new elements introduced. Stairs also require walls and guardrails to be safe which are alien to the barn so there are few cues as to what might be the logical or traditional solution.

Lighting – Barn’s are dark. Having never had lights and only few windows they offer no opinion as to how they can and should be opened to the sun or artificially lit. Balancing the way windows are introduced may be the most sensitive decision made with respect to a barn conversion.

Materials – One can easily find a wide range of materials introduced into a barn adaptation ranging from very modern, to very traditional, to very rustic. While I might lean one way or another in mychoices my best recommendation regardless of your choice is to not hide the barn. Allow as much of the barn’s frame to be seen and enjoyed.

Making rooms – Barns are found as mostly big open spaces with lofts; maybe there’s a granary. Most new uses will want to have a bit more privacy than that and you will want to introduce walls to make separate rooms. It is always a challenge to wall off a barn without mercilessly carving it up. Once again specific recommendations are impossible without know the barn or the project’s goals but the adage ‘less is more’ tends to be applicable here. Mostly I try very hard to hide as little of the barn as possible; particularly the corners.

Regardless of whether you dismantle the barn or move it as a whole there are also a number of considerations that will require professional and experienced judgment. Among those things are the following:

1. Moving a building, any building, has a host of building code and zoning code issues (and maybe others depending on location) that need to be researched by someone qualified to do this. Talking to your local building official may address some, or even all, of the issues but it should be noted that it is NOT the building official’s job to guide a project through the codes so if they miss something they are not responsible. It should also be noted that all of the codes / restrictions involved may not be interpreted by the same official or board; the zoning code may be administered by one official and the building code by another. Deed restrictions may be administered by yet another official or by a group and if there is a historic district there may be yet another board to appease.

2. It is not widely known but many times the ordinances and restrictions that are imposed on a given property do not agree; in those cases the most restrictive ordinance / restriction must be met. While that may seem unfair it is the way we do business so it is wise to approach the ordinances carefully and with an experienced professional. In the end the structure’s use and location has to be determined to be legal and safe.

3. If the building has been fully dismantled the building will need to meet all building codes. I have yet to meet a building official who does not agree with this. There is no ‘grandfathering’ based on the fact that it is an old building; building officials would interpret that as a self-inflicted wound if you were to argue for leniency.

4. Buildings that have been moved intact however fall into a gray area of the code, meaning that certain aspects may be able to be grandfathered however that would have to be determined carefully and clearly with the building officials. Regardless, your architect and / or builder may balk at accepting a break from some of the code requirements because they may be concerned that it could put them at risk if they design or build something that is considered less safe or prone to environmental problems.

5. There are costs on both ends of a move even if the barn is to be moved just to be a barn again and all of them should be considered before the project is begun.
a. The existing site will be left with a hole in the ground, an abandoned foundation and possibly a pile of unusable and / or rotten materials. This site will need to be cleaned up and someone will have to be responsible to perform that work.
b. The new site will need to have a foundation excavated for and built for the moved building and then the new site will need to be finish graded as required for it new use. And let’s not forget that moving a building whether intact or in parts will most likely damage some part of the building. The barn would then need to be repaired accordingly.
c. It is always a good practice to have a budget that factors all of the costs involved before the first step is taken. Many times once the first step is taken one cannot go back and must complete the project regardless of the cost.

6. Site selection and site analysis are important design exercises. The sun, wind, grading, stormwater, soil conditions, septic and well locations, are just a few of the many things that have to be factored into siting a building.

7. The planning for a building move must include analyzing the old structure to determine if it is viable, planning how the old structure will be supported, and planning for how any new elements / structures will be detailed into the old building in order to allow for its new use. One simple example, a foundation for a barn would not be the same as a foundation for a barn-house, even if it was the same exact barn, for many reasons.

Maybe it is me but I cannot ignore a building with wheels under it; even a mobile home draws me to look. But to see an old house, or an old barn, floating down a highway, or across a bridge, or through a field is like watching a loved one being delivered from a hospital; attendants paying close attention to every detail while everyone else makes way. All eyes on the patient. It is a hopeful time where thoughts are about the future and what is still possible. These buildings have so much possibility and future still in them. With the right mix of tender loving care they can enjoy a new and vibrant future for many years to come.


Welcome New Board Members!

National Barn Alliance held their Annual Meeting on Sunday, June 3. The purpose of the meeting was to review progress made toward the mission of the organization.

Charles Leik, outgoing President, spoke to the progress since the 2007 Albany, NY meeting that the NBA:

– Hosted five spring conferences for general attendance and five winter Board meetings.

– Conducted ten or eleven monthly conference calls annually.

– Participated in five National Trust for Historic Preservation conferences

– Received approximately $60,000 in grants from four sources,

– Initiated the Teamwork and Timbers program of two quarter-scale historic barn models at schools, universities and expositions in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Quebec.

– Engaged an Administrator to manage Membership, Social Media, Publicity and Conference Planning.

– Almost doubled Membership in 2012 and Barnalliance.org is becoming the national “go to” site for barn-related information.

– The leading internet site of “Barns Available for Events”; to support this emerging business of renting barns, especially for wedding receptions.

The organization is in good financial standing.

New board members were elected. Please welcome:

Term 2011-2014

Jeff Marshall, PA

Jeffrey L. Marshall, is the President of Heritage Conservancy, a regional land trust and historic preservation organization headquartered in Doylestown, Pa with a staff of approximately twenty people.   Mr. Marshall has been involved in historic preservation and land conservation for more than 35 years. In addition to the direct preservation of thousands of acres of open space, Mr. Marshall has directed conservation subdivision projects and open space planning projects.  He has written open space plans and provides land preservation consultant services to numerous Bucks County and Northampton County municipalities.  He has been a multiple presenter at the prestigious national Land Trust Alliance Rally as well as both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Land Trust Association annual conferences. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association Policy Committee.  In 2007, Mr. Marshall served on the Bucks County Open Space Task Force, a 24-person, blue ribbon committee, that resulted in a new $87.7 Million countywide open space initiative.

In 2003 he was the recipient of the inaugural “Bucks County Preservation Legacy Award” created in his honor for more than 20 years of leadership and dedication for the preservation of historic places and open spaces by the Bucks County Commissioners.  He is also the recipient of gubernatorial, Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives commendations for career achievements in conservation and preservation.

Term 2012-2015

Janie-Rice Brother, KY

Janie-Rice Brother is Senior Architectural Historian with the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, a joint venture of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the University Of Kentucky Department Of Anthropology. Brother, a native of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, grew up on a beef cattle and tobacco farm which has been in her family since the 1820s. Her love of rural resources stems from her farming background, which she first explored in her master’s thesis.  Since that time, Brother has documented barns in the middle Atlantic, including over 400 farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Since returning to Kentucky, Brother has continued to study and document the barns of the Commonwealth, both as representative types and as part of the historic farmstead. Her most recent project, funded by a Preserve America grant, involves the creation of the Heritage Farm website, which will provide a national and even international forum through which Kentucky’s historic agricultural resources can be understood and appreciated—far beyond the confines of the Commonwealth’s borders.

Susan Quinnell, ND

I spent the last 11 years professionally and advocationally involved with the study and preservation of historic buildings. I arranged many workshops for students, the public and professionals, wrote grants, surveys, National Register of Historic Places nominations and for the past seven years have dealt with historic preservation issues in a boom energy-driven economy with rapid change affecting treasured undeveloped and ranch landscapes. I work with project proponents, other governmental agencies, cultural resource contractors and the public as we try to merge new development with the precious resources we have from the past, both natural and cultural. Regarding barns specifically, I am one of the 49 people out of 50 currently alive that have little farming background, but am increasingly concerned that agricultural resources are disappearing far faster than we can even record them, much less fully understand their functions and full histories.

Bob Sherman, IL 

Robert W. Sherman has been interested in Ethnic, Rural and Vernacular architecture since the early 1960’s when he was a Research Associate and Field Representative for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. He collected artifacts for the Society’s museums, in addition to cataloging and moving 3 barns full of rural and agricultural artifacts and moving them to Stonefield Museum. in the summer of 1967, prior to going to the Cooperstown Graduate Program, he spent the summer finding, measuring and photographing Wisconsin’s Ethnic and Rural structures for the future outdoor museum to be called “Old World Wisconsin”.

Bob continues to search out interesting barns and farmsteads when ever he travels, and he is a member of many of the Barn Preservation Societies and Networks and a member of the National Barn Alliance from its early days. He gives barn lectures on various barn related topics and leads barn tours in the Midwest. He is currently working on two publications. “The Great Barns of Illinois, from Log to Stone” and  “The Housebarns of America” He also keeps current a annotated bibliography of books about barns for the National Barn Alliance’s web page. He is currently a member of the Sangamon County Preservation Commission and a board member of the Illinois Barn Alliance.

Don Truax, IL

Don Truax is a committed preservationist with over 30 years. He is principal of Donald Truax Associates in the greater Chicago area, which provides community-based historic preservation services. Truax has served on numerous boards and commission of historic preservation in Illinois.  Don has in MSE in Computer Technology from University of Michigan and a BS Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University.

Pam Whitney Gray, OH

Pamela Whitney Gray spent most of her career in commercial art and the printing industry. In later years she enjoyed her position as an assistant librarian in a small library in Colorado. After twenty years in the Rocky Mountains Pam returned to Mount Vernon, Ohio to spend time with her parents in their golden years. Pam and her father, Chuck Whitney (1918- 2009), spent many days traveling Ohio and the surrounding states doing barn inspections and helping barn owners to understand and save their barns. These were wonderful learning experiences and she soon realized she had the same passion as he did for barns and their history. She is continuing her Dad’s work, helping to save old barns and to spread the story they tell of our agricultural heritage. Pam’s first book, Americanization of the Family Barn, released in December of 2009, discusses the cultural influences from the Old Country and environmental influences the settlers faced after they arrived in the New World. It gives a brief overall view of the evolution of barns. A second book is at the printers.
Please join us in moving the mission forward to preserve America’s rural heritage.

Book Review: Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement

Book review by Charles Leik, Chair of the National Barn Alliance.

It was at the National Barn Alliance’s (NBA) 2009 Shaker Hill, Kentucky conference that I first learned about the phenomenon of Quilt Barns. Several Kentucky ladies gave an enthusiastic presentation and the next day as I drove serpentine secondary roads northward to the Ohio River I saw perhaps a dozen of the “Real Deal” –8’ x 8’ squares of a favorite quilting pattern on weathered barns.

I already had an acquaintance with quilting as I recalled mother and her friends working at the quilting frame set up in our parlor in the early 1950s. The ladies seated around the frame chatted while with practiced skill made small, uniform stitches to sew the pattern to the batting.

In addition to this tenuous connection to quilts I have been long engaged in preservation of our heritage barns and anything that draws attention to these endangered structures and causes them to be maintained is a positive for me.

With this background I was pleased to learn that the Ohio University Press, Athens released in early 2012 a volume devoted to the history of the quilt barn movement.

The book printed on high quality paper with dozens of captioned photographs is everything that a lover of traditional folk culture could desire. Author Suzi Parron and barn quilt pioneer Donna Sue Groves take the reader to the origins of the Quilt Trails in Appalachia and then to other states, particularly those of the Heartland. There are individual chapters on Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as chapters devoted to local events in which the author participated.

The reader meets the dozens of local heroines (and heroes) who organized the Trails in their communities. I was pleased that a photo of the quilt art on the owner’s barn accompanied the discussion of a pattern and its personal importance to the family.

Cindi Van Hurk, Michigan is representative of the many quilt trail pioneers in stating, “The Alcona County Quilt Trail Project has a very positive impact on our economy, while also fueling community pride within all areas of our county.”

This reviewer was happy to read the author’s conclusion that, “An unexpected benefit of the project has been the preservation of barns and other farm buildings.”

Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement is highly recommended for a quick education of this art genre and for aficionados of American vernacular architecture. Barn Quilts is a 240-page paperback at $29.95 by Swallow Press/Ohio State University. Order from University of Chicago Distribution Center, 11030 South Langley Ave., Chicago, IL 60628 or call 773.702.7000.