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NBA Virtual Lecture: “Digital Documentation and Dissemination”

Posted by on Apr 10, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on NBA Virtual Lecture: “Digital Documentation and Dissemination”

April 13, 2022, at 6pm EST – Open to all NBA members!

(posted to NBA’s YouTube Channel for general viewing at a later date)

“Digital Documentation and Dissemination: You Got a Point Cloud, So What”

Presented by Michael G. Spencer

The creation of measured drawings, especially of historic barns, can be a tough sell; yet traditional methods are time-consuming, cumbersome, and costly. While newer, mass-capture methods such as laser scanning offer efficiency in some areas over more traditional methods the technology still presents problems, particularly in usability of data. This lecture will examine some other documentation alternatives such as photo rectification and photogrammetry as well as the variety of ways in which the data can be used and disseminated to assist in the preservation of agricultural structures such as barns, including recent documentation of a log tobacco barn on Booker T. Washington’s farm in southwest Virginia.

The image above was taken from a short video created by Professor Spencer with help from undergraduate students in the University of Mary Washington’s Department of Historic Preservation (link to video above).

Michael G. Spencer is Chair of the Department of Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington where he teaches courses that focus on architectural documentation and conservation. His research has involved the exploration of non-destructive technologies such as infrared thermography, as well as new methods of documenting historic structures and evaluation of new platforms for dissemination of that data. Recently this research has centered on photo rectification, photogrammetry, 3D modeling, and virtual reality.

Learn more about Professor Spencer and his work at the University of Mary Washington here!

NBA Virtual Lecture #6: The English Barn in America

Posted by on Oct 8, 2021 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, New England barns, Virtual Presentation | Comments Off on NBA Virtual Lecture #6: The English Barn in America

Please join us for the next lecture in a series of presentations led by experienced practitioners across the country in support of barn-preservation education on November 3rd, 2021 at 6 pm EST.

This lecture will be hosted via Zoom and is free to all who register.
To register, send an email to RSVP with your name and location (city/county, state) to by Sunday, October 31st. We will send an email with the details to call or login to all registrants on November 2nd, 2021.

November 3rd: “The English Barn: in America: an Introduction to its Layout and Carpentry”

Presenter: Jack A. Sobon

Common throughout most of the Northeastern United States, the English barn was the standard for barns from the earliest settlements up through the mid-nineteenth century.  Mr. Sobon will discuss its origins, its layout and use, and an in-depth look at its carpentry.  The intricacies of the older Scribe Rule system of timber layout and cutting brought here from Britain will be explained as well as the newer Square Rule method that replaced it.

Image of Three-Bay, Side-Entrance Barn (Photo: J. Sobon).
The image above is from “Historic American Timber Joinery: A Graphic Guide,” written and illustrated by Jack A. Sobon, and originally published by the Timber Framers Guild (2002; reprinted 2004).

Jack A. Sobon

Mr. Sobon is an architect and builder in Western Massachusetts that specializes in timber-framed buildings, both old and new.  Since the late 1970s, he has framed over 50 timber-framed structures using only traditional hand tools and often right from the forest.  He has four books to his credit including Historic American Timber Joinery (2002) and Hand Hewn, The Traditions, Tools, and Enduring Beauty of Timber Framing (2019).  He is also the author of a five-article series on The English Barn in America published in Timber Framing where he chronicles the construction of a classic three-bay English timber-framed barn using original construction methods.

Image of Jack Sobon courtesy of Workman Publishing Company

NBA Virtual Lecture #5: New England Barns & Farm Buildings

Posted by on May 19, 2021 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, New England barns, Virtual Presentation | Comments Off on NBA Virtual Lecture #5: New England Barns & Farm Buildings

Join us for the next lecture in a series of presentations led by experienced practitioners across the country in support of barn-preservation education on May 26th, 2021 at 6 pm EST.

This lecture will be hosted via Zoom and is free to all who register.
To register, send an email to RSVP with your name and location (city/county, state) to by Sunday, May 23rd. We will send an email with the details to call or login to all registrants on May 25th, 2021.

“New England Barns & Farm Buildings”

Presenter: Thomas D. Visser

Keywords: New England Agriculture, Historic Barn Types, Historic Construction Methods and Materials, Barn and Outbuilding Terminology, Documentation

IIn 1997 Thomas Visser published his book, Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings based on his years of research documentation and site visits assisting owners with planning the preservation of historic farm buildings in the northeast region of the country. Although his book detailed historic farm buildings from just six states in the union, Visser’s work described construction methods, materials, and forms to provide a broader view of how the practice of agriculture shaped the appearance of barns and outbuildings throughout the country.

This presentation will discuss barn types and construction, as well as examine the ways in which farm buildings detail a rich rural heritage worthy of preservation. Building upon the information in his publication, the presentation will also highlight some of the many challenges barns and farm buildings face in the twenty-first century.

Detail of Cover, Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings.

Thomas D. Visser

Thomas D. Visser, Professor of Historic Preservation, is the director of the graduate Historic Preservation Program in the Department of History at the University of Vermont. He has taught courses at UVM since 1985 on such topics as historic preservation planning and policy, researching historic buildings, architectural conservation, history of American building technology, and other historic preservation topics.

As a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant award, much of Thomas Visser’s scholarly research has focused on the preservation of vernacular architecture. His award-winning Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings was published by the University Press of New England.

His latest book, Porches of North America, examines how this remarkable building feature in its many forms and uses has evolved in the United States and Canada. It is also published by the University Press of New England in hardcover and as an e-book.

Learn more about Dr. Visser and his work from the University of Vermont’s website here!

NBA Virtual Lecture #4: Historic Barns of Shenandoah County, Virginia

Posted by on Feb 17, 2021 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, Virtual Presentation | Comments Off on NBA Virtual Lecture #4: Historic Barns of Shenandoah County, Virginia

Join us for the next lecture in a series of presentations led by experienced practitioners across the country in support of barn-preservation education on February 25th, 2021 at 6 pm EST.

This lecture will be hosted via Zoom and is free to all who register.
To register, send an email to RSVP with your name and location (city/county, state) to by Sunday, February 21st. We will send an email with the details to call or login to all registrants on February 23rd, 2021.
“Historic Barns of Shenandoah County, Virginia”

Presenter: John Adamson

Keywords: Shenandoah Valley Agriculture, Historic Barn Types, Historic Construction Methods, Barn Terminology, County-level Survey/ Documentation

From 2017 until the present, Mr. Adamson has surveyed over 270 surviving barns in Shenandoah County. This program is a photo essay depicting barns of Shenandoah County built before 1950 and the agriculture those barns served.

Using the Shenandoah County Historical Society’s photographic archives, images of traditional agricultural scenes and practices from the 1910s and 1920s are followed by a description of the types of barns constructed in Shenandoah County from earliest settlement in the 18th century until approximately 1950.

Drawing on the photographic and data records of his survey work, Adamson’s program presents a rich pictorial review of the iconic barns still found in the county. It also includes a brief discussion of the cultural roots of Shenandoah County agriculture and barn architecture, presenting basic barn terminology and construction methods.
Photo Credit: John Adamson, Shenandoah County Barn Survey Project.

John Adamson

John Adamson currently serves as the Program Manager for the Shenandoah County Historical Society’s (SCHS) Historic Barns Program and was elected to the National Barn Alliance’s Board of Directors in 2020.
Born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, Adamson is a graduate of Virginia Tech and the University of Richmond where his studies centered on statistics and business. He lived and worked for C&P, Bell Atlantic/Verizon in Richmond, Culpeper, and Fairfax County before retiring to Strasburg with his wife, Barbara in 1998.  

John has long had an interest in history in general, military history in particular, and in Kentucky long rifles. Since coming to Shenandoah County he has developed great interest in Shenandoah County history, local architecture, and the material culture of the Shenandoah Valley.  

In addition to volunteering with the SCHS and NBA, John serves on the Board of the Strasburg Museum and Belle Grove, Inc., a National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) property. He is also a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee on the Shenandoah County Comprehensive Plan.

NBA Virtual Lecture #2

Posted by on Sep 15, 2020 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, Books, New England barns, Virtual Presentation | Comments Off on NBA Virtual Lecture #2

Join us for another presentation in support of barn-preservation education

This free lecture will be hosted via Zoom and is open to anyone with an interest in learning more about historic barns!

It will be held Wednesday, September 30th at 6 pm EST and is entitled, “The History of Agriculture as Told by Barns.” See the description below for details.

To register for this event, send an email to RSVP with your name and location (city/county, state) to by Sunday, September 27th. We will send an email with the details to call or login to all registrants on September 29th.

(If you missed our first lecture, be sure to check it out here!)

September 30th: “The History of Agriculture as Told by [New England] Barns”

Presenter: John C. Porter

Keywords: New England Agriculture, Barn Types, Timber-Framing/Historic Construction Methods, NRHP Evaluation and Criterion A

The evolution of barn architecture tells the story of New Hampshire agriculture. Barns changed from the early English style, to Yankee style, to gambrel and then pole barns to accommodate the changing agriculture. This presentation will be a chronological walk through time, with photo illustrations of barns around the state that are examples of these eras of agricultural history. 

This lecture is geared towards architects, engineers, preservation contractors, cultural resource professionals who may not be familiar with barns and general barn enthusiasts, everyone can learn from this exploration of historic farm buildings!

John C. Porter was raised on a dairy farm in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.S. Degree in Animal Science, and then went on to get a master’s degree from Cornell University in Animal Nutrition and Farm Management. Later he earned a master’s degree from Bob Jones University in Education Administration. He served as a Dairy Specialist for the UNH Cooperative Extension from 1974 until his retirement in 2006. He still works part-time for UNH and operates his own consulting company, Farm Planning Services, LLC. 

In 2001, he co-authored the book “Preserving Old Barns”; in December of 2007, was editor and contributing author of “The History and Economics of the New Hampshire Dairy Industry”; and in 2011 wrote the agriculture chapter for the Concord History book, “Crosscurrents of Change”. In 2019 he published a second edition of the Preserving Old Barns book.

NBA Launches Virtual Barn Preservation Lecture Series

Posted by on Aug 6, 2020 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, Events, Virtual Presentation | Comments Off on NBA Launches Virtual Barn Preservation Lecture Series

Join us for a series of virtual presentations led by experienced practitioners across the country in support of barn-preservation education

All lectures will be hosted via Zoom and are free to attend – open to anyone with an interest in learning more about historic barns!

The first presentation in our series – to be held Wednesday, August 12th at 6 pm EST – is entitled, “How to Speak Barn: the Language and Nuances of Barn Anatomy and the Language We Use to Describe Them.” See the description below for details.

To register for this event, send an email to RSVP with your name and location (city/county, state) to by Sunday, August 9th. We will send an email with the details to call or login to all registrants on August 11th.

August 12th: “How to Speak Barn: the Language and Nuances of Barn Anatomy and the Language We Use to Describe Them”

Presenters: Jeffrey L. Marshall and Michael Cuba

Keywords: Barn Terminology, Barn Types, Outbuilding Identification, Timber-Framing/Historic Construction Methods and Techniques, NRHP-Evaluation, Criterion C

Working in preservation in an agricultural context requires uncommon expertise. Barns and other farm buildings require a specialized vocabulary and a working knowledge of the historical evolution of design and use. Learn the lingo, how to recognize change, and how to evaluate and describe elements necessary for National Register designation.

The language used to characterize our barns has varied from person to person and publication to publication over the centuries. Efforts to develop a coherent and unified way of describing these buildings have come far over the past few decades.

This lecture will explore appropriate terminology and the precedents that support this language. The more familiar we become with common nomenclature, the more effectively we are able to share our observations with one another and the easier it is to evaluate particular barns in context with similar barns.

Although this lecture is geared towards architects, engineers, preservation contractors, cultural resource professionals who may not be familiar with barns and general barn enthusiasts, everyone can learn from this exploration of historic farm buildings!

Jeffrey L. Marshall serves as President of the Heritage Conservancy based in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, leading its efforts to conserve and preserve more than 15,000 acres of open space, farmland, wildlife habitat, and important watershed areas, along with many cultural historic assets in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Jeff has over 40 years of combined experience in land protection and historic preservation, and has authored several books on the architecture of southeastern Pennsylvania.
He has been a leader on the National Barn Alliance board of directors for over 10 years, serving as Vice President, President, and currently as Past President. He also serves on the boards of the Historic Barn & Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania and Preservation Pennsylvania.

Michael Cuba is a co-founder of Knobb Hill Joinery, a historic preservation company in northern Vermont focused on traditional restorative joinery techniques. He also operates Transom HPC, a small consulting firm offering dendrochronology coring services, research, and documentation for historic timbered structures. 
Michael is an active member of the Traditional Timber Framer’s Research and Advisory Group. He has served in various leadership capacities with the Timber Framers Guild and currently serves as editor, along with Adam Miller, of the Guild’s quarterly journal, TIMBER FRAMING.
In 2019 Michael was elected to serve as the secretary of the National Barn Alliance’s board of directors.

What We Can Learn About Historic Barns in America from a Decade and the Agricultural Census

Posted by on Jul 5, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What We Can Learn About Historic Barns in America from a Decade and the Agricultural Census

Danae Peckler, architectural historian, Fredericksburg, VA

In 2007 and 2017—thanks to the lobbying efforts of a few National Barn Alliance (NBA) board members, particularly Rod Scott, and our great network of barn preservation advocates, including many active supporters of state and local preservation organizations—the United States Agricultural Department (USDA) put a simple question to the farmers of America’s working farms in the Agricultural Census: “Do you have a barn built prior to 1960?”

From the “yes” or “no” answers of those farmers, a set of statistics emerged to help advocates for the preservation of historic barns get a sense of just how many old barns existed within each state. 

The data collected from this effort was far from perfect. For starters, it only gathered information from “working farms,” ignoring pre-1960 barns on farm properties that no longer meet that definition, as well as those that survive in suburban and urban areas. Furthermore, by answering just yes or no, farms with multiple pre-1960 barns were represented as a single unit. Yet the information gathered from this effort was a fine (if not the only) place to start. Obtaining these statistics was an attempt to quantify what is the largest problem facing barn preservation advocates: the size and scale of America’s agrarian landscape.

Acknowledging the limitations of what became known as “the barn question” in the 2007 Census, the NBA board of directors set about repeating the experiment a decade later in 2017. By asking the same exact question, we hoped to gain insight on the big question we are all looking to quantify: “How many old barns have we lost across the country?”

To find out, Rod Scott and I worked together two years in advance of the census to connect with officials at the USDA, drafted a sample letter for friends of old barns and barn preservation advocates to send the agency, and called on each of you to spread the word and lobby for the question’s return in 2017. And it worked!

Barn lovers from across the country heeded the call to action and the results became public in the Spring of 2019. To better digest the statistics, I created a table with an alphabetical listing of states to compare the results of “the barn question” from 2007 and 2017.

This image was produced by the USDA in support of the 2017 Agricultural Census. State and county-level census results are available from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Not surprisingly, each and every state in the USA saw a decline in the number of working farms reporting at least one pre-1960 barn.  And while we may be inclined to look for the biggest winners and losers by the figures, it is important to be mindful of their context. This is a count of “working farms” with at least one barn built prior to 1960 in each state (though county-level data is also available in Table 43, Special Characteristics!), and not every pre-1960 barn would be thought of as “historic” by many people’s standards, even those of professional preservationists. 

Yet, however small this slice of the bigger picture may be, the limitations of these statistics should not stop us from using them to illustrate the loss that no one is willing to dispute: America’s historic barns (farms and outbuildings!) are disappearing at an increasing rate. And it will also surprise few that, in general, the number of working farms and farmers are also in decline.

A few takeaways from “the barn question” and the last decade from a national perspective: 

  • As a nation, 28 percent fewer working farms reported old barns on their properties.
  • Individual states reported between 10 and 45 percent fewer working farms with at least one barn built prior to 1960, with a mean loss of 27 percent.
  • In a handful of states, properties with a pre-1960 barn make up less than 10 percent of the total number of working farms.
  • On the whole, less than a quarter of America’s working farms have a pre-1960 barn (the mean is 23 percent). 

“Historic” or not, it is well past time that we started bending over backward to thoughtfully record and catalog the old barns and outbuildings that dot our farms from sea to shining sea. For preservation professionals that means getting inside the barn to note the specifics of its framing and learning to recognize common modifications that reflect popular agricultural practices. A good general book that I recommend for anyone across the country is Allen Noble and Richard Cleek’s The Old Barn Book: A Field Guide to North American Barns & Other Farm Structures (1995). Although more specific barn field guides and rural documentation sources can be found for different regions, states, and counties, The Old Barn Book is an easy read with great drawings from M. Margaret Geib. 

As increasingly endangered cultural-historic assets of America’s greatest industry, the study of historic barns and farm buildings by preservation professionals has grown in the past 25 years since the NBA was founded. Yet the list of obstacles to preserving them grows faster.

How we justify their historical significance matters less and less—this is not a battle that will ever be won, it’s simply a matter of how much we stand to lose. 

Related articles and pages that might be of interest:

Dating Barns in Holland Township, New Jersey with Dendrochronology (Part 3)

Posted by on Jun 24, 2018 in Agricultural Architecture, barn education, Barn Preservation, The Barn Journal | Comments Off on Dating Barns in Holland Township, New Jersey with Dendrochronology (Part 3)

By Carla Cielo, Architectural Historian, Historic Preservation Consultant, Designer, and longtime NBA member.  Two articles on this dendrochronology project have been previously published in the Barn Journal. Check out both stories: Part 1 & Part 2!

(The Historic Preservation Commission of Holland Township, New Jersey, hired ‘Oxford Tree Ring Dating’ to date nine barns with dendrochrolology.  This study has been funded, in part, with grants provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.  It was hoped that a study of this kind would answer questions related to ethnic settlement patterns.)

The first barn dated with dendrochronology in Holland Township was the Hammerstone Barn – a ground-level, three bay, heavy-timbered, swing beam barn that is located in the hilly section of the township about 8 miles inland from the Delaware River. This preliminary dendrochronology study was completed in 2007 by a colleague who provides dendrochronological services as a side venture. Only 3 samples were taken from the floor structure in a crawlspace: one from a girder that supports the joists at midspan in the crawl space of the west bay and 2 from floor joists. No samples were taken from the main barn frame. Samples were sent to a lab for analysis. The dates were non-conclusive: sample #1 dated 1787, sample #2 gave no date, and sample #3 dated 1785. The possibility of a 1787 construction date was assumed.

After dating six other ground-level, swing beam barns that ranged in date from 1794 to 1812, the 1787 date was questioned. The character of the framing of the Hammerstone Barn looks far more advanced (younger) in its construction methodology than barns that dated to the 1790s. For example, the interior bents of the 1794 James Salter Barn are framed with just two unconnected cambered tie-beams. Whereas in the Hammerstone Barn, struts and passing braces are incorporated into the swing beam bent to join the upper and lower tie beams. This is characteristic of the ground barns that dated after 1803 in Holland Township. It was, therefore, decided to date the barn again using a professional dendrochronologist who operates his own in-house lab. The findings were interesting, to say the least.

This time 7 samples were taken in the barn: 3 from the upper barn frame and 4 from the floor joists (including one joist that had been sampled previously). Two samples revealed that the trees from which the timbers were cut were felled during the winter of 1803/04 suggesting that the barn was built in the spring of 1804. The five remaining samples, unfortunately, could not be dated. The 1804 date, however, is “right on” when compared to the construction details of several other dated barns.

To add further interest, the data was run again on the three samples that were taken in 2007. One of them did indeed date to 1787. Another matched the chronology of the sample that dated 1787 up to 1758 with a “t-value” of over 11. The “t-value” provides an indication of the quality of the match against a reference chronology. A t-value greater then 5 indicates a regional match; above 10 suggests that the samples came from the same tree. In this case, the t-value over 11 indicates that two joists were cut from the same tree and that the sapwood was probably lost from the latter sample. Does this indicate that at least some of the joists were reused from a 1787 structure? Or does it indicate that the sapwood was lost from both samples and that both would date to 1804 if the sapwood remained? Since the core drills appear to have been lost, we likely will never know. It is surely tempting to fantasize a former 1787 log structure being reused as floor joists! But if this was the case, wouldn’t a 1787 date have been re-identified by the second dendrological study?

In conclusion, dendrochronology is a highly valuable tool, but it must be part of a comprehensive study which takes into account a variety of methods to date a building (saw cut, nails, framing methodology etc.). Propagation of a false date can be detrimental to future barn historians.

Renovating the Little Red Barn

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 in Barn Preservation, Events, Featured Barn | Comments Off on Renovating the Little Red Barn

This guest post comes to us from one determined barn owner in Allen County, Indiana, and mirrors many of the renovation stories we at the NBA hear regularly, but Jessica Erpelding has the grit and grace to see through her efforts to legally and legitimately open an event barn for weddings and other gatherings–more importantly, to share the ups and downs she has faced along the way. To learn more about Jessica’s efforts to save this barn and share it with her community, click here

Also, please note that we at the NBA know that not every old barn can be converted into assembly space for reasons of building codes/ zoning. We appreciate the and applaud the successful adaptations of these buildings, but know that this type of conversion is not the right fit for many barns across the country.

My name is Jessica Erpelding and this is my unexpected journey of how I fell in love with my barn and its story.  When my husband and I were looking to buy our first home, we were supposed to look at another house down a block but we accidentally took a wrong left turn and stumbled upon this property that had been for sale for quite some time.  We fell in love with the house, property, and the barn that was rundown but still a perk.  However, we had no idea about the history of the barn until after we purchased it.

The Little Red Barn Today.

The bank barn is shown on a 1938 aerial picture of the property and may have been built prior to that. It was used for livestock up until Ruby and Oscar Hanefeld purchased the property in the early 1960s.  They successfully transformed the barn into a popular reception hall in our area, that was in business until the late 1980s. This was no small feat.  They built a beautiful hardwood dance floor upstairs by connecting the two existing haylofts. They also added onto the barn to accommodate bathrooms and running water.  They even managed to heat the building and run the business year-round.  At the time that Ruby and Oscar accomplished all of this, the property was located on a dirt/stone road and barn reception halls were unconventional.

Interior Image Showing Holes in the Roof.

Prior to us purchasing the property, the barn had sat with little to no maintenance for 25 years.  The roof was leaking badly, there was severe water damage to the inside and part of the dance floor, and it was cluttered with remnants of the flea markets Ruby used to have from time to time. The upstairs was covered in about 3-4 inches of bird poop.  It’s funny because I remember when the realtor showed us the barn he said to us, “Think of it as a diamond in the rough.” We had later decided to clean it up enough to have our own wedding reception in it. It was when I was pressure washing the floor upstairs, that I realized it was all beautiful hardwood.  I remember thinking to myself, “There’s my diamond!”

The idea of bringing back this once thriving reception hall was a far-fetched dream, but a dream I was passionate about none-the-less.  Over the years, we managed to replace the roof and fix the water damage.  The more we fixed, the more the barn along with the dreams of its future came alive. So far, we have gotten approval from our county to go ahead with our reception hall plans.  However, the codes and permits required for such a business in Indiana, especially here in Allen County, are much more strict than they were back when the Hanefeld family ran the business.

The Little Red Barn was run as an “unofficial” business in the past, meaning that it was never registered with the state and there are no tax records for such a business. So we were not able to be grandfathered into any zoning regulations.  In the beginning, I assumed that we could fix up the barn little by little by charging discounted rental rates and using the proceeds as “donations” to invest back in to the barn.  I put the barn up on Facebook, not really advertising that I was renting it out in October just to feel it out a little bit.  The response was immense. Before I knew it I had 9 bookings in 2 months with no advertising. I thought this was great, and it was going to happen. I figured, when we got it to the point of where it was up to code, we would start it as an official business.   Come to find out that everything about this plan was wrong and could have gotten me in some hot water.

My husband’s uncle happens to work for the Allen County planning department.  He told me that in the last year alone, he shut down three barns that were doing the exact same thing I was planning to do.  They received huge fines and were closed down.  One of the barns was a repeat offender and they will be unable to open their doors for another 10 years.  This honestly shocked me. I asked him, “But what if I told them the people using my barn were friends or family and they were “donating” to my barn?”  He said, “Jess, I’ve heard it all before and it won’t matter.  Once me, or someone like me, shows up at your doorstep, the gig is up.  It only takes one person to complain or report what you are doing before we show up.” I’m not going to lie, this was disappointing to hear.  However, what he said made sense. It’s not just a tax issue. It’s a public safety issue.  There are codes and permits required to make sure that you are and continue to stay up to a certain level of service to ensure the safety of your guests.  I knew that I did not want to get fined or shut down. I still had those 9 bookings to worry about.  I also knew that I did not want the IRS down my throat or have somebody injured, or possibly killed in my reception hall.  So there was only one thing to do…take the big plunge!

Now keep in mind that this conversation I had with my uncle took place in January of this year 2017.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Luckily, he helped guide me to the next steps I had to take quickly. First step, get in touch with your local counties planning department. Our planning department in Allen County offers you to schedule a conference with the heads of departments such as the board of health, board of zoning, board of traffic and highway safety, etc. This is a great opportunity and take advantage of it if your county offers it.  In the conference you can discuss your plans on what you would like to do and what you want your business to offer, and they give you feedback as to what applications or permits you need to implement your plans.

In my case, the barn is located on an A1 zoning district, which means residential and agricultural use only.  However, there is a loop hole to starting a reception hall and other businesses on an agricultural property.  Per our county’s zoning rules a reception hall is allowed with approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals of a special use application. The application itself cost $350.  I had to submit the application with the land deed and a detailed site plan.  A detailed site plan is basically a drawing of the property and what it will look like once you start your project.  You can draw this yourself or you can have an architect draw one for you. I chose the latter because I was advised that if at your hearing with the Board of Zoning Appeals, your drawing wasn’t right or missing something you have a greater chance of getting your application denied. That meant you would have to resubmit the application, another $350, and wait another month for another hearing.  I wanted to do everything right the first time, so I hired a local engineer.  Honestly, I would recommend this.  Engineers do this for a living they know your county’s codes and requirements like the back of their hand.  So, it takes out a lot of the guesswork and you are going to need one later on when you submit paperwork to the state anyways.

I also found out in my conference from the department of traffic and highway safety that a parking lot is required for such a business. Parking lots here in Allen County are required to be hard paved surfaces and they usually figure 3 people per car for your maximum occupancy. My maximum occupancy is 200, so I needed a lot for 70 cars. This was way bigger than I was planning and it sounded really expensive. My uncle helped me again by telling me that there is a variance application I could submit to request gravel instead of asphalt or concrete.  The application was another $350 but being allowed to have gravel would save me thousands, so I submitted a variance application as well.

Second step is a hearing with the Board of Zoning appeals. This is a make or break process and is very important.  The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) has reviewed your application and detailed site plan at this point, and this is where you plead your case. It is a great help to have the support of your neighbors and community.  In most cases, this is their biggest concern.  They can either approve or deny your project at this point. If your project is approved you are free to move on to the next phase, submitting applications to the state.  However, if you get denied you have two choices, try again or give up your project.  I had the approval of my neighbors and our mayor.  The neighbor to the east of my property just requested that I have some sort of landscaping buffer put up to give him more privacy, which I found fair enough.  I had our mayor write me a letter that I brought to the hearing.  If you can’t get a letter from your mayor, letters from your neighbors are just as important.  I am proud to say that as of March 15th we have gotten approval from Allen County to have a reception hall on the property.

Now we are moving on to our state paperwork. This will rezone the barn into a commercial property once it is inspected and up to code.  This part is not cheap by any means.  The barn used to have a septic, but it is unusable.  So, in order to install a new septic system it must meet commercial standards.  To do this you will need to hire a septic designer to submit the proper paperwork to state, and a soil scientist to take samples of the dirt and survey the property for the septic designer.  We have already submitted out paperwork to state and they will send me the requirements like how big of a gallon system it has to be and where it has to be located.  As of now, we have a rough idea of how big it has to be and where it has to be located.  Unfortunately, we have a high clay content in our Indiana soil, so the system will have to be located about 3/4 acre away from the barn itself. Needless to say, this is going to be my biggest expense. My engineer is working on the detailed drawing of the inside. This is expensive, but well worth it if you can get it all right the first time around.  We also need to add another stairway to the upstairs dance floor for an emergency exit, smoke and pull fire alarms, and make it handicapped accessible somehow.

When this all started, I had no idea what I was getting into.  This process is very expensive and not easy, but if you take it in baby steps with stride you can do anything. We never prepped for financing because I thought I could have the barn pay for itself.  I have been a stay at home mom for four years, so it’s not that I have bad credit I just have lack of it.  Everything is in my husband’s name and because of this our debt-to-income ratio would be too high for a traditional business loan. So, if you are considering making this journey yourself learn from my mistake and prep yourself financially for a loan.  We have been taking some steps in hopes of qualifying for a loan or financial assistance in the future. This includes cleaning up our credit scores, getting some revolving credit in the form of a credit card that I am keeping at a low balance and paying on time, and registering the business as an LLC and applying for a DUNs # to built up a business credit score.

Most banks do not like to lend to start-up businesses, so make sure that you have a sound business plan.  I have two. One is for potential investors/lenders, and one for traditional banks. You usually need a credit score higher than 720 in order to apply for a start-up business loan. That’s why it is a good idea to build your business credit score as well if you don’t have the greatest credit.  Talk with your local banks and see what they require for business loan and make sure you tell them that it is a start-up business because they may require additional information.  If you get denied, don’t be afraid to ask why. It is the only way you can better your application for the next time around.  We are self-funding everything now until we are able to qualify for a loan, hopefully, in the next few months. Since conventional loans are out of our reach at the moment, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and searching for unconventional funding in the form of investors, lenders, grants, or donations.  I have started a Kickstarter account as well.  If I am successful on this platform, I think I can start a movement that inspires others like me to believe that they too can help save the precious few old barns we have left.  I’m nobody special, so if I can do this anybody can.

The Barn Before the Erpeldings Got to Work!

The point is don’t give up.  I was not in the greatest position to start this venture, but I have accomplished more in the last four months than I had ever dreamed. This IS something that ordinary people can do.  My advice is to reach out to your county, community, neighbors, and family.  Talk about your plans and seek advice.  I know I couldn’t have done what I did if it wasn’t for the advice and support of others.  You will inevitably have bumps in the road, but great things that come easy won’t last and the great things that lasts won’t come easy.

Saving the Iconic Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake

Posted by on Dec 21, 2016 in Agricultural Architecture, Barn Preservation, Featured Barn, The Barn Journal | Comments Off on Saving the Iconic Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake

If you follow the NBA on Facebook, you might be familiar with the colossal effort being put forth since the Fall of 2014 to Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake (including the work of a high school student who made fundraising to save the barn her senior class project!). Over the past couple of years, we have watched support for rehabilitating this barn blossom – in part because they are taking the right steps to physically maintain it, but also because they have rallied their community behind the long-term goal to preserve this iconic barn.  

Though there is never enough money to save all of America’s great barns, outstanding examples like the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake clearly have the power to unite us, enrich our rural landscape, and remind us of our shared agricultural history.  Our thanks to the volunteers and area residents for their work to make a big difference in their community and save that barn! 

Guest post by Dave Curry, Committee Member, Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake

Barn History

Circa 1968 View of South Side of Dairy Barn

Circa 1968 View of South Side of Dairy Barn

In Pineville, Louisiana overlooking Buhlow Lake sits a beautiful old Dairy Barn on the property of the Central Louisiana State Hospital.  The barn was built in 1923 by Joseph H. Carlin, an architect who was a former patient at the hospital who remained on staff after his successful treatment.  The barn was built to supply dairy products for the hospital and many patients worked there as part of their rehabilitation.

Dairy operations began in 1926 and ceased around 1956 when the pastures used for grazing cows were turned into what is now Buhlow Lake.  The dairy operations moved to Grant Parish.  Since then the barn has mainly been used for storage and most recently was the painting shop, although it is essentially unused today.

The Dairy Barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and a roofing and stabilization project occurred in the mid 90s as the building was feared to be in danger of collapsing.  Laminated beams were made to replace 10 of the original curved beams that support the roof, and steel tension bars were placed horizontally throughout the loft’s interior for extra reinforcement.  The barn has been recognized by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the most endangered sites in the state of Louisiana as early as 2009 and for 2016.

In 2012 the State of Louisiana announced plans to relocate the Central Louisiana State Hospital to a new facility to be built near Pinecrest.  Funding is in Priority 5, meaning the timeline is uncertain.

Recent Activity

In November of 2014, Kendra Van Cleef created the “Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake” page on Facebook.  Within a week there were over 5,000 likes and currently over 10,000 likes.  Many people expressed interest in this project and an informal committee was formed to explore possibilities and champion the cause of saving the barn.  The barn is not in danger of being demolished; the primary concern is the deterioration due to weather and the lack of a plan for its restoration and use.

An Historic Structure Report was prepared and donated by Tom David, owner of Pan-American Engineers, providing an assessment of the structural condition of the building and some estimates of costs to preserve and rehabilitate the structure.  The long-term issue of the barn’s ownership and operation are still in question, but it is desired to bring the barn into private ownership and a use that is accessible to the public. The initial goals and rough estimates are:

  • First project – $70,000 to repair the north wall that is in danger of falling
  • Total project – $250,000 to completely rehabilitate the exterior

A non-profit corporation has been formed which is entering a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the Department of Health of the State of Louisiana for a restoration project for the Dairy Barn with Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake raising funds and donating repairs.  The “Save the Dairy Barn Fund” has been established with the Central Louisiana Community Foundation to provide financial accountability in receiving tax-deductible donations.

DONATE $5 or $10, SO WE CAN
“Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake”

If each of the thousands of people in central Louisiana and beyond (readers of The Barn Journal) donates $5 or $10 to the Save the Dairy Barn Fund, this will help finance this initial project. Now is the time!  Thank you.

North Side of Dairy Barn (Photo Credit: Kendra Van Cleef)

North Side of Dairy Barn (Photo Credit: Kendra Van Cleef)

Donations to the Save the Dairy Barn Fund at the Central Louisiana Community Foundation can be made by visiting or by mail to:

Save the Dairy Barn Fund
c/o Central Louisiana Community Foundation
PO Box 66
Alexandria, LA 71309