The preservation and restoration of old barns

CN-MR-1-The preservation 1by George Looby, DVM

One of the many delights of traveling the back roads of the northeastern states is the sight of the many old barns that dot the countryside. Each one is a testimony to the families who built and worked in them for decades, each unique in its own way but all filling the basic need for livestock shelter and the storage of fodder. For those children fortunate enough to have grown up familiar with such structures, memories of jumping in the hay mow is long remembered and the scent of new mown June hay lingers for a lifetime. Perhaps less nostalgic are the memories of mowing away that same hay on a sweltering June afternoon, a 5 ft. tall, 10 year old frame wrestling with a 6 ft. pitch fork handle, hoping that the arrival of the next load from the track high up on the ridgepole might be delayed for just a few minutes. That seldom happened.

Red of course is the preferred color for barns and the reason for that is likely rooted in basic economics — red paint was readily available and economical and continues to be widely used today. Sentimentality aside, the old barns were extremely functional, well designed to take advantage of any feature that might make them more labor efficient.

Time has not been kind to many of these old barns; disuse and neglect have taken their toll and many have collapsed due to deferred maintenance. Others have endured due to some minimal maintenance while others have found a new life housing some activity unrelated to its original purpose. For those that remain there are groups and organizations that are dedicated to their preservation and in Connecticut the primary one is the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, with headquarters in New Haven.

The trust was established in 1975 by a Special Act of the Connecticut legislature. It is a non-profit organization whose charge is to identify, preserve and assist in the restoration of historically significant structures and landmarks throughout the state. This mandate, as broad and sweeping as it, takes in the entire spectrum of those structures, landmarks and other sites that might be in any way considered historically significant. Included in this survey are those barns within the state that the trust considers historically significant. It is estimated that there are approximately 8,000 barns in the state. This survey has been accomplished through the work of volunteers and so-called circuit riders employed by the trust. To date almost 3,000 barns have been identified.

Selected barn owners are invited to submit their barns for consideration as being historically significant. If selected for consideration, the barns are visited by one of the circuit riders who completes a detailed report on the structure and the property on which it sits. This report is then submitted to a committee that reviews each submission and determines if it qualifies as a historic barn. Those selected will be so designated and it is likely that some appropriate designation will be awarded. These awards will be in name only and awards no compensation. The goal is to designate 200 barns state-wide.

For those with an interest in viewing old barns throughout the state the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has produced a map showing where particularly significant barns are located throughout the state. For purposes of making the drives rather leisurely, the state is divided into seven regions so that the viewers can tour as many or as few regions on one trip as one wishes. Visit connecticutbarns.org for more information as to how to acquire a copy of the Connecticut Barns Trail.

Historic preservation is important to every resident of the state and as such we are fortunate to have an organization dedicated to that goal. Future generations will have a much clearer picture of how their forebearers lived and worked if these landmarks are well preserved. Photographs and documents are important, but a building that can be visited and explored makes a step back in time much more vibrant. It has been said many times but the truth remains, once gone it is gone forever, thus preservation is critical.

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