of Old Barns
Some barns have served the
same uses for generations, and need only periodic repairs and routine
maintenance. Others have become obsolete and need extensive updating for
modern farming methods. To house livestock, for example, a barn may need
new feeding, watering, waste removal, electrical, plumbing and ventilation
Similarly, barns that can
no longer be used for agriculture at all normally require changes to adapt
them for commercial, office, or residential use. In such cases barns need
more extensive work than the maintenance and repair treatments outlined
However, when rehabilitating
a historic barn for a new farming operation or a new use entirely, care
must be taken to preserve its historic character while making needed changes.
A successful rehabilitation project is best guaranteed when a work plan
is drawn up by someone familiar with the evaluation of historic structures,
and when it is carried out by contractors and workmen experienced with
the building type and committed to the goal of retaining the historic
character of the property. Help in formulating rehabilitation plans and
in locating experienced professionals is normally available from the State
Historic Preservation Office and local preservation groups.
The following approaches should
be observed when carrying out rehabilitation projects on historic barns:
1. Preserve the historic
setting of the barn as much as possible. Modern farming practices do
not require the great number of outbuildings, lots, fences, hedges,
walls and other elements typical of historic farms. Yet such features,
together with fields, woods, ponds, and other aspects of the farm setting
can be important to the character of historic barns. The functional
relationship between the barn and silo is particularly significant and
should also be maintained.
2. Repair and repaint historic
siding rather than cover barns with artificial siding. Siding applied
over the entire surface of a building can give it an entirely different
appearance, obscure craft details, and mask ongoing deterioration of
historic materials underneath. The resurfacing of historic farm buildings
with any new material that does not duplicate the historic material
is never a recommended treatment.
3. Repair rather than replace
historic windows whenever possible, and avoid "blocking them down" or
covering them up. Avoid the insertion of numerous new window openings.
They can give a building a domestic appearance, radically altering a
barn's character. However, if additional light is needed, add new windows
carefully, respecting the size and scale of existing window openings.
4. Avoid changing the size
of door openings whenever possible. Increasing the height of door openings
to accommodate new farm machinery can dramatically alter the historic
character of a barn. If larger doors are needed, minimize the visual
change. Use new track-hung doors rather than oversized rolled steel
doors, which give an industrial appearance incompatible with most historic
barns. If the barn has wood siding, the new doors should match it. If
historic doors are no longer needed, fix them shut instead of removing
them and filling in the openings.
5. Consider a new exterior
addition only if it is essential to the continued use of a historic
barn. A new addition can damage or destroy historic features and materials
and alter the overall form of the historic building. If an addition
is required, it should be built in a way that minimizes damage to external
walls and internal plan. It should also be compatible with the historic
barn, but sufficiently differentiated from it so that the new work is
not confused with what is genuinely part of the past.
6. Retain interior spaces
and features as much as possible. The internal volume of a barn is often
a major character-defining feature, and the insertion of new floors,
partitions, and structures within the barn can drastically impair the
overall character of the space. Similarly, interior features should
also be retained to the extent possible.
7. Retain as much of the
historic internal structural system as possible. Even in cases where
it is impractical to keep all of the exposed structural system, it may
be possible to keep sufficiently extensive portions of it to convey
a strong sense of the interior character. Wholesale replacement of the
historic structural system with a different system should be avoided.
Reprinted from The Old
House Website. Copyright 1998 - 2001, The Old House Web. All Rights Reserved.