Unfortunately, you don’t have to travel very far to see numerous abandoned barns. Ranked sixth in the nation for barns per square mile, Indiana lags in barn preservation efforts. The Indiana Barn Foundation recently held its annual meeting at Maplelawn Farmstead in Zionsville discussing the state of heritage barns and restoring and preserving this unique piece of our heritage.
The foundation’s motto is “Preserving historical Indiana barns, one barn at a time.”
IBF president Kent Yeager said the foundation began in 2013 with a focus on raising money to help owners restore their barns, but since then the focus has shifted to appreciation.
“We’re going to come out with a booklet here in the next month … to help people appreciate their old barns,” Yeager said. “These barns all have a story to tell. We really think, through technical assistance and education, we probably can do more than we can through grants.”
Tommy Kleckner, western regional director of Indiana Landmarks and an IBF board member, said Maplelawn is a prime example of preservation – particularly with the number of outbuildings that aren’t needed in modern farming operations.
“Agriculture now, a lot of it is large-scale,” he said. “Buildings like this don’t have as much of a functional purpose.”
These majestic memorials to the past are often made of the remnants of Indiana forests.
“I always tell people if they want to see Indiana’s ancient forest, step inside a 19th Century timber-frame barn,” Kleckner said. “It’s hard to find timber that can produce these types of wood members.”
Board member and preservation consultant Duncan Campbell said the IBF helps barn owners who may be thinking about restoring a dilapidated barn. He does site visits all over the state only charging for mileage.
“We’ll come and look at your barn and give you an appraisal on its condition,” he said. “(We) give you advice on the kinds of things you can do and some sense of what your cost obligations are going to be. And just encourage people to save their barns as opposed to losing them.”
Campbell has spent nearly 50 years in historic rehabilitation and restoration starting as a carpenter. He retired from Ball State as director of the historic preservation program. He lives in an 1830s house and serves as the foundation’s resource chair.
“We don’t insist on historically accurate preservation at every instance,” Campbell added. “What I tell people to do is just get your hammer out and repair the thing. Get the water out of it, keep the windows closed, make sure the doors work. Make sure that you are at least doing no harm.”
Campbell said people stopped using these barns because they have stopped farming. Yet, they have these looming reminders of the past and possibly their own family heritage. Currently, the Indiana Barn Foundation has two grant cycles, but the award is only $2,500 and they’re matching grants which means the owner must come up with $2,500. Campbell said there are about 20 applications each year.
“We don’t do it by financial need,” he said of the grant making process. “We do it by barn need.”
Eventually, the foundation hopes to raise enough funds to make a bigger impact in preserving these mammoth structures built from Indiana wood, Campbell said. He encourages barn owners to just hang on until the foundation can offer larger grants.
Grant applications are available online at indianabarns.org. Memberships are available through the IBF and there are tours and other events scheduled throughout the year. You can also make donations through the site in memory of a loved one.