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Farmers Preserve Their Aging Barns

August 25, 2014
iStock Old Barn

For nearly 100 years, an architectural marvel has stood watch over fields of corn and soybeans near Franklin, Ind.

The barn was constructed it in 1918. It has been part of Michael Dragoo's farm since his grandfather purchased the property in 1946.

Sturdy wooden beams, cut from trees less than a mile from the farm, are anchored in hardened dirt base. The pieces were connected with massive pins that held the structure together. Ribs made of the timbers hold up the roof, which has been replaced over the years to hold off the elements.

"I put metal on the outside of it, so it doesn't look like an old barn anymore," Dragoo told the Daily Journal. "But the main part of the barn is original."

Johnson County's agricultural heritage is captured in the thick hand-hewn lumber frame, the white-washed plank exteriors and the cavernous interiors of local barns. Built to serve as protection for livestock, equipment and crops, the structures have become more appreciated as architectural marvels.

That appreciation has bred a growing effort to save historic barns. Instead of letting the structures rot away, enthusiasts are working to ensure that future generations can appreciate the craftsmanship, simplicity and sturdiness of these wooden barns.

"When people settled this land 200 years ago, they were using native timbers, and these barns were meant to last hundreds of years," said Carolyn Rahe, president of the Indiana Barn Foundation. "The craftsmanship and workmanship that you see in these barns is unparalleled. We owe it to our ancestors and the people who worked to build them here to save these barns."

Johnson County features a variety of barn styles and designs.

Dairy barns with the gambrel roofs, roof dormers and multiple windows are common. Straight-roofed English barns illustrate the power of simplicity — no fancy ornamentation, just pure function.

The county even features a round barn, one of fewer than 100 in Indiana. Owned by Sam Kemp on his Circle K Farm in rural Franklin, it had been used to keep cattle and horses during the winter. The animals were kept around the outside of the structure, leaving the center open for work, he said.

But the classic wooden Indiana barn quickly is becoming an endangered species.

According to the Indiana Barn Foundation, only around 20,000 wooden barns are left in the state. That compares with about 30,000 in 2000. Historians estimate that in the early 1900s, Indiana boasted nearly 200,000 barns.

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