'Barn Huggers' Save Pieces of History

Sunday, May 7, 2006

What would the Midwest be without barns, the familiar red-and-white wooden structures rising above cornfields?

But modern, large-scale farming methods have made farmers turn to the larger hoop or pole barns needed to house massive machinery.

"Our historic timber frame barns don't fit farming practices like they used to, so it's harder for farmers to justify their maintenance," said Laura Saeger, a board member of Friends of Ohio Barns and office manager of Christian & Son Inc., a Burbank, Ohio, company that reconstructs barns.

So across the Midwest, groups of barn preservationists, often calling themselves "barn huggers," have stepped in to help. Farmers sell or donate their barns to barn lovers, who deconstruct the buildings piece by piece and reassemble them in new locations.

Preservationists are pushing federal and state legislatures to provide more funding and tax breaks to aid in restoration. They are asking Congress for $25 million for a national inventory of barns.

Barn huggers say it is a race against time. The Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance has reported that about 1,000 barns in the state are lost per year.

"We feel like our historic barns represent a real cross section of the immigrants who came through Ohio on their way out West," Saeger said. "You can walk through and say, 'This is a German barn; this is a Swiss barn.' "

-- Kari Lydersen

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