Historic Barns & Agricultural Buildings
The Preserve Mass Barns program began in 2004 when PM President Jim Igoe and Sumner Perlman, author of Barns of Dennis, Massachusetts collaborated to address the lack of organized advocacy for the preservation of historic barns. The void of such advocacy work was becoming ever more visible as long-familiar barns began to disappear from the landscape, often without community comment. From that beginning, an all volunteer Barn Task Force jumped into action, hosting several barn conferences, workshops across the state, publishing newsletters and a website dedicated to getting more information and support for historic barns into the public eye. They focused on continued education about historic barns through online resources, publications and the advocacy strength of Preservation Massachusetts and its membership.
The Barn Task Force program transferred from an all volunteer committee to an online resource in 2010, with tips and information hosted and updated by Preservation Massachusetts. By working with everyone from barn owners to community leaders, we can make the case for the preservation and reuse of our historic barns and agricultural buildings, encourage more barn assessments and preservation plans and work cohesively with partner organizations to ensure the historic agrarian architecture of Massachusetts remains for future generations.
1. Why save barns?
Why are barns important? Barns and agricultural buildings help tell the Massachusetts story over the last several hundred years. From carriage barns in city or town centers, tobacco barns in the Connecticut River valley, cranberry screen houses on the Cape, to dairy barns across the state, they help us read the landscape and connect us to the life and work of our communities through the generations. Most barns, especially those of timber frame construction, are well-built and have open floor plans that make them useful today for farming or for a wide variety of new uses. Yet, barns are disappearing at a rapid rate from the landscape. With some planning, patience, and creativity, older and historic barns can continue to serve their original function or be put back to use.
2. Is there any money available to help pay for repairing our barn?
Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), through its Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program (APR), purchases development rights to farmland in order to ensure that the land remains in agriculture. Information about the program is online here:
(MDAR also has many other grant and loan programs for farmers. Check out their website for more information.)
USDA Grants and Loans
The US Department of Agriculture has a number of grant and loan programs for farms.
Go to this webpage for information: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=GRANTS_LOANS
State and Federal Historic Tax Credits
If your barn is still actively used for farming or is used for some other income-producing purpose, the rehabilitation work you do might be eligible for state and federal historic tax credits. There’s information on tax credits for barns on the National Park Service’s website here: http://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives/taxdocs/intro-barns.pdf
You can also find information on historic preservation tax credits here:
Federal credit: http://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm
State credit: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhctax/taxidx.htm
Community Preservation Act (CPA)
CPA is a program that provides funding for open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation projects. To find out if your town has adopted CPA, go to the Community Preservation Coalition’s website. On this page – http://www.communitypreservation.org/content/info-individual-cpa-communities – there’s a drop-down list of all the CPA towns in Massachusetts. If your town’s name is on the list, contact your CPA Committee to find out about application procedures. Contact information should be on your town’s website or available at your Town or City Hall.
(NOTE: Every community has its own standards for projects; some are reluctant to fund projects involving private property, because CPA projects must provide a “public benefit.” However, there have been instances where communities have funded private preservation work in exchange for a preservation easement or some other guarantee that ensures the project provides a public benefit.)
Conservation and preservation easements
A preservation easement is a deed-related restriction that provides protection for historic structures. Sometimes communities will use CPA funds to purchase preservation easements on historic properties.
Preservation easements can also be donated or sold to government entities or non-profit organizations like Historic New England http://www.historicnewengland.org/ . While a donation won’t get you the funds you need to repair your home, easements can help you to get income tax deductions or to lower your property taxes.
For information on preservation easements, go to:
Land trusts and conservation organizations will often purchase or accept donations of development rights to agricultural or open-space properties. The Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition has a list of land trusts on its website: www.massland.org
Local Historical Commission Grant or Loan Programs
In a few communities, the Historical Commission manages a grant or loan program to assist property owners in rehabilitating historic structures. Check with your Historical Commission to see whether your community has such a program.
Community Development Funding
Some communities have Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) or other sources of funding to assist property owners with fixing up their property. Check with your community’s Planning and/or Community Development Department to see whether they have such a program.
If you live in a small town, CDBG and similar programs are often managed through the Regional Planning Agency (RPA) rather than the municipality. You can find a list of the state’s Regional Planning Agencies online here: http://www.mass.gov/portal/government-taxes/local/counties-regions/planning/
Technical or construction assistance from trade or vocational schools
Sometimes trade or vocational schools will take on rehabilitation projects as part of their coursework. This could reduce the cost of your rehab project. However, you’ll need to be sure that the instructors and supervisors for the project are familiar with working with historic structures, and that students’ work will be well-monitored.
3. Why is knowing the history of my barn important?
Knowledge about when a barn was built and how it evolved will help guide and inform any work that is done to it. The character of any building depends partly on its age and partly on its distinctive features, which will be important to keep. Features that represent later alterations may be less important, or in some cases, may have taken on a significance of their own. But either way, they provide the physical history of when changes were made to the barn, and suggest what should be retained when work is done.
4. How do I find out the age of my barn?
Most of the information may be contained in the building itself. Since building techniques and materials changed over time, and many outbuildings were enlarged at least once, barns can often be “read” by looking carefully at their construction. For instance, while timber-frame (post-and-beam) construction continued longer in barns than in houses, “scribe-rule” framing (with individually fitted joints) was replaced by “square-rule” framing with interchangeable joints after 1830 in most areas of New England. At around the same time the New England barn, with lengthwise aisles and the wagon entry in the gable end, began to replace the English barn plan, which had the large wagon doors in the long sides. Some of the resources listed below give good explanations and illustrations of the evolution of barn design and construction.
Local knowledge and documents such as town histories, tax records, and Mass. Historical Commission historic properties survey forms that have been prepared under the guidance of the local historical commission may also contain information about when a barn was built or enlarged. Additional clues are often provided by historic maps, old newspaper articles, and oral histories.
5. Where can I find someone to repair my historic barn?
The following is a list of online directories of preservation contractors and consultants. Most are searchable by keyword and/or contractor specialty. This list is a place to start—it is not intended to be comprehensive, nor does the inclusion of a business or organization in any of the listed resources serve as an endorsement. As with any contractor, be sure to check credentials and get references.
Preservation Massachusetts Consultants Directory: http://preservationmass.org/resources/consultant-directory/
Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s Restoration Services Directory: http://www.cttrust.org/index.cgi/200
See also their barn restoration directory: http://www.connecticutbarns.org/3942
Historic Windsor Inc: http://www.preservationworks.org/directory.shtml
Marlborough Historical Society: http://www.historicmarlborough.org/Restoration.html
Maine Preservation Directory: http://mainepreservation.com/preservation-help/preservation-professionals-directory
Greater Portland Landmarks Maine Restoration Directory:
New Hampshire Preservation Alliance Preservation Directory: http://www.nhpreservation.org/index.php?option=com_sobi2&Itemid=121
Preserve Rhode Island Preservation Directory:
Springfield Preservation Trust Contractor Directory:
Preservation Trust of Vermont Restoration Directory:
Slate Roof Central: slateroofcentral.com
HistoricPreservation.com “Preservation Marketplace”:
Restoration Trades Directory:
Traditional Building Product Database: http://www.traditional-building.com/8.htm
6. I have been told my barn might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. What does that mean?
For a privately-owned barn that is not used for commercial purposes, listing in the National Register is an official recognition of the building’s importance in architecture and/or history. As a rule, however, National Register listing for a privately owned building does not make it eligible for any public funding, and would not place any restrictions on what can be done with or to the building. National Register-listed barns that are owned by municipalities or non-profit organizations, however, may qualify for grants, when available, from some funding programs such as the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund administered by MHC and Community Preservation Funding in communities which have adopted the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act. Owners of barns used for rental or other income producing purposes that undergo substantial rehabilitation may be eligible for a 20% federal tax credit on the cost of a certified rehabilitation. Contact the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) for details.
7. What are Barn Condition Assessments and Preservation Plans?
Barn condition assessments are reports made by professionals who evaluate the condition of your barn by looking at it structural members, siding, roof, foundations and interior spaces and determining first their history of use, their materials, and present physical condition. When all the conditions are known the professional who is often a timber framer, architect or preservation contractor will then identify the work to be done to preserve the barn and arrange it by priority. With work listed by priority, the owner can then schedule work in a logical order that will avoid re-doing tasks, and will take care of the biggest threats first. The condition assessment also contains an estimate of the cost of the work items – often provides alternatives to their accomplishment – so that owners can budget for work and also have a basis from which to evaluate competing prices from contractors.
A preservation plan for a barn takes into consideration its long term viability. It builds on the condition assessment, current use, funding needs and sets out a plan for its future by recommending preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction activities. It will study alternative uses, funding sources, and will project the financial viability of the barn associated with alternative uses. Based on this information the plan will make recommendations for the long term life of the building in its larger context.
8. I want to sell my old barn. Where can I advertise it?
The following websites post ads for people looking to buy and sell old barns:
The Barn Pages – http://www.thebarnpages.com/
National Barn Alliance – http://www.barnalliance.org/
The Barn Journal – http://www.thebarnjournal.org/
9. Our modern farming machinery will no longer fit into our 100 year old barn, so we are considering tearing it down. Do you have any advice on how to save this barn?
This is a common problem that farmers face. We would recommend that you get a copy of a National Trust for Historic Preservation publication called, Using Old Farm Buildings: adaptations for new agricultural uses, available at Barn Again! Moreover, Barn Again and the Barn Journal feature articles on altering trusses, changing opening dimensions and floor levels that farmers have used successfully to adapt older barns to modern agriculture. The economics of adaptation vs. construction weigh heavily in favor of adaptation, so it is worth the time to research techniques.
10. We have an old barn on our property and would like to put it to use. Do you have any good reuse ideas that would bring in some income?
If your property is no longer in agricultural use, there are a number of reuses that people have found for their barns which maintain their integrity. Some barns are being rented out to neighboring farms for additional equipment, crop or livestock storage. But barns have also been fitted up to serve as meeting spaces, and as bed and breakfast facilities. Barns are currently being used for wedding locations; they are being rented out for personal storage space. People are using their barns to serve as workshops, as teaching facilities, and office space for businesses. There are barns that rent out boarding space for horses, and for summer riding stables.
The most frequent reuses of barns — and the most radical — are as stores, restaurants, and homes. In all three cases, it takes special care to rehabilitate the barn so as not to lose its interior volume or its character-defining features.
The following are some examples of barns that have been rehabilitated and/or adapted for new uses:
Double Edge Theatre, Ashfield, MA
Use – Theater, retreat center
Walt Cudnohufsky, Landscape architect – Ashfield, MA
Use – professional offices
Edge Hill Golf Course, Ashfield, MA
Use – golf course
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA
Use – Dance festival, arts center
Daniels Farmstead – Blackstone, MA
Use – agricultural/museum/education
Thoreau Farm – Concord, MA
Use – museum – restoration in progress
Community Havest Project – North Grafton & Hopkinton, MA
Use – Agricultural
Williams Barn, Groton, MA
Use – Agricultural museum, farmers market, events & programming
Appleton Farms – Trustees of Reservations – Hamilton & Ipswich, MA
Use – working farm, CSA, nature center
Cultural Arts Alliance of Hopkinton
Use – Arts center
Gedney Farm and Mepal Manor, New Marlborough, MA
Use – Inn and event space
Cudworth House & Barn, Scituate MA Historical Society
Use – Storage and display of antique vehicles and farm equipment
Silverwood Partners Investment Bankers, Sherborn, MA
Use – Renovated livestock barn used for business offices; owner is also planning to develop CSA on adjoining agricultural land
http://silverwoodpartners.com/ (no photos on website, just info about the business)
Ranch Golf Club, Southwick, MA
Use – Renovated horse barns used as country club facilities
Wolbach Farm, Sudbury, MA – Sudbury Valley Trustees
Use – nature center, meeting space
River Bend Farm Visitors Center – Blackstone River& Canal Heritage State Park – Uxbridge, MA
Use – visitors’ center, meeting space
Sheep Hill, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation
Use – Restored farmstead used to interpret natural history, agricultural, and rural heritage. WRLF has done many innovative programs on preserving rural life and culture.
Lawrence Barn, Hollis, NH
Use – Community center
Trickey Barn, Jackson, NH
Use – Proposed new library (still in progress)
Rhode Island farms and barns open to the public – multiple sites
Uses – Various
Watson Farm – Jamestown, RI
Use – active family farm
Casey Farm – Saunderstown, RI
Use – organic farm, CSA
Food works at Two Rivers Center – Montpelier, VT
Use – multiple – living history museum, working farm, camp for kids
11.Where else can I find information about preserving barns and rural landscapes?
Lots of information from the National Trust for Historic Preservation about barn rehab projects – especially helpful are the publications and resources, with booklets on foundation, siding, and roof repair, and more: