They call it ‘Barn Again’
My old, log barn in an open field on my farm is standing straighter these days. The structure that was built before 1848 has been totally restored. Each crib was jacked up in order to rebuild the foundation. Old logs that were holding their place on the walls were examined and appraised. Where there was rot, replacement logs taken from other old barns were inserted. Doors were rebuilt or replaced and new coverings were placed to protect the logs in the future.
It is always difficult when redoing old buildings to decide what must go and what must stay. I love the original wood and design of a building and hang on to the old stuff as long as I can. In the marks left on the buildings, I see the events and people who moved within its walls. Antique lovers call this ‘patina,’ and I cherish the historical marking that adorns all old things. In the barn, there are worn places where animals used to chew and gnarled rope that was left after chores finished more than 50 years ago.
Not all of my barn was still wearing its original logs or trim. Over the years, it had been altered to meet new needs, and repairs had been made as deterioration or accidents happened. The history of the years it stood on this farmland is evident when one stops to look.
Now, it has a new set of guidelines. The marks from this 2011 crew made up of Amish and mainstream Hoosiers show their craft skills and my practical and artistic preferences. The hours of meticulous labor, new materials and new techniques have enhanced the old structure.
It is not uncommon for a farm owner to find that his old barn cannot house the large new equipment that he uses today. It is costly to repair wooden barns, and they are allowed to decay for lack of maintenance. Barns were working places for livestock, hay and equipment in the past. Some might think that old log or timber frame barns are primitive structures and nothing to cherish.
Today and tomorrow, this barn will have to serve in new ways to meet its owner’s lifestyles. Our barn will most likely have to be repeatedly altered for adaptive reuse in the years to come.
This isn’t just about sturdy foundations, straight walls and weatherproof roofs. It is about integrity. The resources we had available to us will be obvious, but I tried to retain the patches of the past when we could. One way it serves us today is by honoring the craftsmen and the pioneer Hoosiers who built this area of the United States.
Towns share some of the same characteristic tendencies as rural buildings. In the 1960s, bulldozing, urban renewal projects obliterated buildings with total disregard to the historical heritage of the place. Losing a sense of the continuity of a community was the result, and, now, we mourn the loss of so much of our understanding of our culture. It is our heritage that gives us a sense of where we fit into the big, often incomprehensible universe. Our heritage reminds us that we aren’t the first to have to go through experiences common to all mankind. These history lessons give us hope and skills for our own journey. They tell us that we are not alone in shouldering all the responsibilities of life. We ride the wave of something bigger.
There is a spiritual quality to an old barn. At night, when it is quiet, I can sometimes feel the presence of the farmer who came out to help a heifer give birth to a calf or milk the faithful family cow. During these long hours in a barn, there must have been a lot of thinking. Worries, joys and questions were pondered while going about the daily chores. They are all still here in the form of my memory and understanding of these earlier times. My head and heart are spinning with many of the same quandaries today.
I dream that, during the next hundred years, others will stand within this old, log barn and for a moment feel their connection to the past. It is my hope that they, too, will listen to its voices and find inspiration and guidance for their own future.