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History

The American idiom, “he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn," is used most often when discussing someone’s aim. Creatively it could also mean that someone is off the point. Regardless, of how it is used, for the techno-generation, many of them hardly know what a barn is because although they were at one time seen sprinkled throughout the countryside of America, they are not the norm anymore. Finding an authentic barn may mean looking in odd places because many old barns, where they still exist, have been transformed into all kinds of different buildings.

Historically, barns in the farming communities were storage and shelter areas for animals feed, or equipment and often housed supplies, horses, and vehicles. There are many different types of barns, usually based on location, or usage. In American history, there are many stories woven around barns because in some communities they were the center-stage of everything in town. Barns still have a unique appeal for the public; many books have been written about them, and pictures books, telling the story of barns in America, are on bookshelves everywhere.

Some barns were made with an upper area and were able to store grain and hay. That area, which was called a mow or hayloft, had a large door at the end and the hay was hoisted up in the loft and stored, and later was used as feed for the animals. A system of pulleys and trolleys that ran alongside a track transported the hay up, so that it could drop, through trap doors, to control the feeding of the animals. When tractors became common in the farming industry, barn construction changed. Many barns had to allow space, for the tractors to get inside when not in use, to protect them from the inclement weather.

Several states have been preserving the memory of barns, by cataloging and trying to save as many as possible. In Massachusetts, The Preservation Mass Barn Task Force started as a non-profit alliance and they are dedicated to the preservation of historic barns. This society has organized materials for educators which include a traveling workshop, a quarterly newsletter, and an informative web page. They also support advocates, who understand what the loss of historical artifacts means to the state. They promote a legislative agenda, and collaborate with businesses and community members, seeking future preservation.

Preservationist fear that, once torn down, the destroyed barns will lose their place in the history of this country and the story of barns could disappear. That part of history will forever be lost to humanity once the walls collapse. Some states value the historical value of the barn and they have set aside money for the their preservation but Congress has not followed that trend. Because states understand the problem, and the federal government does not, there are no federal funds set aside for the many projects which need restoration. No longer being able to enjoy the images of barns dotting our countryside will leave a void!

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Copyright David Chisholme 2008 All Rights Reserved