A barn raising calls to mind the image of many hands working together to build a lasting structure that serves as the center of a prosperous farm. Through the end of 2003, a special barn raising will take place in the Wisconsin countrysidenot with hammers and sawsbut with cameras.
To mark the end of Wisconsin's "Year of the Barn" and raise awareness of the rich heritage of barn styles in the state and their important role in rural life, the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation are sponsoring a photographic barn raising.
The event is designed to encourage people of all ages to take photos of barns from every county in Wisconsin and submit them as part of a permanent collection for a final "Year of the Barn" ceremony slated with state officials early in 2004.
Few things say "Wisconsin" like a red, gambrel-roofed barn, and interest and investment in restoring these icons of the rural landscape have continued to grownot only because they serve as reminders of the state's past, but also because they have the potential to help boost the local economy.
"The direct valuation of a farm is based in part on its buildings, so it makes sense to keep them in good condition. In addition, the local tax base is hurt when a barn is lost," says James Hayward, a Green Bay expert in the restoration of historic buildings. Hayward says that the majority of farmers want to know how to retrofit their buildings for storage or other use. New technology makes it possible to convert space for modern agricultural operations, while leaving the exterior intact. "When I'm driving by, I still see an old building, but inside the farmer has a new barn," he explains.
Throughout the state, many barns have been restored and adapted for commercial ventures such as restaurants, antiques shops and bed-and-breakfasts. Examples of barns that have been renovated for other than agricultural uses can be found at the UW-Extension's Barn Preservation Program Web site.
"A major goal of the Wisconsin Barn Raising Project is to highlight the array of barns that make the state of Wisconsin unique," says Chuck Law, University of Wisconsin-Extension's advisor to the Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program and president of the National Barn Alliance.
Wisconsin boasts a wider variety of barn styles than most other states due to the diverse cultures and customs of the Badger State's early settlers. Italians, Welsh, Irish, Scandinavians, Polish, early Yankees, free blacks and escaped slaves contributed to Wisconsin's barn legacy. Vernon County, which claims the most round barns of any county in the United States, secured its reputation largely through the work of Algie Shivers, an African-American well-known in the Hillsboro community.
Architectural details on an old barn can often provide clues to its builders. For example, Germans were noted for their half-timber construction called Fachwerk, while Swiss barns had jutting pent roofs that sheltered cattle from the rain on stormy days.
Hayward cautions that Wisconsin's historic barns are in danger of disappearing. Each year, hundreds are taken apart piece by piece and the components sold to other states and countries for flooring and new construction. "Losing our barns would be the end of an era for Wisconsin," he says.
To find out how to submit a photo to the Wisconsin Barn Raising Project, visit the project Web site. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31, 2003. For more information, contact Chuck Law at email@example.com or your local county UW-Extension office.
This reprinted article appears courtesy of UW-Extension and is copyrighted 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.