Written by Jim Lindberg
Question: If you were planning a national conference about barns and wanted to hold it in the state with the most old barns, where would that be? Iowa? Pennsylvania? Wisconsin? Vermont? Yes, those states do have a lot of older barns. But none of them have as many old barns, per square mile, as can be found along the winding back roads of Kentucky. So it was fitting that this year's national Heritage Barn Conference was held right smack in the middle of the Blue Grass State, in a restored tobacco barn.
The setting for this two-day gathering at the historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill could not have been more bucolic. I was one of about 90 attendees who traveled to the meeting from more than a dozen states. Among us were barn preservation advocates of every stripe: barn rehabilitation architects, barn restoration contractors, barn-loving extension agents, barn owners, barn historians, barn photographers, barn painters, and barn watchers.
In educational sessions and informal conversations, we talked about why barns are important and shared stories of how older barns can be rehabilitated to serve an amazing range of functions, from agriculture to education. There was technical talk about tax credits for barn rehabilitation and wonky talk about the need for congressional funding for barn surveys and grants. Mostly, there was a lot of inspiring talk about older barns that have been brought back to life. We even saw a movie about one of them.
And of course there were barn tours. The tours allowed our local hosts, Preservation Kentucky and the Kentucky Heritage Council, a chance to highlight some of their work to preserve barns and other aspects rural heritage in an eight-county region called Kentucky Crossroads. Kentucky Crossroads is one of two rural pilot areas selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to participate in the Rural Heritage Development Initiative. Funded in part by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this initiative is demonstrating how conserving heritage can be a foundation for successful rural development.
The national barn preservation conference is organized each year by the National Barn Alliance (aka "the other NBA"), with lots of help from local partners like Preservation Kentucky. In the last couple of years, the NBA has grown from an informal group of historic preservationists and university extension agents to become a formal, non-profit organization. The NBA provides ideas, resources and inspiration for a growing network of local and state barn preservation groups. NBA also promotes barn survey and education activities, including a program that involves schoolchildren in the construction of a scale-model timber-frame barn. In Kentucky, 35 fifth-graders participated in a barn raising that was held on the day before the barn conference began.
The next annual barn conference is scheduled for May, 2010 June 10-12, 2010 in Atchison, Kansas, hosted by the Kansas Barn Alliance. If you like old barns, I hope you'll join us.
Jim Lindberg is the director of preservation initiatives in the Mountains/Plains Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Updated to correct the dates of the 2010 conference.
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