New Hampshire Barns — An Endangered Treasure

New Hampshire barns are disappearing from our landscape as quickly as cows.

Okay, so they may not always be as historically exciting as a town hall, church, covered bridge, or historic house, but they are an important part of our cultural heritage.  The National Register of Historic Places recognizes and lists historic barns.

In the early history of New Hampshire colonization, after building a simple lean-to for human habitation, the second structure often built was a barn.  This was because having a place to store food and fodder, and to shelter animals, was equally as important as living quarters, if not more so.

Unfortunately, the demand for the old wood in ancient barns is great, as it is reused as flooring, paneling, etc. in new or renovated homes.  Salvage dealers know that in the “old wood” market, barn boards can bring in two to five times more money than new wood. Caught in this historically-incorrect cycle, the greater the demand for barn wood, the more endangered our barns are.

In 2003 New Hampshire law created a mechanism to encourage the preservation of historic New Hampshire barns and outbuildings, granting property tax relief to the owner.  The NH Preservation Alliance conducts a NH Old House and Barn Exposition each year, and their web site offers advice and sometimes financial assistance.

Just the other day, as I was driving on the back roads of a town that I had often visited as a child, and I missed a turn.  Perplexed, I retraced my steps, and realized that the lovely barn that had sat on this road for two hundred years was gone.  Agreed, the barn had been in bad shape for at least the last 40 years or so, due to neglect, and safety issues may have required its removal.  But I could not help but feel sad that the town had just lost one of its interesting landmarks.

Thankfully this is not always the case.  In Merrimack New Hampshire, I often pass Silos Restaurant, and remember the farm from my childhood, when the road in front was dirt instead of tarmac, and the frequent inhabitants were cows, rather than hungry patrons.  I’m sure you know of other barns that are in good repair, or ones that have been converted into businesses or homes.

Sir Walter Scott is credited with saying, “If a farmer fills his barn with grain, he gets mice. If he leaves it empty, he gets actors.”  In New Hampshire this is sometimes true.


*Web Sites of Interest*

-Tools for Preserving Barns: NH Division of Historical Resources-

-Preserving Old Barns-
An illustrated book offered by the UNH Cooperative Extension for $19.95 each

-A Barn, A Legacy (NHPA)-

Round and Polygon Barns in NH

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