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Help for Oregon’s Heritage Barns

September 4, 2013

By Gina Drew

It’s no small secret that the majority of Americans — even those who consider themselves steadfast metropolitans — overwhelmingly regard historic barns as the most significant element that comprises the integrity of our rural landscapes. The visual ubiquity of a barn lends itself to a physical and emotional reinforcement of our history as a nation, and nostalgia tied to our country’s agricultural foundation. Unfortunately, barns today face an uphill battle fraught with obsolescence, benign neglect, urban growth, re-use strategy difficulties and a lack of reliable funding, among many other issues. They are in need of vastly more concrete and substantive assistance that reaches far beyond a passive affection for their beauty.

The hand-hewn Knotts-Owens Barn near Corvallis was built in 1870.

The hand-hewn Knotts-Owens Barn near Corvallis was built in 1870.

The last 10-15 years have, however, seen a rise in positive response to the swift deterioration of these valuable rural historic architectural resources. A number of states have worked hard to develop programs offering support to owners of historic agricultural properties, including Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Washington, Connecticut and other eastern states. As evidenced by this list, the geographic focus of awareness and outreach has been predominantly in the Midwest and East Coast. It has become obvious in recent years that historic agricultural resources in Oregon have been inadequately supported and under-served as a whole.

In response to this pressing need, Restore Oregon created the Heritage Barns Taskforce under their Advocacy Committee in 2011. The mission is to promote and advocate for the protection and preservation of Oregon’s historic barns by strengthening preservation community partnerships with agricultural constituents, as well as property owners and those enthusiastic about barns in general. Areas of focus include public education and awareness, survey and documentation, resource support and assistance in removing barriers to restoration. A cross-section of barn owners, historians, preservationists and others serve on the Taskforce.

The Taskforce is holding a “Sustaining Heritage Barns Workshop” on September 21st in Corvallis at the Knotts-Owens Barn, recently included on Restore Oregon’s 2013 Most Endangered Places list.  The all-day event will cover everything from northwest barn typology, how-to’s on beginning a restoration structural assessment and financial incentive availability, to hands-on demonstrations of historic hewing techniques. Guest speakers include Michael Houser, who will present information on Washington’s Heritage Barn Register, John Platz, Restoration Specialist & Engineer, and Amy McAuley, who will be demonstrating historic hand tool use. All are welcome to attend.  Tickets are available at http://heritagebarn.eventbrite.com/

Barns symbolize our rural heritage and help tell the story of our unique agricultural history.  Their rapid disappearance within Oregon’s landscape unravels our ability to communicate this narrative to future generations. With the launch of this inaugural barn preservation workshop, the Heritage Barns Taskforce hopes to raise awareness of the timely issue and foster networking that will strengthen future restoration programming.

Gina Drew serves as chair of the Restore Oregon Heritage Barns Taskforce.

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