Old barns, new uses


Generations old, historic barns tell the story of early settlers in rural communities.

Julie Avery with the Michigan Barn Preservation Network says the network provides resources not only to preserve historic barns, but also to become aware of their original uses.  She tells Brownfield more historic barns are becoming event spaces hosting weddings, parties and performances.

“It’s another way to save barns—barns need to have a purpose.”

She says while early settlers on the East Coast were first generation builders, most areas of the Midwest were modified.  “There would have been more first generation builders building barns like they were built in Europe.” Avery tells Brownfield, “Here our barns, and more in the Midwest and West, have become adaptive.”

She says there are some regions that reflect the people that settled communities, like Dutch barns on Michigan’s West Coast around Holland. Barns also tell the story of the type of agriculture in the region.  “When you know what kind of agriculture existed when the barns were built, then you can kind of read that.”

Avery says today modern barns still tell the story of agriculture. Instead of more diversified farmsteads of a generation ago, she says contemporary structures have become specialized.  “They don’t have the diversity and so the need they have for the barn reflects the storage and what kind of crops or animals they’re working with.”

The Michigan Barn Preservation Network will highlight agricultural history through a fall barn tour to Michigan’s northwest this October. Avery says this year’s tour offers a weekend of optional activities. The tour will stop at several barns in the region that have been repurposed to meet today’s agricultural needs, serve as event spaces, and are protected by historic and conservation districts.

AUDIO: Interview with Julie Avery (12:43 mp3):

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