Don’t Close the Door on BarnsApril, 2020
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Barns aren’t just buildings for the storage of animals, equipment and grain; they’re architectural artifacts that tell us something about our past, present and hopefully our future.
“Barns tell the history of New Hampshire: from hardscrabble beginnings to the sheep and dairy booms in the 19th century, and we are losing them at an alarming rate,” said Beverly Thomas, program director at the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance.
In the state’s agricultural heyday, nearly every rural homestead had a barn, but now the structures’ numbers are dwindling. It has been estimated there were 15,000 barns in the state four years ago, but about one is lost every day to development and decay. Below are some interesting facts and history of barns.
The word barn comes from the Old English “bere” for barley, or grain in general, and “aern” for storage place. The classic red barn is a familiar feature of the local landscape because ferric oxide, used to make red paint, is common in the northeast. Its compound acts as a preservative too.
Watch your language
Barns have affected the language as well as our surroundings. There are many expressions that come from barns…
“You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”
“Don’t close the barn door after the horses are out.”
“Were you raised in a barn?”
Early pilots “barnstormed” from one farm to another, and any good speech or show is said to be a “Real Barnburner.”
“Barnyard Language” is not fit for polite society and going around “Robin Hood’s Barn” is to take a long, indirect route.
Like examining dinosaur bones, one can learn a lot by studying the bones of old barns.
John C. Porter, who grew up on a dairy farm in Lebanon, wrote Preserving Old Barns: Preventing the Loss of a Valuable Resource.
He points out that “English barns prevailed until about 1830, typically about 30 by 40 feet, with a main door in the center under the eaves. But then came ‘Yankee’ barns, bigger with doors on the gable ends to avoid the snow and ice falling off the eaves. And into the 20th century new technologies and management methods would continually dictate fresh approaches to barn design.”
If you’ve got ‘em, keep ‘em
The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has several programs to help save barns including assessment grants, which help owners prioritize and complete barn repair work. Also, the alliance features educational programs for barn owners and enthusiasts, as well as information on a state barn easement program that can offer tax relief to property owners who preserve their historic agricultural structures. The alliance holds its annual Old Home and Barn Exposition in Manchester on March 21 and 22.
Historic – and they have the papers to prove it
Four barns are on the New Hampshire Register of Historic Places.
The Nathaniel Rolfe Barn in Concord, “a rare and well-preserved example of a late 18th century double English barn, built in a single campaign with very high caliber framing techniques.”
Barn Playhouse in New London with “a long, colorful history as a popular and successful summer stock theater, established in 1933.”
The Goss Farm Barn in Rye” is a good example of a circa 1800 English-style barn converted to a Yankee-style barn, a common update to New Hampshire farms.”
And the Wiggin-Raynes Barn in Exeter, a “massive 95-by-42-foot barn (built) prior to the Civil War and developed a sizable cattle market for livestock that were being driven from northern New England to Boston.”
The barn at the former Lawrence family farm is now operated as a community center by the Town of Hollis, which hosts art shows and other events.
If you build it, they will come
Center Hill Barns in Epsom designs and builds stall barns, indoor riding arenas and other agricultural structures. Bill Marko Builders in Henniker specializes in the building, repair and restoration of barns for residential, commercial or agricultural uses.
Hey gang, let’s put on a show!
New Hampshire has a tradition of barns repurposed as summer theater venues. The Barn Playhouse in New London and the Peterborough Players perform in converted barns. The Barnstormers Theater troupe got its name by performing in several theater barns each summer before settling down in a converted hardware store in Tamworth. The Weathervane Theater in Whitefield began in the Chase Barn before building a new facility at the site.
I don’t live in a barn, but I shop in one
Hubbingtons’s All-American Furniture Store is in a renovated barn more than a century old at the former Drake Farm in North Hampton.
Suffer from silo envy?
Farms and Barn Real Estate in Francestown can set you up with a barn of your own.
Get hitched where the horses were tied
Allrose Farm in Greenfield, Moody Hill Farm in Wolfeboro, Kitz Farm in Strafford, Longlook Farm in Sanbornton and Birch Hill Farm in Gilford are among the venues where you may get married in a barn – this is a hot trend if there ever were one.