There’s something hauntingly beautiful about abandoned barns.
They can sit for many years unused and yet still appear as soulful as ever. Perhaps it is the nostalgia we associate with these structures — recollections, real or imagined of haylofts, harvests and simpler times. We see them still, although decreasingly so, scattered across farmlands as we drive along quiet country roads. These barns, along with other buildings of former times, are slowly disappearing from our rural landscapes, and along with them the stories they can tell. But do they really need to disappear?
Although timber frame barns possess this sentimental and picturesque charm, the reality is that the majority are not being used in modern farming. While they may have once been adequate, they can no longer house new farming equipment, which is significantly larger. Not only is farming equipment increasing in size but so is the size of the farmer’s herds of animals in order to be able to make a profit. Considering this, the fact that fewer and fewer people are farming today, most barns no longer serve a purpose and are left abandoned.
With this in mind, it may not seem important to stop these barns from slowly disappearing. However, they hold value that makes them worth saving. They are more then a simple structure held together with wooden pegs. Not only does each barn carry a unique history, they were also built using the rich craftsmanship of timber framing- the very reason so many are still standing.
Timber framing has been around since the late 1700s. In this building method, each piece is carefully crafted to fit with the other, similar to a puzzle, making it stronger and incomparable to the majority of houses built today, especially considering the wood being used is old growth. Timber frame structures were and are built to last several lifetimes.
When a timber frame barn has outlived its original use, it can be adapted to be given a new purpose, also known as adaptive reuse. With the support of the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Scholarship, I was able to explore what a second life may look life for these barns by spending time with historians, farmers, barn owners, and timber framers.
By repurposing abandoned timber frame barns, we are passing on a piece of history to future generations in a sustainable way. We are passing on the stories that come with them and are portrayed through marks and scratches in the timber. We are passing on a building of rich craftsmanship, held together without a single nail. We are preserving something of great value.
This piece, and the corresponding photography, was produced by Laura LeGresley, a Third-Year Willowbank student and the 2016–17 Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Scholarship Recipient.