CONCORD — Nearly one a day.
That’s the number of barns preservation enthusiasts say are lost in New Hampshire. Organizers of a new program hope to stem that tide a bit early next year.
Citing a growing rate of barn demolition and collapse, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (NHPA) is scheduled to announce today a campaign to help preserve at least 52 barns across the state in 2017 through a combination of planning grants, education and promotion of a local tax relief program for barns.
The statewide nonprofit is seeking financial support from the public to help meet its goal.
“Barns tell the history of New Hampshire, from its very beginnings as a state to the sheep and dairy booms in the 19th century,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the NHPA. “Virtually every rural homestead and village property included a barn. As you travel through New Hampshire today, it’s impossible not to see that this legacy of hard work and community is crumbling around us with missed opportunities for investment and stewardship.”
In 1935, 6.8 million farms operated across the United States, with most properties home to at least one barn. Now, an estimated 650,000 barns remain standing.
“We’re losing historic New Hampshire barns at a rate of nearly one per day,” said Beverly Thomas, program director at the Preservation Alliance. “The Preservation Alliance has seen increases in public awareness of the significance of barns and the benefits of preservation over the last decade, but we want to do more in the coming year because of the crisis in the dairy industry and what experts see as a big bubble of need because of deferred maintenance of 19th-century barns.”
According to Goodman, the Preservation Alliance will expand three programs to meet its goal of protecting 52 barns in 52 weeks: assessment grants that help owners prioritize and complete barn repair work, educational programs for barn owners and enthusiasts, and expanding use of a state barn easement program that can offer tax relief to property owners who preserve their historic agricultural structures.
“Barns are part of the landscapes and communities that attract businesses and visitors,” said Goodman.
Financial help for a professional assessment is available through Historic Barn Assessment Grants. Created by the Preservation Alliance, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources and the New Hampshire Historic Agricultural Structures Advisory Committee, the program offers competitive matching grants of $250 or $400. Coupled with property owner contributions, the funding goes toward hiring a barn assessment consultant to inspect the barn, determining its age and key construction features, then assessing what’s needed to stabilize, repair and reuse the structure.
A 2002 state law, RSA 79-D, creates the Historic Barn Tax Incentive, a mechanism to encourage the preservation of historic New Hampshire barns and other agricultural buildings by authorizing municipalities to grant property tax relief to barn owners who (a) can demonstrate the public benefit of preserving their barns or other historic farm buildings, and (b) agree to maintain their structures throughout the term of a minimum 10-year preservation easement.
In promoting the new program, the Preservation Alliance cites several recent efforts to save barns in the Granite State. The barn, house and shops of the Lane Homestead in Stratham were saved recently from development with the purchase of a preservation easement and new owners. The owner of an early 19th-century dairy barn in New Boston addressed critical needs using a Preservation Alliance barn assessment as a guide, and secured tax relief in 2014. The barn shelters the owner’s Belted Galloway herd and is used occasionally for special events.
Goodman said the fact that two New Hampshire barns appear on the Preservation Alliance’s 2016 “Seven to Save” list further drives home the need to save these structures. The Aston-Lessard Barn in Shelburne, built for William Aston in 1888, was known to area residents as a gathering place for Big Band music in the 1920s, and as a roller skating venue until the 1960s. The present owner is seeking new uses and investment for the structural repairs needed to preserve the structure.
Efforts of the Coos County Farm Advisory Committee to find new uses for a large barn compound in West Stewartstown are gaining momentum after public forums in 2013, which garnered support for agricultural initiatives on the county farm property.
Goodman said the 52 barns the NHPA hopes to help over 52 weeks “have yet to be chosen.”
“The number 52 is a minimum,” said Goodman. “We hope to save at least that many.”
To learn more about the 52 Barns in 52 Weeks initiative, or to make a donation, go to nhpreservation.org/52-barns-in-52-weeks, or email [email protected] to receive information and updates about the program.
Story and picture courtesy of Paul Feely, NH Union Leader…