HANCOCK COUNTY — The distinct shapes of Indiana’s historic barns meant something different to each of the 56 people aboard a tour bus traveling through the county Friday.
For McCordsville resident Sam Hodge, the weathered wood and red structures filling the countryside are a thing of beauty.
But for many of those riding through Hancock and Madison counties on Friday, the barns represent an important part of Hoosier history imperiled by a lack of dedicated funding toward keeping the agricultural landmarks standing. Barnstorm Indiana 2017, a six-stop bus tour organized by the Indiana Barn Foundation, raised money for a grant program started this year to aid in restoring and preserving the roughly 20,000 remaining wood barns across the state.
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Indiana Barn Foundation vice president Gwen Gutwein said wood barns are disappearing at an alarming rate — a decade ago, there were 30,000, down from roughly 200,000 a century ago, according to foundation reports. Foundation fundraisers, like Friday’s barn tour, aim to save the structures.
Participants on the tour, which focused on the importance of each barn’s history and barns’ historical significance in the state, hailed from all across Indiana and as far as Michigan and Maryland, Gutwein said. The tour preceded the foundation’s annual convention, held this weekend in Indianapolis.
Foundation officials arranged for preservation experts to come along on the tour, highlighting the important steps needed to upkeep structures that have been part of the Indiana landscape for 100 years or longer.
Randy and Laura Christian, experts in restoring historic structures, offered their insights into the construction of each barn on the tour.
Organizers hoped sharing their experience would help those attending better understand the specifics of their own restoration projects. Several of those who attended the Barnstorm were representing historic barns or farms across the state, including Zionsville’s Maplelawn Farmstead.
Bonnie Carter and Shelley Lakshamanan, members of the board tasked with preserving the farmstead build in 1835, said they enjoyed the opportunity to see other historic farms and to learn from preservation experts.
“I could just sit and listen for hours,” Lakshamanan said. “To be able to listen, ask questions and learn was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”
Keeping the beams representing Indiana’s agricultural heritage standing is no mean feat, said Gary Kingen, caretaker of the Littleton-Kingen round barn, the biggest round barn in the state. The barn, 4682 W. County Road 600N in Hancock County, stands more than 100 feet in diameter and served as the second stop on Friday’s tour. The Kingen family has cared for the barn since 1909, said Phyllis Kingen, Gary’s mother.
Water is the biggest foe of preserving antique wood, whether it’s falling from the sky or seeping from the ground, he said. The barn’s roof was replaced some four years ago in an effort to keep rainwater from damaging the unique curved wood floors holding the two-story structure together.
While the Barnstorm brought together people employed in preserving historic barn structures, it also attracted people who simply enjoy looking at and photographing barns.
Hodge attended with his grandfather, an Anderson resident; the pair are members of a photography group that captures images of barns around the state.
Hodge explored the barn from bottom to top, climbing wooden ladders to the top of the cupola, amazed by its beauty.
“I’ve seen this place my entire life. It’s the first time I’ve ever been inside,” Hodge said. “I never realized how big it was.”
The Barnstorm Indiana bus tour, hosted by Indiana Barn Foundation, raised money for grant funding to restore and preserve historic barns across the state. Grant applications for barn preservation funding will be available later this year on the foundation’s website, indianabarns.org, vice president Gwen Gutwein said.
For more information, contact Indiana Barns Foundation president Carolyn Rahe at firstname.lastname@example.org.