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At a glance
Here’s a ranking of states based on the number of agricultural properties with barns per square mile built before 1960:
Kentucky…0.89
Ohio…0.82
Tennessee…0.67
Pennsylvania…0.65
Wisconsin…0.65
Indiana0.63
Iowa…0.61
Maryland…0.53
Missouri…0.52
Illinois…0.46
Source: www.preservation nation.org
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Nancy Wellman with her dog Rosie stand in front of the barn that has been in the family for four generations.

Days of the barn limited

New Haven couple buck trend

It’s enough to bring a tear to Old MacDonald’s eye – the vanishing of a familiar staple, the barn.

Ag experts and historians say that barns aren’t only aging, but unfortunately just aren’t practical today, especially for commercial super farms now the norm.

Even so, Gary and Nancy Wellman of New Haven buck the trend. Nancy has had a barn on her family’s farm for four generations. That would make the structure at least 100 years old.

In recent years, the couple have put metal siding on the barn and done other improvements. But don’t get the Wellmans wrong.

A sense of nostalgia isn’t the motivation behind the restorations.

“We actually use it to store hay and straw for our cattle,” said Nancy Wellman, who has 16 to 20 dairy cows and farms 300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. “We’re a small farm, so the barn isn’t sitting idle. It’s still useful for what we do.”

Mike Galbraith is executive director of ARCH – Agriculture and Community Heritage in Fort Wayne. He said the Wellmans are a bit of a dying breed.

“As operations moved from being less animal-based to more machine-based, the barn has had to be converted into these huge storage areas,” Galbraith said. “There are thousands of barns in Allen County.”

When many people think of Indiana, they probably think of the movie “Hoosiers.”

But the image of a big red barn with an old basketball hoop nearby is only the stuff of films, Galbraith said.

“Barns have stopped being a useful part of farm life,” he said.

Other growers in Fort Wayne reluctantly agree. They say barns have had their day and unless you’re running a museum, it makes no sense to maintain them.

For one thing, Uncle Sam still tallies homesteaders to pay taxes on barns – whether in use or not.

“It makes me sick to think about it, but I might have to tear it down,” said Calvin Schmidt, who leases 100 acres of farmland near Fort Wayne. “At one point, the barn served a specific function, but things have changed.”

Schmidt said the foundation of his white barn is weakening and can’t support equipment weighing thousands of pounds, if the machinery could fit in the structure in the first place.

Barns have “kind of run their course,” Schmidt said.

Galbraith does hold out some hope for those who view barns as crucial pieces of Americana. He said the Amish and specialty farms still use them.

“You see them in the farm-to-fork movement,” Galbraith said of the back-to-basics approach to agriculture. “You will still see barns out there, just not like they used to be.”

pwyche@jg.net

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