The Preservation Alliance offers a variety of educational opportunities such as this one in New Hampton lead by the barn contractor working on an early 19th Century barn renovation. (Courtesy photo)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Agriculture, still practiced here and there throughout the state, was a way of life in New Hampshire for more than a century. The early European settlers grew a broad range of products to provide for nearly every need, from flax for clothing to crops that could be stored for winter sustenance. In the early 19th century, New Hampshire experienced the so-called sheep boom, which was followed later in that same century by large-scale dairy production. Agriculture has declined in the state since the Industrial Revolution, and since the development of more favorable farmland in the Midwest, but there are still relics of the farming past, seen in stone walls, and in barns.
Unlike the stone walls, though, the barns require maintenance and upkeep if they are going to survive for another generation. The state's stock of older barns, generally smaller in size and therefore easier to maintain and utilize by a private land owner, is relatively secure. It's the large dairy barns of the middle to late 19th Century that have the N.H. Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization, concerned; they figure that the state has somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 barns on its landscape but that about one historic farming structure is lost each day.
The Preservation Alliance recently announced a campaign, "52 Barns in 52 Weeks," which aims to draw attention to the state's imperiled barns by highlighting 52 barns in 2017. The organization will tell the story of each barn on its website, nhpreservation.org, and through other media channels.
Beverly Thompson, program director at the Preservation Alliance, said that the organization is especially concerned about 19th century dairy barns.
"Those, in particular, are the barns that are in danger because of their size and the changes in agricultural practices," said Thompson. Through the "52 Barns" campaign, the Preservation Alliance is seeking to promote the ways that it can assist property owners with their barns, such as through grants for preservation assessments, by offering preservation workshops and by assisting property owners with securing property tax relief through a preservation effort. Thompson said the alliance is also hoping to raise funds through the campaign, and hopes to raise $150,000 to support the above efforts.
The barn at Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center, on White Oaks Road in Laconia, is one barn that has benefited from the Preservation Alliance's programs. Three years ago, Prescott Farm received a grant to fund a preservation assessment for its circa 1883 barn. As a result of that assessment, Prescott Farm was able to secure partial funding from the Samuel P. Pardoe foundation to embark upon an historic repair and renovation project that will address everything from the barn's foundation to its cupola.
Prescott Farm's barn was built to replace one that burned. When the barn, which housed dairy cows and pigs, was built, the Prescott family moved it milking barn so that it abutted the larger barn, and built a ramp so that the cows could walk from the basement of the large barn into the milking barn without being subjected to the elements. Another example of clever problem solving is a hay grapple that hangs by a rope from a pulley, which allows farmers to easily move hay between the three levels of the barn. The pulley is mounted on a track that runs the length of the barn, so that the grapple can also move along each floor.
Today, there aren't any animals or hay in the barn. Instead, it's used as an indoor space for Prescott Farm's educational programming. Jude Hamel, executive director, said the center's programs often take place in the surrounding property, and the barn is just as much a part of the landscape as the fields, forest or ponds.
"A lot of what we teach the kids is sustainable agriculture, and how to do things with their hands," said Jude. "I think the barn is a symbol of the old farm and the old farm ways."
A few generations ago, most Americans either lived on a farm or had a farmer in their family. Today, many adults can recall visiting a grandparent's farm. But, how many people will have such a memory two generations from now, Thompson asks. This is part of the reason why the Preservation Alliance is launching the "52 Barns" campaign, she said.
"So we don't lose these incredible links to our agricultural past and heritage," said Thompson.
Prescott Farm’s main barn was built with a ramp that allowed cows to walk from their pens into the milking barn without having to go outside. Here, Executive Director Jude Hamel looks at a sill that needs replacing. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)