The Historic Barns of Connecticut project has evolved, just as the design and use of barns over the decades has evolved. In 2004, the Connecticut Trust Board of Trustees recognized that Connecticut was losing its barns at an alarming rate. Knowing that the first step in preservation is documentation, the Trust received a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council to hire architectural historian, Dr. James Sexton, to document one hundred of the state’s most visible barns and write a narrative of his findings. That document is still the backbone of our research. It taught us the different types, uses and construction techniques of Connecticut barns, types such as the English bank barn and the New England barn; different uses, such as the ground-level stable barn used for cattle and the tobacco shed; and construction techniques, such as scribe and square-rule construction.
Since the initial study, the project has grown. We surveyed 350 barns in 2005. In 2006 and 2007, we developed and launched www.connecticutbarns.org, a clearinghouse for all things barns, including an online public database of Connecticut barns. We also started our barns workshops, which became instrumental to garnering assistance from volunteers. These two-hour workshops taught regular folks how to perform windshield surveys (taking photographs of barns from the safety of their cars, thus the name) and learn about the history of barns in the state. As a result, volunteers found themselves coming together together as a community to help preserve something they cared about. In 2008, we introduced the Barns Grant. Funded by the Connecticut General Assembly, the Barns Grant provided money for conditions assessments, feasibility studies and structural stabilization. They were available to anyone with an historic barn that met a set of basic criteria. In 2009, we were awarded a grant by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to document and do preliminary research on 2,000 barns. In 2011, we were awarded a grant to write a State Register of Historic Places nomination for 200 of the most significant of these barns that were not already listed on the State Register.
The State Register of Historic Places is an official listing of properties and sites important to the historical development of Connecticut. It’s both an honorific designation and a tool to further preservation. Designating a property as architecturally and historically significant can encourage preservation, promote awareness, and protect a sense of place and character of our communities. In addition, sites listed on the State Register can qualify for preservation programs that include tax credits and grants.
One of the challenges to listing a barn on the State Register is understanding how it fits into the larger context of the history of agriculture and agricultural buildings in Connecticut. The following report is intended to help by outlining the history of agriculture in the state and discussing the development of Connecticut barns as they were affected by changes in crops and farming techniques, in building technology and architectural tastes. Researched and written by Jan Cunningham, an historian with extensive background writing about Connecticut’s architecture, with the assistance of Elizabeth Warner, the report weaves the story of agriculture and barn building into the larger history of the state, providing a background for our initial 200 nominations and allowing for future nominations of barns to the State Register of Historic Places.
To view the context study please click, HERE»