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Editorial: Old barns get reprieve with new legislation

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Drive around rural Bartholomew County and you will see barns dotting the landscape — some of them classic in style. But because of the cost of maintenance, many around the state and some here are an endangered species.

Rough-sawn beams and high ceilings hearken back to an earlier era in local history. They are a symbol of the area’s agricultural segment and a reminder of what the community was founded on.

Local organizations and residents have a history of trying to save old barns and finding new uses for them.

In the early 1970s, Carl Miske led a “Save the Round Barn” campaign for one off State Road 9 on the way to Hope from Columbus. The barn had been erected in 1900, but a state widening project for the highway threatened the barn’s existence. A campaign to raise funds to move the barn to Mill Race Park was conducted. Ultimately, the drive failed and the barn reverted to the state. It was demolished in 1974.

In 2000, Pam Weinantz led a drive to save a historic barn on the Wheatfields property, used as a natural arts learning center on East County Road 800N. She envisioned the barn as a rural community center hosting school programs, hands-on workshops, retreats, festivals, dances and other activities. However, the natural arts center no longer exists.

The Bartholomew County Historical Society uses the Henry Breeding Farm — a 3,500-square-foot barn and grounds near Edinburgh — for educational events such as Spring on the Farm. That event teaches visitors and students about early 20th century agriculture and domestic farm life.

While barns have rich architectural and historic value, it is up to the owners to maintain them, sometimes at great cost.

Legislation giving barn owners a property tax deduction was approved during the most recent session of the General Assembly. House Bill 1046 provides a state property tax deduction on historic barns, and was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence.

The object was to avoid penalizing, through higher property taxes, improvements to classic barns. As one farmer testified during the legislative session, why should he spend money for a new roof when it will simply result in a higher assessed value for the structure and, as a result, a higher tax bill.

The bill also would require the state’s office of tourism to promote historic barns. This could lead to regional barn tours, not unlike the architectural tours in Columbus that focus on modern design. Some communities, such as Fulton County in north-central Indiana and Champaign County in Illinois, already have designated barn tours as part of their tourism efforts. It would be easy for other areas to put together similar routes for architecture enthusiasts.

A meeting to address the disappearance of these historic landmarks in the rural Hoosier landscape was July 12 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

Many older barns aren’t effective for today’s modern farming. Most were built to house animals, feed and equipment; and many of the farms no longer have animals. In addition, today’s machines are far bigger than their ancestors and no longer even fit in the barns. So the incentive to maintain them is even less.

We commend all of Bartholomew County’s farmers and landowners who are committed to preserving these pieces of our agricultural past and hope that the recent legislative measure will help keep them up.

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