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Could Your Barn Qualify for the National Register of Historic Places?

The era of wood barns ended more than 50 years ago. How can we preserve outstanding surviving examples? One way is to seek recognition for them by listing them in the National Register of Historic Places.

Not all barns are equal. Every barn is significant for the families and communities that value them. But to be considered significant under National Register criteria, barns must be associated with important events and persons, architectural and otherwise. They might suggest turning points in the way builders constructed barns or in the way farmers used their barns. They also must have retained their materials and appearance from the time of their importance. The PDF Document Daniel McConn Barn, for example, was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for its architectural significance as a well-preserved banked/basement, double-decker, Pennsylvania-type barn.

We naturally want to place on the National Register barns that mark a difference in barn design or set a new standard for constructing them, but we also want to include those that represent how farming was done at a particular time. What is significant about a barn for the National Register, at bottom, is what helps us better understand their varieties and their place in the scheme of the history of farming and rural architecture.

The State Historical Society of Iowa hopes to encourage owners of certain kinds of barns to pursue National Register recognition. To know if a particular barn might be eligible for consideration, ask the following questions*:

  1. Is it very old (built before 1870)?
  2. Is it very large (over 40 feet wide and over 60 feet long, not counting wings or sheds)?
  3. Was it built with all-stone walls that extend from the foundation to the roof?
  4. Is it an unusual shape (not rectangular or L-shaped, but square, octagon, round, or U-shaped)?
  5. Was it the site where the first of a new breed of cattle or other livestock was introduced in this region or state?
  6. Did an important event (such as a farm protest meeting) take place there?
  7. Did an eminent agriculturist work there?
  8. Was it publicized as a model for new barn equipment, prefabrication, or innovative construction techniques?
  9. Was it built in accord with blueprint plans that still survive (such as Louden Machinery Co. design)?
  10. Is it an early example of curved rafter roof design in its vicinity?
  11. Does it have an unusual series of interior plank trusses supporting the roof (perhaps a Clyde or “Iowa” truss or a Shawver truss)?
  12. Does it have an unusual design (architectural form, decoration, embellishments)?

If you know of a barn that meets one or more of these criteria—and, just as important, if it remains an authentic reminder of its original appearance, workmanship, and materials—the State Historical Society of Iowa would like to learn more about it.

Contact

Ralph Christian
State Historic Preservation Office
600 E. Locust
Des Moines, IA 50319
(515) 281-8697
Ralph.Christian@iowa.gov

* This checklist originally appeared in the Iowa Barn Foundation Newsletter (Fall 1998).

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