Will 2017 be the Year of the Barn?

Barn in Canaan.

Barn in Canaan.

You know that barns are an important piece of the New Hampshire landscape because we design our liquor stores after them. But unlike liquor store sales, barns are hardly faring well in today’s economy. Barns – especially in our state’s poorer towns – are disappearing at good clip. Without purpose and with the expense of deferred maintenance, barn owners have little choice but to let go these outbuildings of yesteryear.

That’s why the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance announced an ambitious goal for 2017: 52 barns in 52 weeks.

Specifically, the Alliance plans to boost its education programs relating to barns, enroll more barns in the RSA 79-D program (a sexy name for a property tax abatement on your barn in return for a 10-year easement), and provide more matching assessment grants to barn owners.


RIP barn in Danbury.

So let’s say you’ve heeded my advice from earlier blog posts and purchased yourself a bona fide run down farmhouse and barn in rural New Hampshire. (First of all, thank you.) Congratulations! You are a barn owner!

But now you realize the roof is in terrible shape, the windows are busted, and the sills are rotted. Oh yeah, and because you’re not running an income-generating farm, your barn has no purpose other than its rugged good looks. And you have no money. What are your options?

First, you can contact the Alliance and apply for an assessment of your timber framed-beauty.

For $100 or $250, barn owners can receive a professional’s assessment, worth up to $500. This planning document can help owners with triage; you’ll have a document written by an expert that outlines what you should tackle first.

The Alliance also serves as a clearinghouse for barn owners: members and sponsors include timber framers, preservation carpenters, and masons who work at the intersection of preservation and pragmatism. With your assessment, you could reach out to some of these talented men and women and see what works within your budget.


Barn in Columbia.

Also, go to your town clerk and see if your barn could qualify for abatement under RSA 79-D. In return for a ten year preservation easement, owners receive 25-75% of their barn’s value abated. Passed in 2002, eighty-eight towns (or 37.6% of towns) now offer property tax relief to over 480 barns that are considered important to a town’s history and agrarian landscape. A handful of towns have heartily embraced this baby carrot-sized incentive, with sixteen towns boasting more than ten enrolled barns. For the nitty-gritty, click here.

It would be ideal if New Hampshire had a pot of money for restoring these iconic endangered buildings. In 1999, the Barn Bill was passed, recognizing that “Historic barns and agricultural structures symbolize the distinctive New Hampshire values of heritage, hard work, productivity, and stewardship.” The legislature deemed barns “among our most highly valued heritage resources” and thus worthy of public investment (see RSA 227-C:27 — 227-C:32).

Unfortunately, the funding for restoring barns dried up before too long. For now, New Hampshire’s barn owners will have to rely on the tools available to them. It all starts with recognizing the importance that barns play in our state’s identity, image, and economy.

For more information, or to donate to the 52 Barns in 52 Weeks initiative (hint, hint), check out the Preservation Alliance’s website.









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