Comments on: Column: A Broadside for Barn Preservation it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Martha Johnson Martha Johnson Fri, 05 Nov 2010 20:56:17 +0000 Two local barns owe their second life to Dan Dever, attorney, and his wife, Dr. Sharon Smith. They restored a barn on Ellsworth and another on Bethel Church Road. Not only were the barns saved from further deterioration, they went back to work for the stabling and care of horses, and for storage of the food and equipment necessary to run a horse farm. These building are a reminder of the utilitarian nature of the structure.
It has often struck me while driving around the country that each area has barns built to fit the needs of the farming being done. As mentioned earlier, the New England barns are very different from the tobacco barns in Kentucky. Once you cross the Ohio line, “hiproof” barns are gone and so is the red paint.
Charles, your article was full of wonderful detail. It brought back wonderful memories of standing in my grandfather’s barn, watching the dust dance in the filtered sunlight. Thank you.

By: C Bultman C Bultman Thu, 04 Nov 2010 16:12:04 +0000 We went to see ‘Conviction’ last night; catching the 9:15 show along with less than 10 others. It was hard for me to ignore the story and just focus on the setting but I tried.

I did not recognize the barn(s) in the movie but then I do not know every barn in the county. Certainly Massachusetts, having about the same number or barns per square mile as MI, offered plenty of choices to the filmmakers. However barns in MA can date back to the middle 1700’s.

It is interesting to me then that they chose a gambrel barn for the exterior shots. There are actually fewer gambrel barns in New England than gable barns. The gambrel barn (having four roof surfaces, instead of two) was a middle 1800’s development and is widely found around here because that is when our first barns were being built. In New England by the middle 1800’s there were already many gable barns to use, adapt, or expand as was the habit because a farmer would not build new when he did not have to. Somehow though when many people think ‘barn’ they think ‘gambrel’. I consider gambrels to be new barns.

Also I can say with certainty that the interior shots of Ms. Swank were not in the barn that we see the exterior of with Mr. Rockwell. The barn in the exterior shots has tight siding (as I said, at only a hundred years old or so, it is fairly new), however the interior shot has light streaming through gappy siding; probably an older barn. Clearly the story did not require that it was the same barn but one might infer that both scenes we set at the one family barn. Similar to the gambrel roof when most of us think ‘barn interior’ we typically see the light between the boards.

‘Conviction’ will not be closing tonight but will continue for at least another week according to a very bored concession stand worker.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Sat, 30 Oct 2010 01:15:02 +0000 I just returned from watching the movie “Conviction” at the State Theater. I wanted to see the movie mostly to check if the scene I watched being filmed over on the Old West Side would make it into the final cut. [It did.]

An unexpected treat were the rural landscapes in the movie – which I assume were also shot around these parts – including many barns, and one interior barn shot with Hilary Swank and light filtering in from outside. On several occasions, I could have sworn that the barns in the shots were among those the Chuck Bultman photographed for this article.

“Conviction” is showing at the State at least through Nov. 4.

By: Brad Brogren Brad Brogren Thu, 28 Oct 2010 20:04:45 +0000 Very good article Charles. Similar articles have been published around the state and all indicate a desire to save these historic structures. The barn symbolizes our agricultural heritage and as we loose them, we loose a part of Michigan history.

The Michigan Barn Preservation Network is an organization of barn owners, enthusiasts and contractors whose mission is to promote the appreciation, preservation and rehabilitation of Michgan barns, farmsteads and rural communities. Check us out at and join the effort.

By: Lindsey Lindsey Thu, 28 Oct 2010 02:11:42 +0000 Barn owners and enthusiasts may want to check out the National Trust’s program Barn Again! [link]

By: Hemalata Dandekar Hemalata Dandekar Wed, 27 Oct 2010 19:44:33 +0000 Charles Bultman has done a nice job of pointing out the technical and ownership issues that determine if, and how, a barn will be preserved. City policies and the urban-rural relationship also play a part. Some of the stories in my book on Michigan Family Farms and Farm Buildings, which Vivienne Armentrout has noted above, speak to this.

Back in the mid 80′s an urban planning class I taught at University of Michigan developed a multi-pronged set of strategies for Ann Arbor to bring about economic development and agricultural building preservation through a green belt. It was a suggestion too far ahead of its time. But I am pleased that some elements are present in the currently adopted policy.

Readers might find of interest an approach to developing planning strategies for barn preservation which are context-appropriate that I and then student Eric MacDonald conceptualize in: “Preserving the Midwestern Barn” in A.G.Noble and H.G.Wilhelm, eds., The Midwestern Barn. Ohio University Press: 1995. pp.259-277.

Now that I am relocated on the central coast in California more than ever I appreciate Michigan’s wonderful barns and the great contribution to a sense of place that they provide to the Michigan landscape.

By: susan wineberg susan wineberg Wed, 27 Oct 2010 16:55:16 +0000 The Michigan Barn Preservation Network is a great resource and they are an active group with lots of members living in Washtenaw County. Their recent newsletter discusses the difference between a “historic” and a “Historic” barn. There are some barns in the county protected as “single resource historic districts” particularly in Superior Township. This was on display during the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival in August.

By: C Bultman C Bultman Wed, 27 Oct 2010 15:05:55 +0000 Susan

Barns are found fairly close to each other and to the house in many regions. I have no idea what that says about the relationship of husbands and wives but I love your great-grandfather’s comment. (I have never heard that before.) Farmers certainly understood that fire was a risk but defending against that risk by scattering the buildings was too high a price to pay for many.

If you think of the barn as a tool instead of a building you too might decide to place them close together; right where you need them. So the proximity was pragmatic; fewer steps to take, less snow in your way, and the buildings created the outdoor workplace that was so important. Many times the second barn was added to the first saving material and sharing heat (animal and manure heat). And as documented in the book, Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn there is a regional tradition of attaching all of the buildings into one in New England, including the house.

Clearly in that case when there was a fire it was devastating and that was the argument for not connecting them at the time. Interestingly, there has been some kind of insurance available as early as the 1750’s in America (British colonies) championed by Ben Franklin, among others. In BH, LH, BH, B there is a reference to a farmer criticized in 1843 for connecting his buildings and his retort was, “get insured and keep insured. Industry will pay for the policy.”

By: Susan Susan Wed, 27 Oct 2010 13:57:47 +0000 Great article that answered a question that has plagued me for years. I never thought about the two structures on Scio Church having BOTH been built for barns. I always assumed the house was purpose built, and have been puzzled about ‘why so close.’ Although, the closeness is still a question, since in case of a fire both barns would have been doomed.

According to my great grandfather, you could understand family dynamics by looking at the location of barns in relationship to farmhouses. The closer the barn was to the house, the more dominant the husband. If the mess of the barn was further away, the wife held the upper hand.

By: C Bultman C Bultman Wed, 27 Oct 2010 03:11:41 +0000 Ms. Armentrout

“An earthen ramp to the second level…” seems to be describing a bank barn. This is a barn that would allow direct access from grade to two different levels of the barn with a team of horses pulling a wagon, for example. The lower floor of the barn might be located to meet natural grade and the next higher might have a ramp up to get the horses there as well. This became ‘popular / accepted / incorporated’ in the middle 1800’s after it was advised, after decades of debate, that a barn should be built with a basement to make it easier to collect and store manure through the winter. Storing the manure inside the barn had multiple benefits. The farmer did not have to haul it out in mid-winter. The manure held onto its fertilizing properties better. And the manure kept the barn warm. This was a big deal; big enough for farmers to build basements for existing barns and then to move the barn onto the new foundation that had the basement. It is fairly common in New England to figure out that the barn had been at one time moved for this exact reason, which brings me to your question.

Bank barns are not typical, meaning unique to, Michigan. They can be found from here to the Atlantic. And bank barns did not originate here. The debate over basements in barns was an 1820’s to 1830’s debate and clearly that was well before most of the Michigan barns were built.

“…emphasis on the wonderful fieldstone foundations and low walls” No. Wonderful as they may seem to be, they are typically huge liabilities. I usually do not emphasize them because in the best of circumstances, when they are sound and beautiful, I still have to cover one side or the other to insulate.