Preservation Primer: Saving & Preserving Historic Barns

09/23/2021
By Preservation Maryland

Barns tell the story of Maryland. They are stunning visual anchors on the agricultural landscape that mark time and remind us all of the Old Line State’s farming heritage. From the weathered tobacco barns of Southern Maryland to the towering bank barns of Western Maryland, the forces of nature, development and neglect have left many barns in need of repair. This introductory guide is meant as a first place to begin a project to restore a historic barn.

Further research, inquiry and planning will be required – and this blog is not meant to serve as construction, legal or financial advice – but instead to provide introductory information on barn preservation. 

Documentation: Getting To Know Your Barn

There are many different types of barns in Maryland. Knowing what kind of barn you have – and the methods used to construct it – is an important first step towards preserving your unique structure. A good first step is to document the existing conditions. Lots of photographs from every angle and detailed shots of barn hardware, doors, lofts, etc. is important. This will provide a baseline of documentation and help as you move forward with your project. 

In Maryland, there are a wide variety of barn types – but in general terms the most common are:

Planning for Future Use

Before you begin your rehabilitation project, it’s extremely important to understand the future use of the barn. Keeping a barn for agricultural use often creates the fewest hurdles –most counties provide simple or very limited permitting for this use. 

If you intend on using your barn for event or retail space or converting to residential use – it is very important to meet with your county planning department before you begin any work to discuss your concept and to learn what requirements may exist. 

Common issues you may need to consider: 

Preservation Issues to Consider & Address

Barns, like all structures, require periodic care and maintenance. As you begin your project, it’s important to look for potential issues requiring repair.

Common issues in barns to look for include:

Barn Rehabilitation Do’s and Don’ts

Tackling a barn rehab project is complex, costly and time-consuming.

The National Park Service put together the following list of basic best-practice barn rehab tips: 

Financial Resources Available

Barn rehabilitation is not cheap. However, it doesn’t have to be tackled all at once – in fact the best projects are often phased. Initial efforts should focus on keeping rain out and addressing critical structural issues.

Funding for barn rehabilitation projects in Maryland includes:

DISCLAIMER: Preservation Maryland and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

More RESOURCES

This guide is only an introduction to barn rehabilitation. The following resources are useful for learning more about barn preservation:

READ OUR OTHER PRESERVATION PRIMERs HERE TO ANSWER MANY MORE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED PRESERVATION QUESTIONS.

Perhaps nothing in preservation causes as much confusion as the National Register of Historic Places. Does it prevent demolition? Does it protect buildings? Can you change your paint color? Do you get tax breaks? Can you get a grant? Learn more about the National Register here

Historic structures require significant repair and upkeep – but with routine maintenance the time and expense associated with those repairs can be substantially reduced. Equally important as maintaining the structure is making sure that those repairs are safe for historic buildings. Learn more about preservation best practices here.

Finding funds for your preservation rehabilitation project can be complex and confusing. Fortunately, in Maryland, there are many programs designed to help private property owners maintain and rehabilitate their historic structure. Learn more about historic tax credits here

Preservation Maryland

Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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