There are thousands of leaning old barns with peeling paint and missing boards all across rural America. According to Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office, Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of barns built before 1960 with around 36,000. To those of us who live in rural communities, decaying homes, barns and out buildings are an all too familiar site. For many people though, these architectural relics carry a certain romance. So what is our fascination with old barns?
For some, it may be related to childhood memories, but most of us it is not. I believe that it is the story that they tell. The story of a day gone by when mom didn’t work outside the home and baked the family’s bread and put laundry out on the line to dry. Dads worked hard around the farm all day and so did their kids. It is the story of hard work, self-reliance and family. Those old barns remind us of a lifestyle that has almost disappeared.
With the mass migration away from the family farm and rural communities to the urban sprawl and its suburbs, most Americans have lost touch with their rural roots and their only reference to it comes from watching Little House on the Prairie reruns. Census records prove what we already know; rural America has over 75 percent of the land yet only 17 percent of the population. For many, historic barns are a symbol of our rural heritage and their decay and lose are symbolic of our disappearing rural way of life.
In the last few years, I have seen a yearning in people to return to a simpler, more self-reliant, and slower paced way of life. Unfortunately, many of the skills that were once passed down from one generation to the other has been lost and we have had to rely on one another to acquire the knowledge of how to do what our great-grandparents did as a way of life.
Two years ago, my husband and I built our barn here at the Ozark Homestead. It does not have the character and beauty of many of the lovely old barns and probably will not last the way they did, but it already has many stories to tell. If my barn could talk, it would tell about the joy I felt witnessing the birth of my first lambs, of the laughter of my grandchildren swinging on the barn swing their grandpa built for them and of the eyebrows that my friends and relatives raise when I turn the television to the “barn” channel so they can watch my sheep on the barn camera. It would tell the story of a family trying to preserve the skills and rural way of life to pass on to the next generation.