by Curt Musselman
Ten years ago, Historic Gettysburg Adams County (HGAC) received a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to help establish a barn preservation program within Adams County. One of our first steps was to begin a survey of the historic barns in the county so that we would know more about the resources we were trying to save. Teams of HGAC volunteers photographed, measured and made observations about the style and construction techniques used on each barn. One of the first things that we learned was that 80 percent of the barns in Adams County are of an architectural type known as the Pennsylvania Barn. This type of barn has two distinctive characteristics; entrance to the second floor by means of a bridge or a built-up ramp, and an overhang or cantilevered forebay on the front of the barn. Within Pennsylvania, these bank barns evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries to their ultimate form, which was influenced by traditional designs brought to America by immigrants coming from Switzerland through Germany.
After ten years of effort by dozens of volunteers, the HGAC Barn Preservation Project has established one of the most active barn preservation programs within Pennsylvania. We have now surveyed and provided numbered plaques to 175 of an estimated 1,500 historic barns in Adams County, created a local registry for those surveyed barns, provided matching grants to barn owners for barn preservation projects for the last three years, honored eight barns with our annual barn preservation award and held numerous barn tours and lectures to educate the public about these special buildings that help establish the rural character of our agricultural community.
This year, partly in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the HGAC Barn Preservation Project & Grant Program, we thought it would be fitting to recognize and honor the Pennsylvania Barn and its influence on the agricultural heritage of Pennsylvania. Representative Dan Moul (R- Adams) introduced the legislation and on April 13th, 2015, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed House Resolution No. 189 officially designating 2015 as “The Year of the Pennsylvania Barn”.
Throughout the day on April 13th, there was a display in the Rotunda containing information about the Pennsylvania Barn and barn preservation efforts within the Commonwealth. Maps, photographs and information brochures were available to the public at the display to help them learn more about Pennsylvania’s iconic agricultural architectural treasures and their important role in Pennsylvania’s vibrant agricultural industry.
Following the passage of the resolution, HGAC hosted a press conference at the steps of the main Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda. The press conference included remarks by legislators, Rich Alloway and Dan Moul, barn preservation leaders, Professor Robert F. Ensminger, Jeffrey Marshall and Curt Musselman, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Russell Redding and Director of the PHMC Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP), Serena Bellew.
Echoing his remarks made earlier that day in the Hall of the House, Representative Moul noted that the Pennsylvania barn describes us as a people. Professor Ensminger, who authored, The Pennsylvania Barn, then pointed out that there may be as many as 60,000 Pennsylvania barns still standing, but that new ones are not being built anymore. And BHP Director Bellew encouraged everyone to appreciate that even simple horse barns are no less significant in defining the agricultural character of rural landscapes than more extravagant barnyard palaces. Finally, Secretary Redding announced that we should end the Year of the Pennsylvania Barn with appropriate activities at the Pennsylvania Farm Show next winter.
The Diversity of Barns Across the Commonwealth Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project
The press conference and the display at the rotunda served as the kick-off of the recognition and celebration of the “Year of the Pennsylvania Barn”. Some of the special events that will be held throughout the year to celebrate the Year of the Pennsylvania Barn include:
- BarnAid Concert on May 23rd, benefiting the Adams County Barn Preservation Project. This was held at the Adams County Winery on Orchard Road in Orrtanna.
- BarnArt Show & Sale on June 10th to 14th at Valentine Hall on the campus of the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary.
- All-day Gettysburg Foundation Adams Seminar on the Barns of the Gettysburg Battlefield on September 26th .
- HGAC Civil War Barn Dance on October 3rd at the Beech Springs Farm in Orrtanna.
- Land Conservancy of Adams County Road Rally on October 17th with the theme, “The Year of the Pennsylvania Barn”.
- HGAC Educational Speakers Program on October 20th at 7:30 PM at the GAR Hall, 53 East Middle Street in Gettysburg about the Barns of the Gettysburg Battlefield.
For the success that Pennsylvania has had to date in preserving our barns and agricultural heritage, we owe it to the kind assistance of those who work to promote preservation, as well as to the farm and barn owners throughout the state that appreciate what they have and make a special effort to take care of it.
If we take for granted what we have here, our heritage is in peril. Save a barn and help save our heritage. We are not just Anywhere USA. Saving the Pennsylvania barn benefits everyone, economically, and culturally. Tourists who come to our agricultural regions want and expect to see not just the fields, but the barns that provide the rural character. And in locations like Gettysburg, many of the 19th century barns that are still standing, were actually witnesses to the Civil War events that unfolded here and the barns contribute to the integrity of the historical landscapes.
Because of the generous local support that HGAC has received, we have recently been able to hire a part-time Preservation Specialist to manage and grow our barn preservation project. If you have any questions about the events mentioned above, or the HGAC Barn Preservation Project & Grant Program, please email Kendra Debany or via telephone at (717-321-3285). Additional information about the HGAC Barn Preservation Project and the other preservation activities of HGAC can be found on our web site.
Curt Musselman is a native of Gettysburg, PA and he has a B.A. in History from Bucknell University and an M.S. in Cartography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently the Cartographer and Geographic Information System (GIS) Coordinator for the Resource Management Division of the Gettysburg National Military Park. Curt has worked as an NPS Interpreter and Historian and he has also served as a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg. He is the immediate Past President of the Historic Preservation Society of Gettysburg – Adams County (HGAC) and he is currently the chairman of the HGAC Preservation Committee which has played a leading role in promoting the recognition of the Underground Railroad Station at McAllister’s Mill. Since 2005, he has led the HGAC Barn Preservation Project and Grant Program.