Old-fashioned barns are going the way of old-fashioned farms. Going the way of so many things that have been outpaced by time. New farms are often large, commercial enterprises, the new barns are often steel. This is good for farmers which means it’s good for us all. Where would we be without farmers?
Still, I dislike seeing anything old lost from the world. It’s inevitable, and often it’s the right thing, but it always makes me feel we’re losing something we can never get back. Well, that’s often true, of course.
Barns are huge and built in hundreds of different styles. Some farmyards are complexes with multiple barns, sheds, silos and other outbuildings. Sometimes you can see where a barn has had addition after addition added to it. For something so purposeful and work-oriented, barns are often ornate.
In fact, so many things were more ornate in the old days. Filigree on house porches, round-top windows, shutters and all manner of adornments were borne by buildings of the past, including barns. Somehow, today’s energy-efficient, LEEDS-certified structures seem to lack personality.
We’re fortunate to have a barn at home. It was built not long after the Civil War. It’s made of hand-hewn beams (there were few power tools, operated by water, horse or good old muscle), you can see the adze marks on them.
Our barn is of mortise & tenon construction. A hole is bored in one beam, into which a protrusion of the mating beam is inserted. Then, those craftsmen of yesteryear, would pull out a square stick and hammer it into the hole, the four corners peeling back as the stick is driven home, making a secure and perfect fit. As you can see, these have lasted more than 150 years.
Oh yeah, and a “square peg in a round hole”? That actually refers to something that fits snugly and correctly. How many did not know that?
Our barn is not long for this world. I love the old thing (as I love all old things), but she’s starting to come undone. We don’t have any farm animals or store hay. We’ve used the barn to store the pool, the boat and the lawn tractor in the winter. My kids played in the barn as they grew. Of course, back then it was alive when Mr.Edwards would bring a load of hay and his elevator, and fill the hay loft with sweet-smelling bales. I can feel the baling twine between my fingers, smell the hay dust building up in the nostrils. (That part’s always romanticized in memories!)
I can’t afford to put the money into fixing the barn to stand another hundred years. I wish I could. I feel badly, I feel as though I personally let the barn down. Let down those craftsmen who put their hearts for weeks or months into building this beautiful, huge structure. I could just cry at the thought of seeing it go.
The addition on the back has collapsed. The mighty winds of Engleville have torn the steel roofing from its moorings. The foundation is settling into the ground around front. Yet she remains a beautiful thing, even in her demise.
Perhaps I feel a kinship with some of these old things. Breaking down, wearing out, past the period of maximum usefulness. Aged.
Not long after these things are gone, so too shall I be.
Only then will I finally be at peace with letting old things go.
Most folks just throw old stuff away.
Maybe I’m just a square peg in a round hole?
Yes, I think that’s it. Yes I am. I’m a square peg.
I’d like to stay and lament, but the smell of old wood and hay is calling me.
Take care and keep in touch.
Be at peace,