History of Barn Keepers

Barns were easily the most important structure on a farmstead, often surpassing the farmer’s own residence in quality of construction and certainly in size. The barn provided shelter for livestock, storage for grain and hay, a place to keep tools and equipment and a site to perform various work activities. They sometimes doubled as centers for social activities such as barn dances and husking bees. Erecting the barn was a social event too, and “barn raisings” offered a welcome break from the isolation of everyday life.

The earliest barns in Central Illinois were modest log buildings, but by the mid-1800s post-and-beam construction using massive timbers for the framing, held together with wooden pegs, was standard. These barns were built in a variety of styles (shown on the panels opposite) and often reflected the builder’s regional or national origin.

With the steady increase in mechanized farming in the 20th Century, barns became less and less essential to the farm’s operation. Other, more specialized structures were developed to house machinery and store crops. Existing barns fell into disrepair and, being viewed no longer as an asset but a tax liability, many were torn down. For example, a listing done in 1955 cited 120-130 barns in Arrowsmith Township; a recent survey identified only 42 remaining.

In recent years, interest in preserving old barns has risen. Locally, the McLean County Barn Group was formed to promote the documentation, restoration and preservation of these vanishing landmarks of our rural countryside.