Rural structures — especially minimalist and un-sexy outbuildings which are strictly utilitarian — are often overlooked and viewed as unimportant (even by many “preservationists”). The attitude has led to their rapid disappearance and irreversibly changed the look of historic farmsteads across the country.

When I was younger and more naive I asked a farmer why so many barns and outbuildings were falling down. Why didn’t their owners take care of them? Of course, there is no single answer that covers every situation, but the answer I got for the specific buildings I was asking about is probably commonplace: Taxes. By allowing buildings to deteriorate (demolition by neglect), the structures are taxed at a lesser rate (or not at all). Sometimes structures are removed simply to increase arable acreage.

Whether it’s a desire to save money, a lack of need for an “outdated” building or simply an indifference to history, these modest and once commonplace structures which previously typified the average American farm continue to disappear. Fortunately at least six in my area, all located at our “day job”, will get a second chance. We’ll take a look at four of them: a granary, a chicken coop, a root cellar and a single-room frame structure which was built around 1900 as an addition to an older sod house. Following is a quick introduction to each…

Valued in the 1940’s for its use in anchoring a shed garage, this one-room structure began as an addition to the first building on the premises… a sod house thought to have been built in the 1870’s.

I had posted about this interesting structure over a year ago when I was made aware of its significance. The rectangles protruding from the wall are actually the rafter ends of the old soddy… and all that remains of it (it was torn down in the 1950’s).

The interior retains remnants of its original wallpaper. It must have seemed quite luxurious in comparison to the sod house it was attached to. The door seen here connected the two structures. Guess who gets to clean this place out???

Last October the site was cleared of the lean-to garage and a century of exterior debris accumulation. Fortunately the new owners value the historic structure and it will be re-purposed. I have suggested designing (and have been given the go-ahead to do so) a pergola which will recall the form of the original sod house. It’s a lot more practical than rebuilding a sod house which would be largely conjectural and not very useful. A pergola will be nice in the summer, and easier to maintain than an authentic soddy.

I think it is important to acknowledge key historic aspects of such places. What could be more historic than the original home site of this large farm? This should be fun!

The second neglected structure at the farm which will be retained and restored is a granary. The original portion is at left; it was greatly enlarged later on.

The site is being cleaned of debris and concrete feed bunks which are no longer used. We will need to rebuild the foundation of the original section, as you can see. First, however, we’ll get a new roof installed. Then Jim and I will repair the siding using identical pieces salvaged from a building on a neighboring farm.

Here’s a look through the center of the granary. The door at the far end needs as much work as the one at left!

A flattened tobacco tin serves as a patch in one of the interior bin walls. The walls are made of tongue-and-groove pine.

While perhaps not technically an outbuilding, root cellars are an important aspect of historic farmsteads as well. This one is made of concrete and is over a hundred years old. The entrance door seen here is surprisingly sound given the lack of maintenance it has endured. This root cellar will be given some TLC so that future generations may learn from it.

In the distance, to the right, is another structure — a chicken coop. See the angle of its roof? Sadly, this is the only photo I have of it prior to its dismantling. Why was it dismantled? Because it is going to enjoy a new life six miles away… at our place!

We’re going to reassemble it here, between a granary at left and a garage to the right. The 1960’s split level (with unfinished greenhouse addition) is at center and the bunkhouse is in the background. And, yes, we’re going to have a few chickens!

I know, don’t tell me. Like we already have enough projects that drag on and on…

Oh well, life is short. You’ve got to cram in as much as you can.

The first wall section arrives! Jim gives a thumbs up after a successful journey. The wall sections will be stored behind the granary until we can reassemble them (hopefully this summer, but who knows). The important thing is that the century-old chicken coop will be saved and will eventually resume its historic role… just a few miles away from where it began.

Our chickens are going to be instilled with a respect for history and vernacular architecture whether they like it or not!

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