With its rich agricultural heritage, Johnson County is home to numerous classic barns. But because of the cost of maintenance, many barns here and around the state are an endangered species.
Rough-sawn beams and high ceilings hearken back to an earlier era in local history. They are a symbol of the area’s agricultural segment and a reminder of what the community was founded on.
“These are the kinds of barns people were raised with. We can identify with them,” Sam Kemp, a Bargersville area farmer, said in a 2010 Daily Journal article.
In 2001, a Leadership Johnson County group compiled a listing of the county’s historic barns. The goal was to document rural architecture that in many cases was in danger of fading away.
But while the barns have rich architectural and historic value, it is up to the owners to maintain them, sometimes at great cost.
Legislation giving barn owners a property tax deduction was passed by the most recent session of the General Assembly. House Bill 1046 provides a state property tax deduction on historic barns. It was signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week.
The object was to keep from penalizing through higher property taxes improvements to classic barns. As one farmer testified during the legislative session: Why should he spend the money for a new roof when it will simply result in a higher assessed value for the structure and, as a result, a higher tax bill?
The bill also would require the state’s office of tourism to promote historic barns. This could lead to regional barn tours, not unlike the architectural tours in Columbus that focus on modern design.
Some communities, such as Fulton County in north-central Indiana and Champaign County in Illinois, already have designated barn tours as part of their tourism efforts. It would be easy for other areas, including Johnson County, to put together similar routes for architecture enthusiasts.
A meeting to address the disappearance of these historic landmarks in the rural Hoosier landscape is planned for July 12 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
Many older barns aren’t effective for today’s modern farming. Most were built to house animals, feed and equipment; and many of the farms no longer have animals. In addition, today’s machines are far bigger than their ancestors and no longer even fit in the barns. So the incentive to maintain them is even less.
We commend all of Johnson County’s farmers and landowners who are committed to preserving these pieces of our agricultural past and hope that the recent legislative measure will help keep them up.