Saving a Part of the Past

The carpenters who built these barns would appreciate the care with which renovators like Tom convert these old buildings. (And they would certainly recognize his half-lap scarf joint.) They assumed that the barns — like the surrounding farms — would be around for centuries.

As modernization forces small farms to shut down, leaving their outbuildings to the elements, converting a barn is one way to save a disappearing vernacular form. And by turning these "agricultural cathedrals," as Fossel calls them, into houses, Americans are also preserving their cultural heritage. "They recall a time when small communities gathered together for barn raisings and a self-sufficient farmer's world reached no farther than the town border," he says.

Ken Epworth, of The Barn People, says he is still enthralled each time he throws open the door to one of these relics for the first time and gazes up at the void. "You've got to give your eyes a few minutes to adjust," he says. "But then you start seeing things. You see that beautiful honey color of the wood. You have a structure with integrity. You've got history, mystery, and charm. That's hard to duplicate today."

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