The Loss of Our Old Barns

White Barn with 2 Silos

Old Barn in West Knoxville – picture taken in 2008

I LOVE OLD BARNS! Actually I love most anything that is time worn, coated with rust, crackled by peeling paint, and leaning on a shaky foundation. As much as I am drawn to this sad deteriorating condition, I want this object of my affection to live on forever. It’s so sad to witness additional decay and then the eventual crumbling to its demise.

I’ve been on a mission since 2008 when I started writing Bicycling Routes Around Knoxville, to document our old barns, houses, and stores that I ride by when wandering our rural countryside. Over the years, I’ve watched heavy rains and high winds tear at their structure and foundations until eventually they are totally exposed to the elements spiraling to an eventual collapse. In other cases, Mother Nature slowly moves in surrounding the structure with shrubs, vines, and trees eventually absorbing it into the earth.


Total collapse of the barn, only the silos stand tall – picture taken in 2014

Earlier this week while riding a route I haven’t been on since 2008, I was dismayed to see the total collapse of this beautiful old white barn — only two brick silos remain standing. On other routes I ride, there are similar scenarios — old barns with peeling paint, a handful of rotted boards, frames slightly leaning. Again, here is another barn that hasn’t faired well over the years.

Barn and Silo on Martin Mill Rd

In 2008 this barn was in serious trouble

Collapsed Barn on Martin Mill Rd

Now in 2014 it is beyond repair

Red, white, or weathered gray — our barns are iconic symbols of rural life in America. James Lindberg, a field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation states, “there is a feeling that losing those kinds of structures means we are losing a connection to a really important part of our country’s heritage.” You might wonder then, why aren’t these barns being restored and preserved? Usually, the reality is that once an old barn no longer has a purpose on the farm it removes the economic value placed on it, also removing the justification to maintain it, so it just sits there, slowly deteriorating.

In some areas of our country, interest is growing to save our barns. Preservation groups have formed and are working on providing documentation of the barns in their areas — photographs, basic information about the architecture, historical character, use and condition. Grant programs are being set up to provide money to assess the condition of the barns and to look at ways to save and reuse them. Funds have been raised where farmers can borrow to make repairs. Others have suggested repurposing barns into homes or businesses. The good news is that some of our adored old barns can be saved and restored! While it is too late for this beauty, I hope we can get some local interest and work together to restore our barns so they can be around for another century! I’ve created a Pinterest board to begin documenting the Old Barns and Farms Around Knoxville. Please share locations, pictures and any other information you might have on other barns in Tennessee and I’ll add them to the board.

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