Bicentennial Barns Project Celebrates Indiana’s Barn Legacies
Take a leisurely drive through the Indiana countryside and you’ll likely pass dozens of barns – some weathered and tattered from decades of use, others sharp and freshly painted – and each with a story to tell. Thanks to the Bicentennial Barns of Indiana project, those stories are now being heard.
Sponsored by the 2016 Bicentennial Commission in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood, the Bicentennial Barns project celebrates Indiana’s agricultural heritage by recognizing 200 barns across the state. Each barn received a bicentennial sign in 2016, and the Top 10 Bicentennial Barns were selected as the finest examples of architecture and stewardship.
The goal of the project is to celebrate Indiana barns and their impact on the state’s economy and history while preserving them for future generations to use and appreciate.
Sheets Barn in Flora
Tim and Beth Sheets of Howard County raise alpacas in their 1904 barn at Heritage Farm in Flora. Named one of the Top 10 Bicentennial Barns, the Sheets Barn is located on the land where Beth grew up. Her parents, Bob and Nelda Lovelace, used the barn back then for cattle and hay.
Tim and Beth met in college, married and lived in Indianapolis before moving back to care for the family farm in 1998, when their children were in high school.
“We’ve been interested in old barns for a long time, and the first time I made the trip to my wife’s family farm in college, I fell in love with it,” Tim says. “We’re passionate about the preservation of barns, because too many are neglected. The structure of a barn is fascinating, and the methods used to assemble them years ago are amazing without all the big machinery we have today.”
After taking over the farm, Tim and Beth wanted to put the barn to good use, so they began raising alpacas for their fiber – a soft, fine wool used in sweaters, hats and shawls. Their herd has grown to about 60 alpacas.
“They’re very enjoyable, gentle, curious animals,” says Tim, who is also a pharmacist. “They’re a bit hesitant and shy around people, but once trained, they’re very manageable. Even our grandchildren can walk them around.”
In 2003, the Sheets family replaced the barn’s leaking roof with a new, artistic roof that has an image of an alpaca on one side and the farm’s initials on the other. They have also begun hosting weddings at Heritage Farm and renting a historic 1850s log cabin on their property to overnight guests.
“We want to share the farm experience with people not involved in farming,” Tim says. “We’ve had some families come from Chicago with their kids. They enjoy feeding our chickens, gathering eggs, interacting with our alpacas, playing by the creek and just breathing in the fresh air.”
Smoker Barn in LaPorte County
In LaPorte County, Greg and Deb Smoker’s 1938 barn was also named among the Top 10 Bicentennial Barns. Originally a dairy barn, the white, two-story Smoker Barn has been used by four generations of the family as a place to raise animals, which they have shown in 4-H and other competitions, receiving multiple awards. Today, the couple’s sons, Jacob, Matt and Joe, are all involved in the working farm.
“The barn is part of the family,” Deb says. “Many memories have been made in or around the barn with 4-H animals. It has been a playground for the youth of the family for generations. Some people refer to it as a landmark for our area.”
Allhands Barn in Henry County
In Henry County, Keith Allhands represents the fifth generation to make a living raising cattle in the three-story barn his ancestors built in 1900. Also named a Top 10 Bicentennial Barn, the Allhands Barn has windows on all sides, and two cupolas adorn the massive barn’s roof.
Now 88, Allhands no longer raises cattle, but with the help of his grandson, Nathan Searcy, he continues to raise corn and beans on the farm.
“I plan on Nathan taking it over one day,” Keith says. “I can remember spending time in the barn since I started driving a tractor and pulling the wagon and hay loader at age 6 or 7.”
Register Your Own Barn
Do you have a historic barn you would like to add to the Bicentennial Barns registry? The 2016 Bicentennial Commission is encouraging anyone who has a pre-1950 barn to register it online as a way to bring attention to the importance and value of barns as icons of agriculture and Indiana’s rural landscape.
To participate, barns need to be built prior to 1950, must be located in Indiana, and must be still standing and serving a purpose related to agriculture. (The term “Bicentennial” refers to the 200-year celebration of Indiana – not the age of the barn.) The registry includes photographs of each barn and is free and open to all Indiana citizens. Organizers hope to have participation from all 92 counties. After registering, you will receive a letter acknowledging your barn’s registration, and it will appear on the website and on Facebook. To learn more or to register your barn with the Bicentennial Barns project, visit 200IndianaBarns.com.