Historic barns stand as the built embodiment of our agricultural and rural heritage. Their presence on the landscape historically has served as a symbol of progress and industriousness – working lands need working buildings. In recent decades, however, the role of barns as viable components of active farming operations has been diminished. Increasingly, barns serve as a romantic and picturesque reminder of our agrarian past. While barns remain beautiful backdrops on the landscape, their continued presence is tenuous.

Several factors work to threaten barns, including changes in farming technologies and agricultural practices, the high cost of maintenance and rehabilitation costs, and pressures from real estate development. Because of these factors and others, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation included Washington’s historic barns in our 2006 Most Endangered Historic Properties List – our first thematic entry in the history of the List.

Stemming from the Most Endangered listing, the Washington Trust worked with the Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, members of the state legislature, and a variety of partners in the preservation and agricultural communities to envision a program that would effectively acknowledge historic barns while at the same time actively work to rehabilitate and stabilize agricultural structures to enable their continued use. The result of this collaboration was the introduction of a bill to create a barn program.

Recognizing that historic barns are essential symbols of Washington's history and culture, during the 2007 legislative session the Washington State Legislature passed Substitute House Bill 2115. With passage of the bill, the legislature acknowledged those factors that collectively work to endanger barns statewide and contribute to their falling into decay or being demolished altogether. Few resources are available to barn owners to support the preservation of heritage barns. The purpose of the bill was to create a system for recognizing heritage barns statewide and providing for their stabilization and rehabilitation through matching grants and a statewide barn assessment.

In May of 2007, Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law, effectively creating the Heritage Barn Preservation Initiative. Established as a program within the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), SHB 2115 authorized the agency to:
  • Establish a heritage barn recognition program;
  • Provide matching grants to heritage barn owners throughout the state in support of efforts to preserve, stabilize and rehabilitate Heritage Barns; and
  • Establish a heritage barn preservation advisory board to examine incentives and regulatory issues related to barn preservation and use.