The red paint may be peeling and they smell like hogs and hay, but Iowa’s thousands of aging barns are revered as “prairie cathedrals” by researchers who’re trying to save the large agricultural structures. Rod Scott, a board member on the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance, says Iowa farms were home to some 220-thousand barns back in the 1920s, but now there are maybe 60-thousand. Scott says “We’re losing them at ten per county per year, that’s the estimate. I personally think it’s a lot higher number than that. So essentially when my grandchildren are retirement age, they’ll be gone.”

Society has radically changed in the past century, Scott says, moving from 90-percent of us living in rural areas in 1900 to 90-percent of us now living in urban areas. Scott says “All of us basically come from an agrarian background in our family structures and our heritage and the barn was the symbol of the prosperity of that farmstead and of the American farmstead in particular. It’s become an American icon.” He says it’s our “obligation” to preserve the barns for future generations.

Scott says “We all have a longing for this lifestyle, for the wide open spaces, for the bucolic landscape with the production of food. It’s a heartfelt thing that people all over the country are asking, ‘What are we going to do with these barns?'” Governor Vilsack declared 2005 “The Year of the Barn and Family Farm” and Scott’s group is doing a statewide barn survey, exploring the role of barns in Iowa’s history and economy.

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