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Heritage Barn Preservation Bill

On Friday May 4, 2007, Governor Gregoire signed SHB 2115, a bill which created the Washington State Heritage Barn Register and establishing a grant program to support the preservation of historic barns.   “Barns can be beautiful buildings and a symbol of our state's agricultural heritage,” said Governor Gregoire.  “This bill will help family farms preserve their history, not only for themselves but for all Washingtonians.”  Linked to the bill is a fund of $500,000 in the state capital budget to support stabilization of heritage barns over the next two years. 

Governor Gregoire signs SHB 2115Representative Daniel Newhouse (R-Sunnyside), the bill’s primary sponsor, said “This bill will provide future generations with the opportunity to see part of our state’s unique heritage. If we don’t make an effort to preserve historic barns now, there might not be any left after another generation.”

Rep. Patricia Lantz (D-Gig Harbor), co-chair of the Washington State Heritage Caucus, said, “I cannot recall an idea that took root as quickly, or that bridged East and West in our state as well as the Heritage Barn Bill.  It is an idea whose time has come.”

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation led a coalition of rural advocates, including the Washington State Grange and the Washington State Association of Counties, in pushing for the legislation. 

Washington Trust Executive Director Jennifer Meisner said, “We are thrilled to see this bill come out of the legislature.  Dairy barns in the river valleys around Puget Sound or timber framed barns that housed combines and horse teams in the Palouse tell us just as much about Washington State’s history as the buildings in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.  This bill shows that preserving our state’s history has broad support, in both urban and rural communities.”

In 2006, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation included historic barns throughout the state in its annual list of Washington’s Most Endangered Historic Properties, hoping to focus attention to the need to preserve these iconic structures before it is too late. 

Jerri Honeyford, former Yakima County Farm Bureau president and current Washington Trust board member notes that people love seeing old barns.  “Barns are a piece of our working history and bring memories of our farm backgrounds.  If this funding can help to preserve some of these historic structures, we can show generations ahead what effort and perseverance it takes to be good farmers."

Washington State Grange President Terry Hunt agrees, saying, “The Grange supports the effort to preserve historic barns because these old structures capture the essential elements of farm life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries...We should retain and restore the best examples of these structures so that we too can experience a sense of that pioneer farm life.”

Julie Koler, King County’s Historic Preservation Officer, has been working to preserve barns in King County’s remaining rural areas, including the Snoqualmie Valley, the Enumclaw Plateau and Vashon Island.  Koler said, “The ‘most endangered’ listing was a real wake-up call to historic preservation leaders around the state, that we have an amazing collection of historic barns in Washington, but they are very vulnerable.  The Legislature has shown great leadership in passing the Heritage Barn Preservation Bill, and in providing funds to stabilize and restore historic barns.”

Specifically, the Heritage Barn Preservation Bill (SHB 2115) will:  

  • Establish a heritage barn recognition program;
  • Provide competitive matching grants to heritage barn owners throughout the state, to support their efforts to preserve, stabilize and rehabilitate their barns; and
  • Establish a heritage barn preservation advisory board to examine tax incentives and land use regulations that support barn preservation and use.

To be eligible for a grant to help with stabilizing roofs, foundations and structural systems, barn owners must agree to provide public benefits such as long term maintenance and preservation, visibility from public highways, or occasional public access. 

In creating a fund to preserve barns, Washington State joins a handful of other states including Iowa, Maine, Maryland and Vermont which have barn preservation programs.  These programs strengthen connections among historic preservation groups, heritage tourism and other rural economic development efforts, and organizations that support and promote local agriculture.