Video: America's fading barns

By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/5/2006 8:04:53 PM ET 2006-09-06T00:04:53

Weathered, hulking, forlorn, majestic — barns dot the American landscape. They are crumbling in Missouri, steadfast in California.

"[They are] a reminder of who we are, not so much who we were, but who we are and where we've come from," says Rod Scott with the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance.

Barns are barometers of prosperity, or decline; many were built for reasons that no longer exist, and their future is uncertain.

In 1920, Iowa boasted 300,000 barns. Because of suburban sprawl and the growth of corporate farms, only 50,000 barns remain here; and every year, 1,000 of them are disappearing.

"The thing I like about barns is, there's no two barns alike," says photographer Ken Starek.

Starek has gathered 40,000 photographs of barns, each with a different story.

"Everything from that's where I got my first kiss," says Starek, "to that's where Dad died."

Which helps explain why in nearly two dozen states preservationists are now cataloguing — and trying to save — as many barns as they can.

Eleven-year-old Samantha Topp has surveyed every barn in her Iowa township.

"So people, when they get older, they can see, like, what kind of barns and where they used to be," she says about her project.

Some barns, restored, still fill a need; many, cannot.

"It'd be nice if we could preserve it, but the reality is it's a building that's not useful," says farmer Dave Sweeney.

A few states have set aside money to preserve barns. Congress has not, jeopardizing a priceless heritage, say barn-huggers.

[Because when they're gone], there are no more," says Rod Scott. "It's as if it never existed. And it's a hole in our history as a nation."

A measure of where we were, where we are and where we are going.

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