[Editor's note: Today's Museum of Minnesota entry comes from Wendy Biorn, Executive Director of the Carver County Historic Society. It will be the first in a series of posts centered around the Society's preservation of an historic barn on the Andrew Petersen Farmstead. Wendy's posts will come every six weeks or so.]
There are a number of terms for referring to things that are “old”. If we are talking about a person, the person is referred to as being a senior citizen, over the hill, or as a friend of mine says when asked how he is, “still above ground.” If we are talking about an item, it is an antique, or the newest trendy term, “vintage”. Although vintage refers to something old being reused, and antique something less usable. Really old stuff is ancient or from the antiquities. But, some people refer to other people as being ancient. If that wouldn’t make you feel old, nothing would.
For some, like my sister, old “stuff” is something that you toss. She wants nothing but new, as only new has value in her eyes. I will never forget talking to a 20-ish lady who had gotten married. She and her husband were on the search for a house. She said she just couldn’t buy a “used” house. Only a new one would be considered. This is a thought pattern beyond my comprehension. If the house failed the inspection and was deemed irreparable, I could understand, but she wasn’t buying used undergarments. Can you image a society of disposable housing where only one family would own the house before it was torn down?
You have to know the history of the item, to truly appreciate it. Who and what is the design of the item. Who previously loved, owned and cared for it. Old buildings are placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a badge of honor for their history. The thought of owning a building on the National Register of Historic Places strikes fear into some, and brings out the preservation warrior in others. The largest misconception people have about National Register Properties is that they can’t do anything with the building. That is not exactly true. If the property is to remain on the register, you are limited by what you can do to the outside of the building, but you have much more flexibility with the inside of the buildings.
Can we save old buildings, even those that are falling down? You bet we can. The question really is, “How much are you willing to spend?” and “How historically valuable is the building?” That question became very real for the Carver County Historical Society when faced with the loss of a very historically relevant barn. Let’s for the moment accept the fact the barn was on the National Register of Historic Places for good reason; which it is. Two storms came through and took out the east wall of the barn. The state Historic Architect came out and much to my chagrin said that the barn could not be saved. It has been close to five years, but save the building we did.
Over the next few blogs, I’ll be explaining the historical relevance of the barn, how it was saved, and take a realistic look at why preservationists need to know when to make the effort to save a property and when to let go.