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Barns of McHenry County

A Visual History of an agricultural and architectural delight.

For the sixth consecutive year, the McHenry County Historical Barn Preservation Association, Inc. (MCHBPA) in concert with McHenry County College will host an exhilarating event to enjoy and explore McHenry County history. “On the Edge of Development” will take place October 10 and will include a tour of barns throughout the county.

This year’s theme, “On the Edge of Development,” is best described as an appeal to gather our collective understanding of where McHenry County barn preservation is today. There is an inherent need for the county as a community to appreciate and protect our cultural and architectural heritage. Too many barns and other irreplaceable landmarks are being lost to development. This rich heritage of McHenry County cannot be lost.

To preserve cultural heritage and help understand past lifestyles and traditions, it’s crucial to maintain records of our past. Currently, there are no specific sanctions by the state or county to either underwrite or to formalize a barn preservation campaign. The McHenry Alliance, the Illinois Barn Alliance and the National Barn Alliance, however, have brought a continuing level of emphasis to the importance of the visual, agricultural and architectural aspects of barn preservation and the importance of preserving these structures for future generations.

What Do We Have to Lose?

Until 1910, most of the barns in McHenry County were built with heavy-duty timber. After that, companies such as Sears (then Sears Roebuck & Company) sold “pre-fab” barn structures. The two distinctive styles can be seen in the remaining McHenry County barns. Some barn owners have resourcefully converted their barns into living spaces. There have been as many as 70 to100 barns converted to homes at great expense.

The MCHBPA is committed to preserving the estimated 1,000 barns that remain (in varying degrees of condition) in and around McHenry County. Approximately 250 barns are registered through the McHenry County Historical Society, but there is no accurate inventory of all the barns in the county. The historical society is always eager to hear from residents who own property with a barn present. Contact them at 815-923-2267.

The MCHBPA, which was created in 1999, operates with approximately 80 vocal, committed members. Though they have met some roadblocks, they are nevertheless dedicated to their vision.

An active example of the sustained efforts in McHenry County is the Gregory farm in Bull Valley, at the northwest corner of Country Club and Bull Valley roads. While the structure was initially destined for destruction in order to make way for development by a leading national real estate company, it now appears that the farmhouse and one of the historical barn structures will be retained as part of the landscaping of the low-density home development.

Another unique aspect of the agri-barn environment in McHenry County is the resilience of cement silos that, in many cases, have outlived the barn structures themselves. The cement silos were so well constructed that the price of removing them has become a costly venture; in most cases, the silos are left standing.

Hundreds of silos are still standing in the county. Some property owners try to make use of the structures. For example, off Pyott Road in Algonquin there is a development called The Silos that is neatly built around a cement silo that is structurally part of the motif of the property.

A wake-up call beckons to preservationists and those inherently interested in keeping a watchful eye on McHenry County’s history. Many barns are currently in a state of disrepair that will ultimately result in a crumbled monument in the history of McHenry County. We can safeguard our history for future generations with effort and perseverance. We must thank the MCHBPA, McHenry County Historical Society and other local preservation associations for creating and holding fast to their missions and educational programs.

Information on registration as well as the index of the tour will be available through the MCC website (www.mchenry.edu).

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