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Barns of Tennessee preserves some of states disappearing history

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Barns of Tennessee, a just-completed book that illustrates the indelible connection between generations of the state’s residents and their farms, has been published in a partnership between Donning Company Publishers, the staff of The Tennessee Magazine and co-authors Caneta S. Hankins and Michael T. Gavin, both of Middle Tennessee State University.

The 160-page, hardbound title features 375 photographs of Tennessee barns—made from stone, log, brick and metal—along with information about each one. Most of the photographs are in color, though several are vintage black-and-white images. 

In working to make the book project a reality, authors Hankins, assistant director of the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU, and Gavin, preservation specialist for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, sorted through more than 3,500 photos. The project began with a request to readers of The Tennessee Magazine to share photographs and stories of their barns.

 “The overwhelming response of Tennesseans to this invitation indicates the significance of farming not only to our history but, more importantly, to the current contributions of farms and farmers to the state’s overall economy and to a safe and reasonably priced local source of food,” Hankins shared.

At the start of the project, she added, “We had about 25 banker’s boxes of photographs to go through … and we made sure we had at least one barn from each of Tennessee’s counties.” 

Gavin, meanwhile, recalled that, “After looking through the images and descriptions that people submitted, it was obvious that Tennesseans love their barns. Our challenge was to organize the abundance of material in a way that was meaningful and understandable.”          Included in the book are barns located in Wilson County. They are the Apple barn constructed of limestone on Young Acres Century Farm, a barn built 95 years ago and owned by B.W. and Karleen Eakes, a large cattle barn owned by Diane Tatum, a barn owned by Larry Finch, a barn restored by Howard Gillette and used by the Hearn family and a barn built in 1903 with Isabel and Thomas Hall often seen at Young Acres Farm with horses.

A reception and book-signing event is to be held from 1:30 until 3 p.m., Wednesday, March 18 at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum – Ellington Agricultural Center, 440 Hogan Road, Nashville.

The limited-edition pictorial book and the overall collection of photographs is an invaluable documentation of the Tennessee farms and barns that, for more than two centuries, have shaped the agrarian landscape and culture of the state, observed Dr. Carroll Van West, director of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation.

The book’s production team included The Tennessee Magazine staffers Robin Conover, Chris Kirk and Jerry Kirk, with Trish Milburn editing the book and Ron Bell serving as designer. Photographs from the collection of Conover, editor of The Tennessee Magazine, are also included.           “The barns that are spread across the landscape have played a pivotal role in the changes and continuity of Tennessee’s farming traditions for more than 200 years,” noted Hankins, who also oversees the Tennessee Century Farms program via her work through CHP.

The Barns of Tennessee, which is available for purchase through the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s Nashville offices at 710 Spence Lane and via its Web site (http://www.tnelectric.org), also includes historic reference information about each barn, as well as architectural types of barns and their functions in the agrarian lifestyles of Tennessee’s farmers. The book costs $45, and the shipping fee is $5.

“Because barns are the symbol of farming, ways to maintain and use them in a changing culture and landscape are also part of the book,” Hankins said. “Each community, county and the state as a whole must seriously and intentionally ask hard questions about the future of farms, especially family farms, which are vital to our very survival.”

For more information about the book-signing, call 837-5197.

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