Barns are the most important structure on a farmstead. The earliest barns in Central Illinois were modest log buildings, but by the mid-1800s post-and-beam construction using massive timbers for the framing, held together with wooden pegs, was standard. These barns were built in a variety of styles. Barns became less and less essential to the farm’s operation with the steady increase in mechanized farming in the 1900s, as specialized structures were built to house machinery and to store crops. Existing barns fell into disrepair and many were torn down. For example, a 1955 listing cited 120-130 barns in Arrowsmith Township, whereas a survey in the early 21st century identified only 42 remaining.
Interest in preserving old barns arose in subsequent years. The McLean County Barn Group was formed in 2002 to promote the documentation, restoration and preservation of these vanishing landmarks of our rural countryside. The McLean County Barnologists met March 27, 2003, to explore ideas.
Barn Keepers evolved from the McLean Co. Barn Group. On February 12, 2004, twenty-two persons voted on a new set of By-laws and elected an official Board. The “Barn Board” members elected were: Jean Cooper, Dave Burroughs, Mark Edwards, Ron Ropp, Laura Whelton, Jim Williams, and Wallace Yoder. The following were elected as officers: Ropp (president), Yoder (vice president), Whelton (secretary), and Cooper (treasurer). Several committees were established to organize the on-going work of Barn Keepers.
Barn Keepers is an active organization. In addition to annual September barn tours, the organization holds meetings which are open to the public, writes a newsletter, participates in the “Old House Fair,” hosts speakers, organizes a Barn Christmas Decorating Contest, and supports various educational programs about the importance of barns in Central Illinois.