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Tobacco barns eligible for rehab

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 2:00 pm

Property owners in the Dan River Region may now get some financial help in securing relics of the area’s history.

The Tobacco Barn Preservation Mini-Grant Fund is accepting applications for small grants to stabilize the structure and fix up the exterior of historic tobacco barns, while maintaining the original architectural style.

JTI – Japan Tobacco International – bought out RJ Reynolds a few years ago, and has offices all over the world, including a large office and warehouse in Danville, Va. The company has given Preservation Virginia $100,000 for the project, which spans Pittsylvania and Halifax counties in Virginia, as well as Caswell County.

“JTI has a lot of tobacco growers in this area,” said Preservation Virginia’s Sonja Ingram. “This time of year their warehouse is stacked to the ceiling. The tobacco grown here is always considered the best grown all over the world.”

Ingram introduced the project to about three dozen farmers who gathered at the library last Tuesday night. She has since held similar workshops in Chatham and South Boston, Va.

In 2009, Preservation Virginia began listing the tobacco barns of Pittsylvania County.

“It created more interest than any other sites ever on our endangered list,” said Ingram. “It turned into a full-fledged program.”

The non-profit group held two educational workshops and did an architectural survey of 200 barns there. 

“We’re also doing an oral history project, so if you know of any elderly tobacco farmers in this area, let us know,” said Ingram.

And now, with JTI’s money, Preservation Virginia is now offering mini-grants for tobacco barn restoration.  While it’s a pilot project the first year, the non-profit hopes to work with JTI another year, and maybe longer.

“This first year, we’re looking at barns that can be repaired,” explained Ingram. “We want to do as many as we can.”

She said roof repair is important, since water deteriorates the logs. The other main areas of repair are the foundation and siding.

“Is the barn leaning? It’s repairable,” said Ingram, adding that the barn can be jacked up to repair the foundation. “A lot of times the foundation stones are there, but they may be scattered.”

And some contractors have logs from salvaged barns that can be used for replacements.

The mini-grants allow for up to $4,500 per barn, but owners can add their own money to it for more extensive repairs – as long as they include their intent on the grant application.

The property owners will not have to handle any money; the funds will go from Preservation Virginia right to the contractors working on the project. 

“We have a large list of contractors,” said Ingram. “A lot of people can do roofs; we’re looking for people with experience in log building. We have three to four in Caswell County already.”

One Caswell farmer asked if barn owners had an obligation to maintain the structure after the grant work was completed.

“We didn’t institute anything, but most of the time, if you have a tobacco barn and it’s not in bad shape, you’ve already been a good steward,” replied Ingram.

“A lot of barns we drive bay and look at have trees growing up around them. In the rehab, are they cut back?” asked another farmer.

Ingram said yes, that trees and shrubs have to be removed so contractors can work.

“And some barns over the years were covered in other material like stucco, metal or tar paper. We’re not going to go in and rip it off,” said Ingram. “I’ve seen one completely covered in license plates as siding. It was amazing.”

The deadline to submit an application for a mini-grant is Jan. 15. For the following month, the barns will be ranked. Then staff members will visit the barns to make sure they are eligible. A grant review committee wills step in, and recipients will be announced on April 1. Repairs will be completed by September.

With an expected onslaught of applications, the barns will be prioritized. Higher rankings will go to barns that are visible from a public right-of-way or has some public benefit.

“If there is historical significance to your barn, put it on your application,” advised Ingram. “Is it part of a larger farm of generational farmers? Who built it and how old is it? It’s kind of like oral history in a way.”

For more information on the project, contact Ingram at 434-770-1209 or singram@preservationvirginia.org, or visit http://preservationvirginia.org.