For Markham Starr, walking into an old Connecticut barn is like walking into the long-ago past. "The colors, textures, and aromas inside a barn bring back the past as few buildings can."
Old homes and old churches invariably have been updated with heating systems and electricity, but an old barn often remains much like it was a century or two ago, with dust atop the old timbers, maybe spider webs here and there.
"Barns in particular don't get modernized as much," he said in an interview.
In his new book, "Barns of Connecticut," (Wesleyan University Press; Hardcover $35, e-book 27.99), Starr, a writer and photographer, celebrates the state's historic barns in text and more than 100 color photos.
Some of these barns date to the years in the late 18th Century or early 19th Century when Connecticut was a patchwork landscape of small farms, all with their essential barns.
"While we often think of the church as the most important building in Colonial life, it was in fact the barn that held survival's key," he writes.
Many have long outlasted their original intended use to store grains and grasses, shelter animals, store equipment. Many today are shelter for automobiles or lawn and garden equipment, or they may be crammed with odds and ends destined for a tag sale one day.
Many are falling apart, others are well-maintained by fastidious property owners. Not surprisingly, Starr found barns tended to be in best repair in the wealthy communities in Fairfield and Litchfield Counties.
There may easily be 10,000 barns in the state to this day. A survey by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has so far identified more than 8,500 Connecticut barns. "Obviously we haven't gotten every barn," said Helen Higgins, executive director of the organization.
The trust is working to preserve as many of the historic barns as possible, already having made available small grants to help property owners maintain some of them. It hopes to have another assistance program again if grant money can be secured.
In his text, Starr details early barn construction methods and traces changes in barn design over the centuries. Early Connecticut barns were similar to barns in England, where most of the earliest settlers came from. They were post and beam construction, with a simple, clean design. By the late 19th Century, however, they became more ornate, often with a stylish cupola.
Meanwhile, Connecticut barns slowly disappear, some torn down for other development, some collapsing from neglect. A key to maintaining a barn is to keep the roof in good repair so water doesn't rot and destroy its underpinnings.
"If a barn is not watertight, it is a goner," Higgins said.
Starr also believes the recession and sluggish economy since 2008 has taken a toll with many barn owners putting off repairs. Because many are no longer used for agriculture, they often are not fully utilized and therefore not always a priority for maintenance.
Connecticut is experiencing a boom in new farms, after decades of farm decline in the state. But Starr, who has travelled the entire state viewing and photographing barns, new and old, said he does not see a corresponding boom in new barn construction.
The great majority of new farmers are farming small plots of land and often can make do for equipment storage with a garage, a small shed or perhaps an existing old barn.
"I don't see it having created a big boom in barns," he said.
EndNote: The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Cttrust.org, created a Connecticut Barns Trail Map, available at Connecticut welcome centers. Or, request a copy of the brochure or access a list of 2,354 historic Connecticut barns, with addresses, at http://www.connecticutbarns.org. The barn trail is also available as an app for an iPhone. Access Apple's iTunes apps and search for "Connecticut barns."
Contact Steve Grant at email@example.com