- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FORTVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Hidden gems mark six generations of family history on a farm owned by Brendon Hartnett of Fortville.

Two barns at the 1836 homestead could have been lost were it not for those who maintained them over the years. Sliding open the bright white door of his main barn, Hartnett unveils the intricate handiwork and wooden pegs that have held together the structure’s historic interior logs for more than 100 years.

And while the old barn has held plenty of sentimental value to the Fortville family, state lawmakers are now beginning to realize just how precious these structures are to Indiana’s agricultural landscape.

Two bills are advancing in the Indiana General Assembly that would waive property taxes on certain historic barns, putting more money into the pockets of their owners who could make preservations for generations to come.

“These older barns - they’re falling down,” Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, who wrote one of the bills, told the Daily Reporter (http://bit.ly/1bRATGz ).

Cherry, a farmer himself, said barns built more than 75 years ago are functionally obsolete. They aren’t big enough to hold modern-day equipment, and it doesn’t make sense anymore to tax them when Hoosiers could be using the money toward new roofs or siding.

“A lot of people say since you can’t use them, they’re not painting them or putting a roof on or what have you. And they’re either tearing them down or letting them fall down,” Cherry said. “My goal is to save as many of these barns as we can, because the rural landscape will be changing. Other states have done a better job at preserving them than Indiana.”

Cherry’s legislation, House Bill 1046, would allow counties to adopt a 100 percent property tax deduction on so-called mortise and tenon barns, described for the wooden-peg structures built prior to 1936.

The bill would also require the state’s office of tourism to promote historic barns. Cherry would like to see Indiana start historic statewide barn tours, similar to a program that’s taken off in Iowa over the past 13 years.

The bill passed in the House last week, 91-2, and will next be heard by the Senate. A similar Senate version, written by Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, passed unanimously out of that chamber last week. Whether one will actually become law is still uncertain, but Cherry said it’s encouraging the idea is gaining traction this session.

For Hartnett and his father-in-law, Tom Flanagan, the idea makes complete sense. The historic family farm’s main barn is used mostly for storage now, holding hay and “eight million bats,” Hartnett jokes.

“For us, the way we do things today, it’s just not practical,” Flanagan said. “If it wasn’t for the historic value, we would have let it go years ago.”

The farm has been in the family since 1836, and the barn was built in 1911 or before - depending on whether the date etched in the concrete is accurate. New white siding was added in the 1970s, and in recent years water and electricity were re-run to the structure.

A smaller barn holding 18 alpacas and a few guard dogs was built around the same time, its original wooden siding still present.

Hartnett, who married into the farming family and bought the property two years ago, said now that his two daughters represent the sixth generation, it’s special that he and wife Kimberly keep the old structures going.

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