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Preserving Old Tobacco Barns

Adaptive uses for old tobacco barns. Here, an Alamance County landowner has converted an old tobacco barn into a workshop, with a patio under the shed and a garden surrounding the building.
All across the state's tobacco growing regions, farmers and landowners have modified old tobacco barns for garages or for storage of other equipment or materials, and some have found even more creative uses for the old barns. Others preserve the barns simply out of respect for a long family tradition.

The Staley family of Level Cross (Randolph County) has converted this old log tobacco barn into a cozy stained glass and pottery workshop, which is also the favored hideaway for the family cat.

Charles and Wanda Brintle of Yadkin County restored an old log tobacco barn on their property to provide an ideal place to display a colorful hand-painted quilt square. The barn had fallen into disrepair and it was necessary to rebuild the roof and porch and to replace rotten logs in places. They reused the old roof tin that was salvageable, with additional material taken from an old shed nearby. The result is a beautifully preserved traditional tobacco barn characteristic of the Old Bright Belt in the northwestern Piedmont.

Do you have an old log barn you want to preserve and aren't sure what to do? A good starting point is the National Park Service's Preservation Brief # 26, The Preservation and Repair of Historic Log Buildings, which can be viewed online at Preservation Brief # 20, The Preservation of Historic Barns, is at

Who preserves tobacco barns?

A few tobacco barns are being preserved in public and private museums and parks such as the Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly, Horne Creek Living History Farm in Surry County, and Northeast Park in Guilford County. Except for these rare examples, virtually all of the tobacco barns in the state are privately owned.

No farmer or landowner can be expected to pay for maintenance of a building that no longer contributes to the farm operation or its income, and there are no public or private grant programs to assist the preservation of old tobacco barns. A limited exception is a tobacco barn mini-grant program sponsored by Preservation Virginia and funded by a private tobacco company, with candidates limited to barns in Halifax and Pittsylvania County, VA, and Caswell County, NC, described here.

A small number of barns on historic farms listed in the National Register of Historic Places might be eligible for federal and state rehabilitation income tax credits.  So far, only two tobacco barns in North Carolina have been restored with these credits, both located on a farm in Caswell County that is listed in the National Register. That project is described here.

The majority of old tobacco barns standing today will probably disappear in the years ahead.However, some barns may be good candidates for some sort of adaptive reuse on the farm or property, and their repair and maintenance may cost much less than construction of a new building of similar size. Making simple modifications to their barns, hundreds of farmers now use old tobacco barns for storage of equipment, materials, or other crops.

Before removing an old barn, consider whether it might have any other potential use on the farm or property. Barns that are located at a convenient distance to the farmhouse or other buildings might warrant continued use for storage, as a garage or workshop, or other functions. Then determine the condition of the barn. If it is relatively free of water or insect damage, it may endure for many years with simple maintenance.

Contractors whose specialties include work with tobacco barns

Note to contractors: If you would like a link to your business website, telephone, and/or email from this page, contact Michael Southern.
Note to building owners:  Inclusion in this list does not imply a formal recommendation by the State Historic Preservation Office. Owners are advised to ask potential contractors for references and work samples that can be visited or seen in photographs.

Broadleaf Timber and Masonry Reclaiming  336-264-8457

Log and Cedar Maintenance   434-327-3210              

Tell us about tobacco barn preservation projects you know about

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