Barns tell the story of Maryland. They are stunning visual anchors on the agricultural landscape that mark time and remind us all of the Old Line State’s farming heritage. From the weathered tobacco barns of Southern Maryland to the towering bank barns of Western Maryland, the forces of nature, development and neglect have left many barns in need of repair. This introductory guide is meant as a first place to begin a project to restore a historic barn.

Further research, inquiry and planning will be required – and this blog is not meant to serve as construction, legal or financial advice – but instead to provide introductory information on barn preservation. 

Documentation: Getting To Know Your Barn

There are many different types of barns in Maryland. Knowing what kind of barn you have – and the methods used to construct it – is an important first step towards preserving your unique structure. A good first step is to document the existing conditions. Lots of photographs from every angle and detailed shots of barn hardware, doors, lofts, etc. is important. This will provide a baseline of documentation and help as you move forward with your project. 

In Maryland, there are a wide variety of barn types – but in general terms the most common are:

  • Bank barn: Often found in Central-Western Maryland, these barns were generally built into the side of a small hill and have a ramp which provides access to a second floor. Traditionally, the first floor was space for livestock. They can be constructed of wood or stone and are generally post-and-beam construction. 
  • Tobacco barn: Primarily found in southern Maryland, these barns are often characterized by a steep gable-on-hip roof. They were used for drying and storage of cured tobacco. They were generally built in the frame construction method. 
  • Dairy barn: Found throughout the state, but especially in central Maryland, they can be built of wood or concrete, depending on the date of their construction. They are often very long to facilitate a large herd of cattle and generally are topped by a gambrel roof. 
  • Crib barn: Found through the state, and made simply of one, two, four or sometimes six cribs that served as storage or pens for cattle or pigs, crib barns may or may not have a hayloft above. Crib barns were typically built of unchinked logs, although they were sometimes covered with vertical wood siding.
  • English barn: Sometimes referred to as a Yankee barn, these were commonplace across the state and throughout the country. Often 30’x40’ in dimension, these barns tend to have three bays organized crosswise to the roof ridge – one for livestock, a central threshing floor, and a mow for hay, straw or sheaves. Sometimes the third bay was used as a granary. A central door leads to the threshing floor.
  • Other: Of course, every barn is unique – and there are a wide variety of barns which do not precisely follow the above patterns. There are hobby barns built in eclectic styles, Sears-Roebuck barns, Round barns and more. 

Planning for Future Use

Before you begin your rehabilitation project, it’s extremely important to understand the future use of the barn. Keeping a barn for agricultural use often creates the fewest hurdles –most counties provide simple or very limited permitting for this use. 

If you intend on using your barn for event or retail space or converting to residential use – it is very important to meet with your county planning department before you begin any work to discuss your concept and to learn what requirements may exist. 

Common issues you may need to consider: 

  • Zoning permissions for use conversion (ex: ability to convert from agricultural to event facility)
  • Life safety (ex: sprinklers are often required if the barn is converted to an event space)
  • Health (ex: requirement for on-site bathrooms, water)
  • Transportation (ex: entrances to the site may need to be improved for an event facility)

Preservation Issues to Consider & Address

Barns, like all structures, require periodic care and maintenance. As you begin your project, it’s important to look for potential issues requiring repair.

Common issues in barns to look for include:

  • Structural: Resolving structural issues always requires the services of a professional engineer, but signs of concern to look for include: large cracks in masonry, visible bowing, leaning and misalignment of walls, sagging windows and doors, separation of cladding from structural frames, trusses pulling away from seating points at support walls, sagging joists and rafters, and noticeable dips in the roof between rafters.
  • Roofing: A tight roof keeps the elements out and is a critical component of routine barn maintenance. Along with keeping the roof in good condition, gutters and downspouts should always be kept clear and replaced if damaged. As always, consult a professional roofer or gutter cleaning service as the height of barns makes maintenance very dangerous for well-meaning amateurs. 
  • Exterior: Much like the roof – exterior elements including siding, cladding, brick and stonework must be kept in good condition to preserve the overall structure. The exterior may need repainting. Unpainted brick or stone barns, however, should never be painted. In the case of masonry barns, repointing may be necessary. Using mortar high in Portland cement can permanently damage historic brick or stone. Sandblasting and other physical or chemical treatments that damage historic materials should not be used. Likewise, power washing under high pressure can also damage building material.

Barn Rehabilitation Do’s and Don’ts

Tackling a barn rehab project is complex, costly and time-consuming.

The National Park Service put together the following list of basic best-practice barn rehab tips: 

  • Preserve the historic setting of the barn as much as possible. 
  • Repair and repaint historic siding rather than cover barns with non-wood siding.
  • Repair rather than replace historic windows whenever possible, and avoid “blocking them down” or covering them up.
  • Avoid changing the size of door openings whenever possible.
  • Consider a new exterior addition only if it is essential to the continued use of a historic barn.
  • Retain interior spaces and features as much as possible.
  • Retain as much of the historic internal structural system as possible.

Financial Resources Available

Barn rehabilitation is not cheap. However, it doesn’t have to be tackled all at once – in fact the best projects are often phased. Initial efforts should focus on keeping rain out and addressing critical structural issues.

Funding for barn rehabilitation projects in Maryland includes:

  • Federal Historic Tax Credit: The federal tax credit applies only to income producing properties and there are several property-valuation requirements which limit the availability of this 20% federal tax credit to large-scale preservation projects. The program is administered by the National Park Service and applications must be made well in advance of any construction. 
  • Maryland Historic Tax Credit: Administered by the Maryland Historical Trust, certain barns may qualify for a 20% tax credit against qualified rehabilitation expenses. Applications for tax credits must be submitted in advance of any work and it is highly recommended to speak with the staff of the Trust to discuss your project and how to apply for a tax credit well in advance of planning or beginning any work. 
  • Local Incentives: Many counties and municipalities offer owners of certified historic structures incentives, often in the form of a tax credit on property taxes, to assist with the rehabilitation of their properties. Similar to the state’s historic preservation tax credits, these credits impact local tax liability and can be used in addition to the state and federal credit, if applicable. Contact your county planning office to learn about what incentives may exist in your community. 

DISCLAIMER: Preservation Maryland and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.


This guide is only an introduction to barn rehabilitation. The following resources are useful for learning more about barn preservation:


Perhaps nothing in preservation causes as much confusion as the National Register of Historic Places. Does it prevent demolition? Does it protect buildings? Can you change your paint color? Do you get tax breaks? Can you get a grant? Learn more about the National Register here

Historic structures require significant repair and upkeep – but with routine maintenance the time and expense associated with those repairs can be substantially reduced. Equally important as maintaining the structure is making sure that those repairs are safe for historic buildings. Learn more about preservation best practices here.

Finding funds for your preservation rehabilitation project can be complex and confusing. Fortunately, in Maryland, there are many programs designed to help private property owners maintain and rehabilitate their historic structure. Learn more about historic tax credits here