New Life for Old Barns

Rising at the crack of dawn, John High works farmers’ hours and spends most of his day in a barn–but he’s not a farmer. Instead, he’s on a self-appointed barn rescue mission. Using crowbars, hammers, and his hands, he disassembles ramshackled barns, preserving the materials for other uses or for relocating the entire structure elsewhere. “I want to save every barn I possibly can,” says High. “So many are torn down because I didn’t get to them in time.”

In 1990, High left his job at an excavating company–where he bulldozed old buildings to make room for development–and began the Barn Saver Project to save barns he’d always hated destroying. Starting with an 1880s vintage bank barn, High began taking old structures apart, piece by piece, saving the flooring, siding, windows, doors, roofing, beams, joists, hardware, and even the contents–from lightning rods to pig troughs.

The Barn Saver Project salvages at least 90 percent of every building it touches. For barns that will be reset elsewhere, High carefully preserves the integrity of the building by drawing up a blueprint and numbering each piece of wood. He has also donated materials to school plays, churches, Scout groups, and other community organizations.

“It’s a good feeling to know I’m preserving part of our heritage and history,” High says. “People worked hard to build these barns.” His efforts also divert materials from landfills, of which an estimated 25 percent of waste is construction materials.

In his twelve years of barn saving, High has kept alive more than two hundred barns and their contents. His work has been honored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association, and he was awarded the 2001 Pennsylvania Waste Watcher Award.

For information on the Barn Saver Project, call (717) 445-8246 or visit The site also provides links to Linda Oatman High’s children’s book, Barn Savers (Boyds Mills Press, 1999).