Local author explores Cumberland Valley barns

November 02, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - There may be no better mark of Cumberland Valley's history than the Pennsylvania bank barns that dot the landscape with their imposing brick, stone and wood structures, testimony to the area's agricultural heritage.

But modernization, little appreciation and neglect are bringing the barns down, according to local author Dianna Heim, who has captured the stories of area barns in the pages of her first book, "Cumberland Valley Barns: Past and Present."

"This is not a catalog of every barn in Franklin County. This is really meant to be a call to people to preserve the barns," Heim said.


A native of Greensburg, Pa., and the great-granddaughter of a Pennsylvania German farmer, Heim moved to Chambersburg, Pa., in 1988 when she got a job as a morning news announcer at a local radio station and then she "fell in love with the area and wanted to stay."

Used to barns constructed primarily of wood, like the one shown in a turn-of-the-century photo of her family, Heim became captivated by the intricate brick and limestone construction of the old barns in the Cumberland Valley.

"As I lived here longer, I noticed more barns were coming down due to development - development and no good farmland preservation program in Franklin County," Heim said.

Also, the barns that were once the mainstay of a family farm are being replaced by modern-day aluminum or steel structures big enough to house today's machinery, large herds of animals and huge stores of forage, she said.

"I'm a realist and I realize most farmers can't afford to preserve the barns ... I understand they have more pressing concerns," Heim said.

In between her roles as wife, mother and a reporter with the Record Herald newspaper in Waynesboro, Pa., for three years Heim tromped through pastures and stables to explore nearly 35 barns. She talked to farmers and local historians and spent hours in several libraries researching the topic before she even began to write.

Together with Margaret Evans, assistant professor of communication/journalism at Shippensburg University, and Janet Ruby-Baird, assistant professor of art and computers at the university, the 14-chapter paperback book with photographs looks at the roles barns played in the Cumberland Valley's settlement, social activities, family and community life, and the Civil War.

The book explores the craftsmanship used to build the structures, including some intricate designs in the brickwork of barns in the area.

Heim touches on some folklore in her book, including the story of a barn built in the 1840s in Greene Township, Franklin County, in which a little girl is depicted in the brick work at the top. The author uncovered another tale from a picture in the brick of a Greencastle, Pa., barn that shows a man riding a donkey or a mule.

The Shippensburg University Press is hosting a book signing reception from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Cumberland Union Building's multi-purpose room.

The book costs $14.95 and can be ordered by calling 1-717-532-1419 or 1-717-532-1420.

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