The Under-appreciated Historic Outbuilding

By Scott Sidler • August 26, 2013

The following is a guest post by my friend Jo-Anne Peck of Historic Shed in Brooksville, FL. Her company specializes in designing and building historic sheds, garages, and cottages.

A couple of months ago, my company presented a project proposal in front of a local historic preservation review board in Florida. While we waited for our case to come up on the agenda, we listened to another applicant request demolition of a historic garage within a Local and National Register-listed residential historic district.

As we listened to their presentation and viewed the photos, I thought, “They have no case. The garage has only minor rot and isn’t very altered by renovations. There’s no reason to demolish the building.”

Historic Outbuilding

Much to my surprise though, the board agreed to the demolition with very little discussion, not giving the building much consideration at all.

Outbuildings, such as sheds, garages and accessory cottages are often overlooked in historic neighborhoods since they are relegated to backyards and tend to have simple designs and small scale. However, outbuildings are a significant portion of the historic fabric of many older neighborhoods, adding a visible layer to the history of neighborhood development.

Historic Outbuildings’ Stories

Garages located on historic alleys tell the story of automobile suburbs in the 1920s; early cottages reflect the use of live-in help; and barns and storage sheds were often built for agricultural or home business uses.

Historic Garage

Outbuildings are often visible from alleys and side streets, and their loss is noticeable in the reduced density on individual building lots and the loss of original historic fabric in the neighborhood.

In addition, outbuildings often have few alterations compared to the main house on the site, giving a more accurate view of the original historic character of the property.

Due to their small size and simple structural system, outbuildings are often very easy and affordable to repair and can be adapted to serve a variety of purposes from storage sheds to home offices.

Unsympathetic alterations, such as installation of modern overhead garage doors, can generally be reversed, allowing the outbuildings to add charm and character to the historic property.

Care should also be given to the design and construction of new outbuildings in historic districts. New outbuildings like sheds and garages can reflect the design sensibilities of current residents that appreciate the historic character of their homes.

Designed to be compatible with the architectural style of the main house, they can add both space to often storage-strapped historic homes as well as be an attractive focal point in the yard.

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