In this area there remain large tracks of land that grace our eyes with the changing look of seasons planted, growing and harvested. Farmland stretches out from the road to the horizon. Farmhouses sit at the end of long, dusty driveways with wrap around porches and large shade trees.
Where there are farms, so must there also be barns. Barns, like people, come in many shapes and colors and have varied functions. Often, farmers built their barns before their houses. These magnificent buildings dot our landscape and vary in color and form according to the intended function and budget of their creator.
Early Dutch Barns
These structures were constructed typically with horizontal wood siding. The interior was often “H” shaped, similar to early churches, with relatively few exterior openings other than large doors for equipment and crop.
Bank barns were built on the side of a hill, permitting two levels. The top level was used for threshing and storage, while the lower level was for the animals. The hillside access was for wagons bearing wheat or hay. When hillside access was not available, it was created by building a bank or large earthen berm to form a ramp to the second level. These buildings were constructed with their long side parallel to a hill which provided a sunny, sheltered area for the animals in the winter. They often had an overhang which added to this sheltered area.
Crib barns were built of un-chinked logs or vertical wood siding. The interior space was divided into cribs for storage or pens. These structures tended to be rustic.
George Washington actually had a round barn. These clever structures were built in the mid to late 1800’s. They provided a greater surface to volume ratio thus saving on construction costs. Earlier ones were wood sided and later ones stone or glazed tile. They were prevalent in the Midwest.
Prairie Barns (Western)
These buildings were built with a peak roof above a hayloft opening to accommodate larger herds, hay and feed.
Barns in general reflect the traditions of the people who built them, as with the decoration on the sides as evidenced by hex signs and advertisements. The territorial influence dictated their shape and often their color. From the tobacco farms of the south and southeast to the rice barns in South Carolina, barns have made their mark on the surface of our land.
Some historic barns were built from designs developed by land grant universities or sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mail-order firms.
The earliest of barns were left unpainted. After a time both mold and mosses grew on the sides, held moisture and caused the wood siding to rot. The resourceful farmer developed a mixture of blood from a newly slaughtered animal to which he added lime and skim milk and applied it to the siding. The blood acted as a preservative while the calcium in the lime and milk aided in the setting of the “paint”. Later, rust or ferrous oxide, plentiful on a farm, was substituted for the blood, causing a slight change in the color. This was the primitive beginnings of the “red barn”. When red pigment became less expensive, red paint was applied followed by the use of whitewash when it too became a more reasonable application.
The shapes and colors of barns often trace the migration of the people that built them. The numbers of silos speaks to the quantity of storage needed. Usage of these often cavernous buildings changes with time and the need of the present owner. Some have been converted into elegant homes.
The interior of a barn tells its own story. Machinery, tools, the smell of animals and the earth are evident in most. Slits of sunlight shining through the weathered siding can recall memories of the childhood game of “king of the hill’ on piles of hay, the birth and death of animals and long work days.
As you drive the highways of our land, take notice of these wonderful buildings, discern their history and admire their structure. They truly are the cathedrals of the farm.