By: Toni Hible
7 Classic American Barn Styles, Hobby Farms Editors, www.hobbyfarms.com/7-classic-american-barn-styles-4/, Lumina Media, LLC, February 18 2009
Authur, Michael J. Auer, Preservation Briefs 20: The Preservation of Historic Barns, Technical Preservation Services, www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/20-barns.htm, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, October 1989
North American Barns, The Dalziel Barn, www.dalzielbarn.com/pages/TheBarn/north_american_barns.html, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, 2009
German Bank Barn, Indian Department of Natuaral Resources, www.in.gov/dnr/historic/4249.htm
There are many types of barns that have figured in the history of American agriculture. Some reflect the traditions of the people who built them: Finnish log barns in Idaho, Czech/German/Russian house barns in mid-west and the English barns in the northeast. While others reflect the materials available to build them: logs in the southeast, adobe in California and lava rock in southern Idaho. Other are best characterized by the specialized use to which they were built for.
The design of a barn, especially if it is very old, is bound with the weather requirements of the area and the particular cultural traditions of the farmers in the region. A steeply peaked roof, for example, is relevant to regions with considerable snowfall since the weight of snow can bring a barn down. Such peaks only capture heat in the hotter, humid South, so while they’ll still have a slope to shed rain and snow, more southerly barns add variations for ventilation such as the airy ‘monitor’ barns that ensure a breeze from floor to ceiling through the monitor’s vents.
All of these barns are part of the heritage of historic barns found throughout the country.
Dutch Barns (tithe barn)
Dutch barns are among the oldest and rarest American barns and are known for their broad, gabled roofs, corner stock doors, clapboarding and center wagon doors. Its architecture has close ties to the church: visually the barns entrance and it floor plan with the nave and aisles.
The first great barns built in this county were those by the Dutch settlers. Popular in New York and New Jersey in the 1700s, these barns have a distinctive, H-shaped structure, which provided a rigid core to support the broad, gabled roof and walls. They feature a spacious center aisle with a plank floor for unloading wagons and for grain threshing. The ends of the cross beams projecting through the columns are often rounded to forms the tongued, a distinctive feature only found in Dutch barns. Most notable feature is the broad gable roof, which extended very low to the ground.
The Dutch-style half doors were situated to allow prevailing winds to disperse chaff when threshing on the barn floor. A pent roof (or pentice) over the center doors gave protection from the elements. Flanking animal doors at the corners and holes near the roof to admit swallows and martins are typical Dutch barn elements. The side aisles were used to house cattle and draft animals, as well as to store feed and hay.
Unlike most other barns, the internal structure of the Dutch barn is relatively protected from the elements and can often survive exterior decay. The style evolved to allow for doors at either end for better ventilation.
English Barns / Three Bay Barn/ Yankee Barn
One of the first barn styles built in the states, English barns were a simple and popular design in New England during Colonial times, particularly in Vermont.
Reminiscent of barns in England, the English barn is usually small and rectangular in shape with an A-frame roof. These barns were traditionally made from wood, are not usually more than 30×40 feet in size and feature hinged wagon doors. The barn was usually located on level ground with no basement and unpainted, vertical boards on the walls.
The interior of the English barn has a center aisle and threshing floor. Although built for grain farming, livestock was kept on one side of the barn while feed was stored on the other. The most distinctive feature separating the old world English barns from the new was the addition of a loft and housing livestock in one of the mows.
The Midwest is home to the bank barn, a rectangular building with two levels and typically built with wood. Traditionally, the lower level of the barn housed livestock and draft animals, while the upper level provided storage and a threshing floor, with both areas can be entered from the ground.
So named because the buildings were situated against the side of a hill, bank barns, most of which were built in the 1800s, permitted farmers direct access to the storage area with wagons loaded with wheat or hay. When built in an area where a hill was not present, a “bank” was created by building an earthen ramp.
The earliest bank barns featured gabled roofs, while later bank barns were built with gambrel roofs. Bank barns were primarily constructed with their axis parallel to the hill on the south side; this allowed livestock to have a sunny spot to gather in the winter. To take advantage of this protection, the second story is extended over the first; the overhang sheltered animals from harsh weather.
In certain areas of Wisconsin, where glaciers once moved during the Ice Age, bank barns were constructed with fieldstones. In non-glaciated areas of the state, primarily southwestern Wisconsin, the barn walls were made of quarried rock.
German Barn Bank
Often called Pennsylvania or Sweitzer barns, typically built into an earthen bank and are characterized by their massive size. The cantilevered floor- called a forebay- which extends over the feedlot above the basement level. They are found in areas of Swiss/ German settlements.
Round (circle) and Polygonal Barns
Round or polygonal barns, first built by the Shakers in the 1800s, are the rarest of barn types in terms of numbers and are scattered from New England to the Midwest. Shakers and Quakers thought the circle was the most perfect form. They socialized in “circles” (sewing, singing, and praying) and dominated their folk art- they believed it kept the devil from hiding in corners.
Although constructed in the early 19th century, these barns became popular during the 1880s when experiment stations and agricultural colleges taught progressive farming methods based on their great efficiency. From this time until well into the 1920’s, round barns were flourishing in the Midwest.
Round barns were encouraged for many reasons: circles have greater volume-to-surface ratios than other barn forms (square or rectangular), therefore they use less materials and save on cost. Also, they offer greater structural stability because they are built with self-supporting roofs, which also opens vast storage space. The circular layout was viewed as more efficient—a claim that was overstated and never became the standard barn as its proponents had hoped.
In the final stage of round-barn development, a center silo was added, allowing gravity to move feed from the barn’s top level to the floor. Made from wood or occasionally brick, round and polygonal barns typically housed cattle on the ground floor and hay in the loft above.
Seen throughout the South/East and even in Wisconsin, tobacco barns served a unique function when first erected nearly four centuries ago. Their role was to provide a place for tobacco farmers to hang and dry their crop after harvest.
These barns are heavily ventilated because air flow was needed to cure the hanging tobacco leaves. Multiple vents are typical of tobacco barns, which can be seen in different styles depending on the type of tobacco, the time period when tobacco became a crop in the area and local building styles, such as conventional tobacco barns that have long, vertical doors that open along the sides. They are made from oak, poplar or other regional timber.
One of the most common barns in the American landscape, prairie barns (aka Western barns), were the barn of choice for farmers in the West and Southwest because large livestock herds required great storage space for hay and grain. These tall, framed barns had extremely sharp-pitched “saddled” (gable roofs), with a roof peak projecting above a hay loft opening is one of the most familiar images associated with these barns. These barns typically sat on a foundation of stone or concrete, with sidewalls of stone for the bottom four to five feet.
These large, wooden barns provided plenty of storage space for feed and could house livestock if necessary. Long roofs that often reach nearly to the ground created ample space; these barns were built throughout the 1800s as agriculture spread westward. The prairie barn is similar to the Dutch barn with regards to the long, low rooflines and the internal arrangements of animal enclosures on either side of a central, open space.
Round Roof Barns
Round roof barns date from the 1920’s in the Mid-west, with most being built in the period between the wars. The design came from attempts to optimize the loft space for storage of hay. The curve of the roof can vary widely. The height of the sidewalls may range from short extensions of the foundation to a full sidewall with the round forming only the roof. The eave is often broken only by a tall entrance door. The roof configuration is sometimes called Gothic, arched-roof or rainbow roof.
These barns are most often found in dairy areas, where the increased hay storage was needed. The round roof is considered a barn type, but many have been re-roofed with laminate rafters. Round roof barns without sidewalls became increasing common after 1945, imitating the design of the popular WWII Quonset hut.
The gambrel roof, roof ventilators and dormers, and multiple windows are the typical features of dairy barns built in the early 20th century when the dairy industry was booming. Many have attached silos.
Midwest 3-portal Barns
The Midwest 3-portal barns have three aisles that extend through the barn, parallel to the roof ridge. Large hay hoods are typical features of the 3-portal barns which are used for hay storage and for feeding livestock.
Crib Barns/ Hop-drying Barns / Rice Barns
Common in the South, these barns are most often seen in the mountainous areas of North/South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. The name of this barn comes from the one to six cribs built inside the structure for storage or for housing livestock. Smaller crib barns were used exclusively for feed storage.
Crib barns were built primarily in the 1800s and were most often made from un-chinked logs occasionally covered with wood siding and wood-shingled, gabled roofs. Crib barns with roofs that were later replaced can be seen with tin or asphalt coverings. “Double-crib” barns feature a second-story loft; they were the simplest barn to build for their size and stability.
Similar to dog-trot houses, the double-crib barn, commonly found in Appalachia, consists of two cribs separated by a breezeway and covered by a single roof. The doors could either face front or toward the breezeway. The first story was used for stabling with the breezeway, usually used for grain threshing. The second story loft was used for hay and grain storage.
In double crib barns the second story hayloft is sometimes cantilevered over the ground floor, resulting in a barn striking appearance.
Popular in the Quebec (long) and New England (square) region, the connected barn was rows of mows, drive floors, stable, byres, piggeries and storage bays. It was generally bigger than those in France with posts and planks, or logs dividing each bay. Early roofs were thatched with straw.
New England barns were almost always walled with clapboard. The square barn brought everything closer together, but also increased the risk of fire.