North American Barns come in many shapes and sizes. The word "barn" comes from the expression "a place for barley". As farming progressed, the barn began to house lots of other stuff... like winnowing machines, ploughs, roll-over rakes, wagons, sleighs, livestock and the occasional raccoon.
The many styles of barn architecture found in North America reflect the diverse pools of immigration soaked up by Canada and the United States while in their infancy. The North American landscape is littered with barns of varied shapes and sizes. To explain them here is not our purpose, but an overview is necessary to understand there is more to a barn than swinging doors, a bunch of cows and a hay-hole.
In 1638, New Sweden was founded on Delaware Bay by the Swedish West India Company. This territory included parts of the present-day American states of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Swedes brought not only an incredible work ethic, but the quintessential pioneer structure - the log cabin. The Swedes were conquered by the Dutch in 1655. But their log buildings remained and influenced settlers for generations. One still exists in Prospect Park, Delaware County, Pennsylvania - The Morton Homestead.
In working structures like a barn, form derives from function; as stated above - "a place for barley". To get at the barley, or any other grain, we must separate the kernel from the husk by a process called winnowing. Therefore, the barn was built around the drive floor - where this very important threshing and winnowing process took place.
Most barns left standing in North America are from the 19th century. Before 1800, they were built entirely of logs. Wood is very susceptible to weather damage causing rot and erosion, so many of these buildings have fallen. As prosperity increased for the farmer, barn construction changed to incorporate brick and river stone. Another change affecting barns was immigration - as the new "architects" arrived from overseas they separated the house from the barn and employed foreign techniques into their traditional practices of joinery and design. Below are a few examples taken from Eric Arthur and Dudley Whitney's The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America that show us some of the traditional barns found in North America.
The availability of timber for building, combined with a soft subsoil that discouraged heavy masonry, made carpentry in Holland a master art. The Dutch have left their mark on the North-eastern United States with some of the most beautiful and largest barns seen in the world.
The Dutch barn is one of the oldest styles in North America. Its architecture has close ties to a church--the points of visual affinity being the barn's end entrance and its floor plan, which, based on the nave and aisles of the church, translates to the threshing floor and cattle stalls. The Dutch barn is often confused with the tithe barn and is found mostly in New York State.
The most distinctive feature of the Dutch barn was the end doors. Many had hip-gabled roofs, with the rafters widely spaced, more so than barns of other styles. Other distinctive features were the living quarters located at the end opposite the main doors and the clapboard sheathing often used for the walls.
By the 19th century, Dutch barns in North America were slightly different. Families were living in separate farm houses, doors were now at both ends to provide more room for wagons and better circulation for winnowing, clapboard had replaced the wattle and daub, and roofs were usually gabled. The illustration immediately above shows one such barn, although without the gabled roof, from Eric Arthur and Dudley Whitney's The Barn, McClelland & Stewart's timeless look at barns in North America.
Also known as the Three Bay Barn, the Connecticut Barn, the ground barn, Grundscheier, or the Yankee, the English barn had its doors centred on the long sides of the structure as opposed to its ends. The English barn accommodated grain farming only. The two end bays functioned as mows and the middle bay as the threshing floor.
Coming to the new world, some farmers altered the design of the English barn. Here's Daniel Stong's Grain Barn, also located at Black Creek Village. Although of English design, Stong incorporated his Pennsylvanian heritage by adding a cantilever to the west side of the building. It's not enough to qualify as a forebay barn but does show how styles began to merge as settlers relocated throughout North America. The most distinctive feature separating old world English barns from new was the addition of a loft and housing livestock in one of the mows.
QUEBEC AND NEW ENGLAND CONNECTED BARNS
Quebec and New England share much in terms of flora, fauna, history, and, of interest to us, barn architecture. The Quebec connected barn was a row of mows, drive floors, stables, 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.
Connected barns in New England formed a square as opposed to the long rectangle found in Quebec. This was more convenient because it brought the various functional areas of the barn close to one another. Unfortunately, this proximity also increased the risk of fire. A common by-law for rural townships across North America was the restricting of any fire source (e.g., blacksmith's forge, potash facility) to at least 30 feet from the barn. New England connected barns were almost always of clapboard.
CIRCULAR AND POLYGONAL BARNS
Shakers and Quakers thought the circle was the most perfect form. They socialized in "circles" - sewing, singing, praying; circles dominated the folk art of these cultures; circles "kept the devil from hiding in corners." The idea of the entire structure surrounding a central courtyard, already reflected in the connected barns of Quebec and New England, found another expression in circular and polygonal barns of the 19th century. The first known round barn was built of stone in 1826 in Hancock, Massachusetts, USA. This idea was also the beginning of an "assembly line" mentality, making work more efficient for the farmer.
In the early to mid-18th century, Germans from Bavaria, Saxony, and Switzerland came to North America to settle in Pennsylvania. This new wave of pioneers brought an indispensable knowledge of farming and rural construction. From their heritage came an efficient barn design that consciously adapted itself to the orientation of the land and proved most valuable to the farmer's expanding markets. The Pennsylvania barn allowed for grain production on the upper level and animal husbandry on the lower level. Read on to see how this unique structure added functionality and sustainability to the North American farm.