As common two hundred years
ago as nickels and dimes are in someone’s pocket
today – these all important structures of rural
agricultural environments are rapidly disappearing.
This ever rapid escalation of barns taking their leave
on various cultural landscapes in North America has
been occurring for more than one hundred years. This
unfortunate situation hinders the attempts of the few
genuinely dedicated barn historians to understand and
know as much as possible the various types and ethnic
diversity of barns as far back in the history of their
development that occurred in North America.
Despite the fact that untold thousands of barns have
left the cultural landscape in the past 100 plus years
a good level of knowledge and insight although not complete
has been gained by certain observers and historians
of barn architecture in the past several decades. Since
ancient times, barns have functioned as places of storage
principally of either farm crops or animals or both.
Their forms and styles and various elements of design
and fabric changed and sometimes quite dramatically
through the centuries in North America. Changes in farm
economies and improved technological manners dictated
such changes but through it all barns always maintained
its status as primary instruments of storage. A barn
built in 1650 was radically different in certain of
its aspects than a barn constructed 200 years later.
Such changes would be instantly recognized by a trained
observer and likely by even certain novice observers.
Barns in the earliest days were made of the most primitive
materials taken directly from the earth and centuries
later of materials highly processed in one manner or
other. EBC concerns itself with the dissemination of
knowledge and information of pre 1900 barns as they
were the ones built under the influences of the earliest
been known for some time that pre Revolutionary War
era barns are exceedingly rare almost everywhere on
the continent. But in the following decades from about
1790 up to the time of the Civil War surviving barns
appear in ever increasing numbers. Thus the later the
decade the more potential there is in knowing in greater
detail the appearance and fine structure of the various
Barns can differ significantly in both their macro and
micro appearance and structure in various geographic
locales. Various ethnic groups settling in different
areas built barns especially in early times in decidedly
different ways. Barns in New England differ significantly
from those seen in the lower areas of New York State
and in New Jersey and elsewhere. Similarly, barns in
most cases in all these areas differ greatly than barns
seen in Pennsylvania.
So you may ask – what type and specific style
of barn is it that is the focus of your attention? Again
– it is primarily the area of the country where
the barn is located and its age of construction.
earliest two level bank barn in the state was made of
logs and later stone and then in the mid nineteenth
century of frame construction. Many subtypes of Pennsylvania
barns have been delineated and the specific class of
barn is dictated by the manner in which the fore-bay
or extended front area of the barn is incorporated into
the upper floor level. See below for more details. (Read
more on PA barn types)
are likely a greater number of early barn types in the
state especially in the west central area than any where
else in North America. Each has their own distinctive
characteristics and they include the Holland style Dutch
barn, English side wagon entry barn, the swing beam
barn and the distinctive Pennsylvania fore-bay barn
in the west-central part of the state among other but
generally non-descript innovative type barns.
great area of the state encompasses many barn types
including the Holland style barn, English barn, the
swing bean barn and other later and fully evolved and
developed so-called American barn. Many two-level bank
or basement barns (without a fore-bay) are seen in upstate
This northeast area is predominantly populated by two
major barn types – the early English type side
wall entry barn and the later unique so-called New England
gable entry barn that is quite often connected to the
main homestead house.
This central area of the country has a number of mostly
post 1825 barn types including the Pennsylvania fore-bay
barn, feeder and three portal barns and other ground
and basement barns some of which are log.
This area has several gable wall entry barns, tobacco
barns and log barns. It is particularly the cantilever
barns in Tennessee with their very distinctive wide
overhangs that continue to disappear from the landscape
that are particularly visually appealing.