Barn building has come a long way since early farmers first started protecting their most valuable assets. Early log barns were based on designs brought across the Atlantic by English colonists. The lower logs had mortar between them to keep out cold winds, while gaps between the upper logs allowed for ventilation. Accessed through eave doors, the threshing floor took center stage, with areas along the side allocated to crop and grain storage.
As farming progressed to include dairy and livestock production, so barn designs were also updated. Circulation of air was improved with the addition of windows, clapboards, and cupolas. Entrances on the gable ends increased air flow, allowed wagons to pass through, and made it easy to expand the barn. Mortise and tenon beams were made popular by Dutch settlers, while prairie barns used the two additional slopes on each gambrel roof wall to significantly increase the storage capacity of the loft. Round barns, tobacco barns, corn crib, and bank – barns of every style have a role in American history.
Writer E. B. White professed, “I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the Lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.” Fun fact: The reason so many American barns are red is because they were coated with a mixture of skim milk, lime, linseed oil, and a dash of ferrous oxide. The resulting rust was a superb sealant – and an effective fungus and moss killer. As paint became readily available, many farmers chose a red hue for their barns as a nod to the tradition.
With electricity being used for lighting and ventilation, internal combustion engines replacing people and animals, and mass production techniques being used wherever possible, many of the farmers’ problems were solved. Nature’s direct influence on barn design thus became less important.