The History of Barns in America


Yankee Barn 

There are plenty of iconic barn shapes throughout America, from different periods in our history and designed for specific types of agriculture. We've moved from large, open buildings to structures based around cattle stalls and hay storage. These historic buildings were once an integral part of American life, and remain a crucial element on a working farm.

English Barns

The first barns built in America came from design ideas brought over from England by the colonists. These were simple, open structures built with timber-frame construction. Often windowless, English barns usually had the entrance doors along the eaves and did not have any basement or loft space.

Born out of feudal community spaces in medieval Europe, the designs of the colonists were approximately 30 x 40 feet with a “threshing floor” in the center of the barn. This area would be in front of the eave doors, and would be where the farmer harvested his wheat.

The rest of the barn would be divided into animal stalls and grain storage. English barns were not designed for large-scale agriculture, and the harvesting and storing of grain was their main purpose. The average farmer of the 1700 to 1800s did not have herds of livestock, and needed only a few stables for the family cows and workhorses.

Yankee/New England Barn

Yankee or New England barns emerged from the original English styles, but with an eye towards increasing livestock on the farm. In the 19th Century, farming had shifted to greater livestock production and dairy farming, agricultural needs requiring a new barn style. Changing the barn entrance and exit to the gable ends of the building, farmers were able to set up animal stables along either long side of the barn.

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