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The History of Old Barns

Updated on August 20, 2012

I Love Old Barns!

Ok, I admit it...I love barns. I'm fascinated with the history behind these beacons to the past. What secrets do they hold of the people who constructed them?

And I'm amazed at how many different styles, shapes, colors and sizes in which barns were built. I've collected photos, video and other resources about four different styles of barns. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more styles, which I'll continue to add. These four are the most popular and well known.

I hope you enjoy your tour of the beautiful world of barns.

The Bank Barn

Bank barns were a popular 19th century barn style in the United States. These structures were sometimes referred to as "basement barns" because of their exposed basement story. Regionally, this barn style could be known by other names as well, including, in Vermont, Yankee barn, which is a name more often associated with English barns. In the United States, the upper floor was a loft and the lower a stable area.

A Pennsylvania barn is a type of banked barn built in the United States from about 1820 - 1900. The style's most distinguishing feature is the presence of an overshoot or forebay, an area where the barn overshoots its foundation. These barns were banked, that is set into a hillside to ensure easy access to both the basement and the level above. Almost all Pennsylvania barns have gable roofs but the forebay and banked nature of the structures easily give them away.

The design of a bank barn allowed for wagons to enter directly into the hayloft, eliminating the need to move hay from the loft to the stables. Below the stables a basement usually acted as a manure collection area. Many bank barns simply have a small incline leading up to the loft area as opposed to a ramp. Some bank barns are constructed directly into existing hillsides while others are fitted with built up earthen and stone areas to create the trademark bank. The design is similar to English barns except for bank and basement aspects. The basement space could be utilized for animals while the area above, easily accessed by wagon because of the bank, could be used for feed and grain storage. Bank barns can be thought of as English barns raised up on an exposed full basement.

Old Barns

The Crib Barn

Crib barns were a popular type of barn found throughout the U.S. south and southeast regions. Crib barns were especially ubiquitous in the Applachian and Ozark Mountain states of North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

These barns were composed of multiple cribs, up to six, which were used for feed storage or livestock pens. Crib barn construction was somewhat simplistic compared to other types of barns, such as the prairie barn or the round barn, which gained popularity in American agriculture. Crib barns were most often built of unchinked logs and may or may not have included a hay loft depending on the specific barn. Unaltered examples of crib barns usually have roofs covered with undressed wood shingles, which, over time, were replaced with tin or asphalt. It is the rustic appearance of crib barns that cause them to stand out.

The most popular type of crib barn built in the Appalachian states was also the simplest to construct considering its size and stability. The "Double Crib" consisted of two cribs separated by a breezeway and covered by the same roof. This type of barn is the most common in Appalachia. The doors in this type of crib barn face either front or in, toward the breezeway. The loft, as is typical with crib barns that have lofts, is used for storage of feed and hay in this design of crib barn while the first floor is used for stabling. The breezeway, which essentially acted as a driveway which entered the barn was often used for threshing grain.

Beautiful Old Barns

Photos of Old Barns

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The Round Barn

Designed in a distinctive circular shape, these barns were meant to take advantage of gravity to move hay from the loft to the cow stable below. In many cases, a silo was constructed to rise up through the round barn's center. A labor saving design, the round barn was promoted, for a time, by agricultural colleges as a progressive way to house dairy cattle.

The earliest of the round barns tend to have multiple sides, twelve or sixteen. They also tend to be wood sided while the later round barns are more often brick or glazed tile sided. The interior design of round barns shifted as well. The early round barns had cattle stanchions on the first floor with the whole of the loft used for hay and feed storage. As design progressed later barns possessed a central space which rose up from the ground level through the entire building. The cattle stanchions in this variation of round barn were arranged around a circular manger on the lower level. Above the stanchion level a circular wagon drive allowed hay to be loaded and unloaded into the central mow as the wagon circled the perimeter. The final stage of interior design in round barns included a silo through the center of the structures. These were not really added until silos became fixtures of American farms. Sometimes the central silo would project up through the roof.

Round Old Barn

The Prairie Barn

The design of a prairie barn, also known as the Western barn, reflects the iconic image of an American barn. The peak roof over the hay loft is what helps give the prairie barn its familiarity across the landscape. It was popularized during the settlement of the American West during the 19th century.

Large herds of cattle, associated mostly with the American West, required vast amounts of space for hay and feed. Prairie barns are generally larger than other types of barns. The long, sweeping style roofs, sometimes reaching very near the ground, are trademark of prairie barns. The large roof areas provided for more storage space. Later in the 19th century barn architects adopted gambrel roofs, which provided even more storage space. Prairie barns share a number of features with the historic Dutch barn design. Long, low roof lines, gable end doors and the internal dispersal of stable stalls in aisles astride a central hallway are all elements of Dutch barns.

An Old-Fashioned Barn Raising


Source: Wikipedia

Let me know you visited my 'old barn' today...

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Need help with a barn style. Its long and it Looks like two pillars raised on each end. Located on little central new york state town.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      You site is very interesting, I am also fascinated old barns, I live in Ontario Canada and run a barn salvage and reclaiming business. I admire the work and dedication farmers and their families had to these historical buildings. Unlike many who are in the same line of work as me I try to preserve and repurpose our Canadian history. Again your site is great and I believe you are doing a world of good to help educate our younger generation of the rich history in these old barns thanx, Dave.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      5 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      What a great lens! There is so much history in then, you want to know what all they've been thru. Really enjoyed this.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thanks a lot. you know what my dream is? i am a student now, so after i graduate i will go back to my hometown,start farming, built my own barn. god i love the american style barns with curve roof, they resemble peace and serenity to me. i always dreamed of owning a ranch,or farm something like that, and god willing i will one day. thanks for the lovely pictures.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have always loved old barns, I just found this site and am happy to know other people feel the same. I think that in the next couple of decades a lot of these old barns will be gone so it good that someone is photographing them.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Dear Sir; Are you familiar with any old barns with rounded peaks? There is one in my area that is about to be demolished. I can forward you an email about this. How rare is a barn like this? What could you tell me about it from a photo? I've seen lots of old barns, but never one with a rounded peak.

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      loved the lens, and love barns.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      7 years ago from USA

      I love looking at barns too. Didn't realize how much until viewing this lens. :)

    • photofk3 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens.

    • Philippians468 profile image


      7 years ago

      this really brings me to the country side and i can smell the sweet fresh air already! cheers

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 

      7 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      I love barns as well. I remember when my husband and I first started seeing each other. We would be going somewhere and I was always pointing out the barns. (he thought I was really weird, but I guess he liked that). We have a large round barn just a mile or two away from our home, just like the one in the photo above.

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 

      7 years ago from U.S.A.

      I enjoyed this lens! Well done! :)

    • Nightowl John profile image

      Nightowl John 

      7 years ago

      My grandparents were dairy farmers and my grandmother instilled her love of old barns to me. This is a terrific lens. Squid Angel blessed.

    • BrickHouseFabrics profile image


      7 years ago

      I agree- barns are intriguing! Mine is attached to the house.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 

      7 years ago

      Yes, it is something romantic about old barns, a lesson on simplicity, the old ways of our life as well.

      Love this lens. Blessings

    • AslanBooks profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @KimGiancaterino: I want one, too. You need one to store your barrels of wine while it ages.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      7 years ago

      I would sure love to have a barn! There aren't too many in Los Angeles. Thanks for pointing out the different types.

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 

      7 years ago

      I really enjoyed this information about barns. And you have some beautiful images. This lens is featured on Noteworthy & Blessed

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      8 years ago from Central Florida

      Very much enjoyed your barn information and lensrolled it to my Save an Old Barn.

      How about a lens as a Photogallery or Showcase of Barns?

    • howdoyouspellst profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the info!! The pictures of barns are very cool -- especially the round one!! Those are great. Fantastic lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I came here in search of info on building old barns. Is the lumber fresh cut on the barn? What types of wood? how long does it take to build etc.Can anyone help me, if so write me at

    • AslanBooks profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks so much for the compliments. I'm glad that my love for barns has blessed others. I have quite a few photos in my collection that I need to share. I have a nice collection from Kentucky and Nebraska.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi, I came upon your photos while researching an old barn photo for a class I teach in Barn Photography in Illinois. The barn in question turned out to be a badly damaged crib barn located west of Chicago along Route 88. Thanks so much. I plan to bookmark this site and use it in my class! I invite you to check out my own barn images at I also photographed the barns in the book "Wisconsin Barns" published by Farcountry Press. Thanks, ernie schweit

    • delia-delia profile image


      9 years ago

      Jeffrey saw your Twitter update and came by to see your Barn lens...I love old barns, there is a beautiful oval white barn a mile from here...5*

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      9 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I guess because I grew up with barns all around, they don't seem so special to me. I mean, I like them, but they just feel normal. :-)

    • Tyla MacAllister profile image

      Tyla MacAllister 

      9 years ago

      Great lens! I never knew there were so many distinctive styles of barns in the US. I've always been fascinated by old barns too,especially since they are becoming scarce in a lot of areas.

    • WhitU4ever profile image


      9 years ago

      I love old barns too... fantastic lens! 5*'s, favorited, and lensrolled with my For the Love of Wagon Wheels lens!


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