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Barns of Appalachia - The Cantilever

Updated on August 20, 2011

I have been fascinated by the Tipton Place cantilever barn in Cades Cove of the Smoky Mountains for more than twenty years. This led me to research the unique structure that is the cantilever barn of Appalachia. By definition, cantilever means "a member, such as a beam, that projects beyond a fulcrum and is suppported by a balancing member or a downward force behind the fulcrum" (

The cantilever barn is characteristic of the Southern Highlands area of the United States, namely Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. There are some similarities to the Pennsylvania Dutch or German forebay barn, which typically has only one overhang or cantilever.

Constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the cantilever barn features a large upper story loft over two log cribs with an open driveway in the middle. Hay was usually stored in the large loft area and hay wagons could be driven in the covered drive and hay easily loaded from above. The overhangs on each side would be used as storage for a variety of farm equipment or a temporary holding area for cattle and other livestock. The overhangs protected the cribs from the rain and there was plenty of air circulation.

Tipton cantilever barn in Cades Cove
Tipton cantilever barn in Cades Cove

Constructed on self-sufficient farms, builders used abundantly available trees to harvest the logs for the barns and other structures they needed. The gable roofs were covered with "shakes," or long rough shingles hewn from logs. A broken shake on the Tipton Place cantilever barn roof can be seen in the accompanying photo.

Almost 200 of these unusual barns are located predominantly in the east Tennessee county of Sevier, with the remaining in Blount County and a smattering in local states. A total of about 300 have been discovered in recent years.

Two may be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Tipton Place barn is in Cades Cove and the John Messer Barn is off the Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area near Gatlinburg, TN. A third was relocated from Seymour, TN (Sevier County) to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN.

If you're in the area, check out these unique structures.


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