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There are several major North American barn types and most of these have representative examples that date to before 1800. Most however date after this time era. At least two barn types apparently have origins that date back to the first half of the seventeenth century in North America. All the barns are gable roof ended. The major barns are described below.

English Barn

00Demarest Dut Eng Barn Demarest Dutch English Barn

  01VassbarncomplexSE Vass Barn Complex   02vassswingbeamtruss
Vass swing beam truss
  03vassswingbeam Vass swing beam

This barn is of one level only and has a main side wall wagon entry. The classic or earliest type is often close to 30 feet by 40 feet but variations in dimensions exist. This barn design was borrowed from England and early or pre 1800 barns utilize true upper transverse tie beams in association with gun-stocked wall posts. After about 1800 dropped tie beams were used. Pre 1750 examples are extremely rare. Barns of the post 1830 era are much more common. Barns of this ethnic type can have either common rafter systems or principal rafter systems. Barns in cultural areas include much or most of New England, eastern edges of New York State, all of Orange County New York, certain diverse areas of New Jersey and English settled areas south of Pennsylvania.

New England Barn
This barn may be a lone standing building or may be found joined to other homestead farm buildings known as connected architecture. The New England barn has an end wall wagon entry which is quite often un-centered on the wall. Almost all of these barns are found in New England states especially in Maine and New Hampshire and scattered elsewhere. Most of these distinctive barns were built after 1830. Some of these barns attain very large dimensions.

Dutch Barn
This barn is not to be confused with the barn type that is quite often called the Pennsylvania Dutch (fore-bay) barn which is not of Holland Dutch type but is German in origin.

Dut Bn - USR NJ
Dutch Barn -
Bergen County, NJ
  Gallo Bn - Dut Cty
Dutch Barn -
Dutchess County, NY
  Mahoney Bn
Dutch Barn -
Ulster County, NY

The true Dutch barn was built as early as the 1630’s as surviving contracts attest to. In the first half of the 1600’s both combination house-barns or loshoes and pure form barns were constructed. The earliest scientifically authenticated example by means of dendro-chronology is the 1726 William Bull barn in Orange County. A few other examples built prior to 1760 survive. Existing barns built after about 1790 are much more plentiful. Dutch barns appear in the major eastern river valleys in New York State in twenty counties and in ten counties in the northern half of New Jersey and very rarely anywhere else. Derivative type and/or hybrid type barns were erected as late as 1880. About 750 barns or barn remnants remain.

The Dutch barn may appear (most often) as a three-aisle structure and occasionally as a one-aisle building. The Dutch barn is most often of one floor level and without any basement. The wagon entry appears on the end or gable wall and occasionally on the side wall in certain post 1810 barns that were erected as hybrids types. Internally the major support structure consists of a series of transverse H-frames where the posts are placed about ten feet from the side walls. Cows were stabled at one side aisle and horses on the other side aisle. Threshing was done on the nave or middle-aisle floor. Most barns are either 3 or 4-bay structures but a few 2-bay barns and perhaps 25 five-bay and about a half dozen 6-bay barns are also known. One seven-bay barn and one eight-bay barn have been discovered.

German Ground Barn
Some of the earliest Germanic barns are of one-level ground type. The first ones were made of log, later ones were often made of stone, and certain nineteenth century ones were made of frame.

05Heckler Ground Bn - PA
Heckler Ground Barn -
Montgomery County, PA


Swing-Beam Barn
There are a number of variations of this barn type that appear and there are no known European prototypes. Thus it seems that the barn is an American invention by eighteenth century timber framers. They are either three or four-bay structures and either two-level banked structures or one-level ground barns. The earliest ones are of one level. The earliest known barns may have been built about the year 1760 but earlier examples might have been constructed.

A swing beam barn is de-noted by the fact that one of the bents has a very large horizontal beam and is always adjacent to the wagon or threshing bay. Many swing beams are 16 to 20 inches thick and one ground barn in west-central New Jersey has a 26 inch high swing beam. No posts are ever seen below the beams – that is – they run free-span the entire widths of the buildings. This is due to the supposed fact that farm animals were to roam in certain pre-determined movements unimpeded below the beams. In certain cases tethered horses or other stock in swinging around in circular motion below the beams stomped on various farm produce and effected the separation of the seed from the chaff of the grains. Swing beams often appear in later or post 1820 Pennsylvania barns and pre 1830 ground barns in west-central New Jersey.

These barns most often of one level regularly appear in the Schoharie and Mohawk River Valleys in New York State and in Ontario and other scattered places in the northeast. The earliest swing beams in barns in Pennsylvania appear in a dated 1787 stone Switzer in the Oley Valley in Berks County and in a dated 1785 stone ground barn of probable English type in northern Bucks County.


Pennsylvania Barn Classes

It is likely that Pennsylvania barns as a type of barn have been one of the most studied barn types in North America. Related to this and the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of such barns left in North America a special section is devoted below to delineating the various traits of these barns.

06Switzer - Bucks
Switzer Barn - Bucks County

  07Bent - St Bn - Leh#45C5C6
Standard Barn - Lebanon County
  08Ab Ehst Farm - Berks Cty
Ehst Farm - Berks County

Pennsylvania barns are categorized into three classes: Switzer, Standard, and Extended. Pennsylvania barns are denoted by their cantilevered fore-bay or projection over the basement level stable wall and are two-level banked structures.

Switzer barns may have been erected before about 1750 but were commonly built in the 1780 to 1810 era and in certain areas one to three decades beyond this time. In certain areas such as the Mahantango Valley above Harrisburg, Switzers were erected into the 1830s and 1840s. Switzers have asymmetrical roofs, where the distinctive appendage-like fore-bay at the barn front creates the roof asymmetry. With no detailed explanations provided, four types of barns comprise the Switzer class. Basically, the specific types in this barn class depend on the inspection of construction materials and internal morphology.

Standard barns are characterized by symmetrical rooflines. These barns were first constructed in the 1790s, but were far more commonly erected after about 1820 and then up until the late nineteenth century and somewhat beyond. The width of fore-bays in Standard barns is quite often about four feet but can measure up to 6 to 8 feet or even more, depending on the specific barn and barn sub-class. Unlike in the Switzer class barns the transverse framing units or bents are contained within the front fore-bay area of the barn. Ten types of barns comprise the full Standard class. Over time, varying characteristics of the types depend on the depth of the forebay, the method of forebay reinforcement and other morphological variations.

Extended barns are those Pennsylvania barns that have been enlarged by amending or extending the barn beyond the basic Switzer and Standard framing limits. Many of these extended barns are seen in southeast Pennsylvania but the front extended barn sections were additions. Five types of barns comprise the Extended class.

English Lake District barns
This barn type does not fall into the category of a Pennsylvania barn class. It is, however, a very rare barn type in the greater Lehigh River and Saucon Creek Valleys north of Philadelphia by a few dozen miles. In the more southern English counties near Philadelphia – southern Bucks and Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties these barns are far more prevalent. These are banked two level structures, consisting of a basement and an upper floor or loft level without any fore-bay. The upper level can be either stone (most often) or frame (rather rare). The greatest difference between these barns and Pennsylvania barns is that the front wall in most English type barns are all stone on the front wall from the ground to the top of the second story. In addition, there is a short roof projection at the top of the stone basement wall at the barn front that is called a pent roof. It extends across nearly the entire full length of the barn. The pent roof protects the stable wall doors. Many such barns with the same basic appearance are seen in the northwest lake area of England where the barn concept likely originated.

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