The Northeastern part of the USA is rich with stories of our American history. From plantation farms to glorious old town downtown squares, encountering remnants of our nation’s history is inevitable as you drive through this part of the country. Easy to spot as you drive along, are the stunning and definitive architectural gems of certain types of barns that have withstood the test of time.
Agriculture is essential to the story of America. Barns have memorialized that past with their sturdy, functional construction. Many relics of this agrarian past still stand today throughout Northern Virginia and throughout the country.
Here are some of our favorite types of barns and their iconic styles:
1. New World Dutch Barn
The steep pitch of the low hanging roof of Dutch barns makes it a coveted type of barn, yet an almost extinct design.
Original Dutch barn types are a rare find, as most of those historic relics still standing today are from the late 18th century.
A broad gable style roof is the defining feature of the Dutch barn. The roof reaches down almost all the way to the ground below. The foundational structure is built with H-shaped beams that give it a solidity to withstand harsh elements. The design provides a spacious center aisle flanked by side aisles usually dedicated to animal shelter or feed storage.
Their simple design allows for few openings. This makes the barn loom huge, even though they are usually of relatively moderate size.
These types of barns often featured Dutch doors as well, where the top part of the door can swing away from the bottom. The doors were located on the shorter walls, under the gable of the roof.
2. English A-Frame Gabled Barn
Another early American barn style, the European-style English barns were minimalistic and practical. Early colonists didn’t have tons of resources for quickly building a barn and most of the work they did was done independently. So these were a very popular type of barn structure.
English Barns were usually 30-feet by 40-feet in size. Their economic size and no-nonsense rectangularity topped with an A-frame roof was a much easier feat for the basic farmer to complete.
The high A-frame or “gable” roof was popular because rain and snow fell off quickly. Plus, higher pitches meant sturdier roofs. It’s high pitch also offered valuable under roof storage.
The English barn sometimes goes by other names such as: Yankee, Three-Bay, or Connecticut.
A distinctive difference in the English Barn is that the doors were often located on the longer wall of the barn.
Over time, the gable roof maintained popularity for many types of barns, even as barn square-footage grew.
3. Rustic Bank Barn
What is it they say? Work with nature, not against it?
That’s exactly what farmers had in mind when they designed the first bank barns. These types of barns are built into hills or partially into the ground where a “bank” exists or has been built.
The benefit is that farmers can access the upper level where they store grain or hay with a wagon via their earthen ramp. While below, the storage section of the barn is a quasi-basement where the livestock shelter in a cozy, protected area.
This type of barn became popular as dairy farming increased. It provided much more space for herds and additional storage for milk. Plus, building part of the barn underground meant that cooler areas of storage were accessible. An ideal situation for keeping milk longer.
Roof styles for the bank barn have varied over time from gable to gambrel roofs.
What is a gambrel roof you might ask?
4. Gambrel Roofed Barn – The American Classic
Many were introduced to this iconic roof style with the Fisher-Price Little People Farm set. Now, this iconic style can be seen in new construction including everything from home builds to modern barns.
With a double pitch, the characteristic gambrel roof provides barn lofts with more room for storage. This shape was optimal for farmers keeping livestock. More hay storage meant you had healthier and well-fed cows through the more difficult months.
You may be surprised to know that this roof style was first used in colonial houses in the late 18th century. Farmers began to borrow the style in the early 19th century by simply plopping it on top of the English barn structure.
The bountiful loft section shows that farmers had a place to store their crops. This translates to wealth and prosperity. No wonder we hold this type of barn so precious in our imagination of true farm-steads.
Historically, Dutch barns did not have Gambrel style roofs.
However, over time the two have become convoluted and confused.
So, if you are looking for a “Dutch-style” and you mean “Gambrel roof,” it’s helpful to know the difference!
5. Monitor Barns
Monitor barns have a unique raised roof above the central aisle. This feature helps air circulate through the barn and is a popular feature for livestock barns.
The raised center roof not only allows ventilation and light to enter, it can also function as a loft for storing feed. The style allows farmers the option of adding in chutes to easily feed livestock housed below.
6. Rustic Corn Crib Barns
While the word “barn” may derive from Old English for “barley house,” in America corn is king.
So, a barn-style dedicated to those kernels just makes sense. The original corn cribs were meant to store ear corn.
These small barns are built to allow air to circulate and properly dry out the corn. The more popular style double-crib barn in which two corn cribs are built side by side with an alley between to pull in a wagon or trailer full of corn.
7. Peaked Prairie Barn
When we think of the prairie we might think of Little House on the Prairie or we might think of vast open fields of green. In either case, you’re on the right track.
Prairie barns are large architectural diamonds in the rural landscape. They borrow features from various styles and bring them together to create relics marking the settlement across the American West.
Typically these barns feature short walls capped by tall gable roofs. Think of the classic Dutch barn but differing in their adoption of gambrel roofs.
Their unique feature is a peaked roof above the hayloft door or window, giving these types of barns a birdlike sharpness.
8. Circular Barns
At the time, circular barn styles were the latest and greatest thing. They were the cutting-edge barn architecture productivity hacking at its finest.
This type of barn includes circular, octagonal, and even 16-sided barns like the one built by President George Washington.
The grace and beauty of the circular barns were linked to a few ideas.
- Perfection in the circle, the perfect shape.
- Considered to be more efficient in material use.
- Experimental farming initiatives, particularly for dairy farmers.
- Organizing feeding around the outer ring.
Most circular barns also feature a raised monitor style roof that sits more like a top-hat on the top of the barn.
9. Tobacco Barns
It’s clear that tobacco barns were for, well, tobacco.
In Kentucky, these barns were often painted a stark and shocking tobacco black. In other parts of the country, they are simply solid oak or regional timber.
Their design includes post-frame construction and gabled roofs. Ventilation in this type of barn is essential to its overall function: drying out tobacco leaves.