Old barns litter the American countryside everywhere you look. Many are mediocre, some are nice, and few are outstanding. And usually, the older the barn, the grander the construction. Sadly, the truly outstanding barns are few and far in-between. As industrial agriculture eats up acres and acres (and everything/everyone on them), all barns of old are left to crumble. Though once the most important building on a small family farm, they are mostly mere symbols now. Most “barns” these days are soulless metal boxes built with reckless speed and probably with no more of a lifespan relative to the time they take to build.
Two Great Books About Old Barns
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying these two classic books about old barns, and I must heartily recommend them to anyone with an inkling of interest in folk architecture, “the old ways”, or well, just a general interest in old barns and farm buildings. An Age of Barns and The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America are both excellent.
An Age of Barns by Eric Sloane was published in 1966. As Sloane describes, it was hard to come up with any information about the construction of old barns during that time. There really were no barn building manuals or how-to books of any kind when barns were commonly built, and sadly, the importance of these buildings was never truly recognized. Until they started getting abandoned and pushed over, that is. Typical, huh?
This book is a treasure, with its amazing hand drawn illustrations of various styles of American barns, including floor plans. The drawings are a real treat, I must say. They’re full of beautiful details. An Age of Barns covers the origin of various types of barns and their uses in plain and simple language. It’s highly enjoyable to read and great for flipping around. It’s not a big book, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality of presentation. I found a copy at the local used bookstore for $3.5o. You might find it at you library if you’re lucky. Either way, it’s a great book to have around. It definitely inspires a deeper appreciation for how different styles of barns and outbuildings evolved.
The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America by Eric Arthur and Dudley Whitney (published in 1972) reaches further than An Age of Barns and presents a much fuller story of the evolution of the barn in North America, across the US and up into Canada. With a large selection of black and white and color photos, the book is full of pretty images to look at.
The Barn provides rich historical context and technical details about the construction of various styles of barn, including timber frame barns, stone, thatch, round barns, and others. Many of the photos are beautiful and awe-inspiring. The writing is thoughtful, enlightening, and highly informative. I learn something new every time I pick up this book. There are things written about in here that I am sure I will (sadly) never have the chance to see myself.
If you find yourself curious about old barns, I highly recommend checking out either or both of these books. They are such a treat, and they’ve definitely expanded my enthusiasm for old farm buildings.