Two Great Classic Books about Old Barns

Old Barns

Curious about old barns? Check out these two classic books

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 Book by Eric Sloane

Fantastic drawings litter the pages of An Age of Barns

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?

An Age of Barns Book

I love the floor plans littered throughout the book

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.

Tools for Barn Building

Tools of the barn building trade

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 Book by Eric Aruther and Dudley Witney

Beautiful photos are abundant in The Barn book

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.

The Barn book

Just wait until you read about this massive cathedral-like barn…

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.

Round barns

Incredible round barns!


  • Jay C. White Cloud says:

    Hey Z!!!

    Wonderful Blog entry…thanks for this, and the recommendations of these two books to folks.

    It is really cool that you continue to expand and excite your understanding of the Timberwright’s craft and now move into the iconic facet there of…which is the world of the Barnwright.

    I have been fortunate to start this craft with the Amish (wonderful Timber and Barn Wrights in their own traditions) and both these books, when I was a younger man, got themselves read countless times the minute they left the publishers in there first iderations. Getting to listen to Eric, et al, speak of these incredible structures at meetings and conventions was also a great treat, which only fed the flames of my passion for the craft.

    I leave tuesday to examine and possibly restore a barn in Massachusetts built in the late 1660’s, then from there to Buffalo, NY to look at two more Dutch Barns that require attention. Then we are off to Ohio for a tour of a dozen more, and on to Texas to restore and raise a barn frame from circa 1830 with some dear friends and Amish folk still in the craft.

    Hope all is well with you and that you continue to pursue your passions in Timber Framing…



    • ziggy says:

      Hey Jay:

      Awesome, thanks. And good to hear what you’re up to — sounds very exciting. I’d love to see some photos of these barns!