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How to Identify Barn Styles

by Jake Park 

Barns. Some may look old and decrepit, but many hold a vibrant, absolutely beautiful story. Others are still standing tall, still revealing their original history. Each style of timber-frame barn was created with pure purpose and expert craftsmanship, using local resources and the tools that builders had available at the time.

Here at MTC, we pride ourselves on salvaged barnwood. We create fireplace mantels, reclaimed wood shelves, hand-hewn barn beams, and other products from these historic buildings. Some have been around for over 250 years!

Do you know how to identify barns in their various forms? Could you tell which types of barns fulfill different purposes?

Barn identification isn't a course taught in school, for sure. But for those of you interested in adorning your home with rustic barnwood fixtures and decor, it's fun to know where your items come from.

Here are some different barn styles. Let us know which one is your favorite!

Bank Barn

Originally known as a Pennsylvania Bank Barn or a “Sweitzer†barn, these are one of the mostly prominent barn types found in the United States prior to 1880. They are called bank barns because one side is built into the bank of the hill, allowing livestock and wagons to easily be driven into the barn.

Bank Barn

Bank barns can range from just twenty feet to over a hundred; they are two-story and rectangular in form allowing for multiple farm functions under a single roof. The multiple levels would permit for manure and feed to be stored on the base level, along with a few cattle. Livestock would be stored on the level that was even with the ground outside to allow for easy movement of animals and hay.

The remaining room in the top of the barn allowed for hay storage. When the livestock needed to be fed, hay could be pushed from the loft to the animals below; when the animals needed to pass said hay, it would fall to level below, allowing gravity to do most of the work.

Gambrel Barn

When most people picture a barn, this is what comes to mind. A gambrel barn has a central ridge at the top and the upper-level area is expanded by two additional ridges on either side. This was mainly to allow for more hay to be stored while still having room to navigate throughout the upper level.

Gambrel Barn

The gambrel barn began being built in the 1800s and were designed to be simple and open. Also known as Dutch Barns, Gambrel barns are one of the rarest types of barns in America left today.

Round Barn

Probably the most unique looking barn, a round barn can be polygonal or octagonal as well! From 1880-1920 there was a spike in round barn production and they reached their peak. The round barn would allow for a continuous work space inside, eliminating the need to step around and accommodate for posts.

Round Barn

The cattle would line the barn in wedges along the wall and feed would be distributed from the middle. Round barns have also been proven to be stronger in structure, easily holding up to and withstanding Mother Nature's elements.

Gable Barn

A gable barn is also known as a New England barn or Three Gable Barn. This style is the most common barn style dating back to the 19th century. A gable barn will consist of one main block, a two-storied gable-roof shed with right angles on either side (creating three gables, one on each end of the main block and one at the end of the wing).

Gable Barn
Gable Barn

Many gable barns will represent the shape of an L or a T. The gable barn was often used to stream straw, which was a technique becoming popular in the same time period.

Now that you know, get out there and identify as many barns as you can!

Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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