Dutch Barns

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What is a Dutch Barn
By Allan Deitz (copywrited)

The first Dutch barns in this country were built in the 1600s by the Dutch settlers of Orange (Albany) and Amsterdam (Manhattan). In New York State, they were built mostly in the Hudson Valley, the Schoharie Valley, and the eastern Mohawk Valley. Palatines began to arrive at NYC in the early 1700s, and many came up the Hudson Valley to Schoharie. From there, some settled at Beaver Dam (Berne). They were mostly farmers, and when they obtained land in the Foxenkill and Switzkill Valleys, the barns they built were very often Dutch-style barns like the barns of their Dutch neighbors near the rivers. Other ethnic groups, such as the Swiss, also built Dutch-style barns in the New World as they had in Europe.

The classic Dutch barn, before it was altered or added to, is most often rectangular in shape. Most all Dutch barns are wider than they are long, with a three aisle design that includes a large center aisle (often 25' wide) for use as a threshing floor, and two 10' side aisles for animal stalls. Look inside for the key feature of all Dutch barns; the H-frames that support the steep sloping shingle roof that comes down from the ridge often to about 14' above the ground. Each H-frame has a horizontal anchorbeam and a post at each end to make it look like a capital letter H. The number of H-frames differs with each barn. The typical Dutch barn has three or four bays which determine its length, and the amount of hay storage available. The front and back barn walls, called gable walls, contain a set of vertical wagon doors to allow hay wagons to enter and exit the threshing floor. They are usually centered in the gable walls. Some barns have wagon doors in only one gable wall. Hay and grain is stored in the hayloft on poles laid between the barn's anchorbeams. Usually one of the two wagon doors is a Dutch door, which in earlier years was needed to help control the wind flow through the barn. This was important for an early method of threshing grain on the large center threshing floor. The wind would separate the heavier grain from the shaft. Smaller doors at each side of the front gable wall provide entrances for milk cows and horses to the animal stalls.

The barns were made all of wood, usually from oak or pine trees found on the farm. The only other building material used was stone to elevate the wooden barn from direct contact with the ground. The original siding was horizontal unpainted clapboards. Inside many Dutch barns, a granary room with several bins was built in the full side aisle of the last bay next to the rear gable wall. Originally, wooden stanchions secured the milk cows in the stalls of the two side aisles so they faced the threshing floor in the center aisle to keep it clean. Look for two or three "martin holes" above the front gable wall wagon doors that allow birds and air to enter the Dutch barn peak.

Dating the construction of a Dutch barn is done by considering the barn’s region and its distance from a major river valley. The further away the region, the later the barn was usually built. While settlers in the Beaver Dam area arrived as early as the 1740s and 1750s, many of the Dutch barns still standing today were probably built around 1800. This unique form of architecture can be appreciated and sometimes preserved today.

For more information, read on The New World Dutch Barn by John Fitchen and updated recently by Gregory Huber.

External Links

Barn Preservation Society