Thursday, June 18, 2015

Classic Midwestern Barns

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
By now my husband knows to start slowing the car in anticipation of making a stop for photographs if a barn appears on the horizon.  As we returned from Red Cloud, NE after attending the Willa Cather Conference, we spotted this classic Midwestern barn surrounded by an ocean of still-green wheat.  My husband pulled off the road and got out his cell phone to begin checking message, for he knew my 'photo shoot' was likely to take a while!

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

There are many styles of barns across the American landscape, all sharing the common need to accommodate the weather and available materials of their locale.  Farmers built their barns to shelter livestock and whatever crops were grown in that area.  Sometimes the region of the world from which the farmers in the community had immigrated influenced the architectural style, and local custom also tended to develop within a community.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Preservationists and barn hobbyists often use general categories to describes the variations in barn styles:  Bank Barns, Round or Polygonal Barns, Tobacco Barns, English Barns, Dutch Barns, Crib Barns, and Prairie or Western Barns.  

I'm not sure exactly why this Prairie Barn stole my heart.  Perhaps it was its isolation, the farm stead that had almost certainly once been there long since replaced by crop land.  Or, it may have been the vulnerability of its opened doorways that bared its interior to the eyes of anyone who paused to look.  Somehow the clouds almost seemed to be an artists' contrivance to draw the viewer's eye to the abandoned barn.  

I know that many of you who visit my blog regularly have a special fondness for old barns, so I thought you would enjoy this one.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
These old barns are disappearing rapidly, and several that I photographed for this blog no longer exist.  Near cities they are disappearing to urban sprawl, but in central Kansas other reasons are more likely.  (See "Disappearing Old Barns," 1-15-2015 in the blog archives.)  Near our farm, the increasing size of farming operations has eliminated many former homesteads, and the barns were burned or allowed to deteriorate.  Few farmers keep horses, and fewer still keep a milk cow for the family.  Where there are dairy farms the changed sanitation regulations often make the use of old barns obsolete.  As farm equipment has increased in size, using old barns as storage sheds is often impossible, their doors too narrow to allow the passage of modern tractors and equipment.  Hay mows are of no purpose for the large 'round bales' that are generally stored outside and are too large to get into the old-fashioned hay mows if the farmer preferred to store them under a roof.  Grain bins in barns and wooden granaries have been replaced by metal storage.  (See "What Do I Do with My Grain, (Storing Grain), Parts I & II, blog archives 1/2/2014 and 1/9/2014.) 

Isaac B. Werner never kept cattle,  He built sheds for his horses, and sometimes he built a "self-feeding horse shed" from bundles of hay.  Probably the largest barn in his community belonged to his neighbor in Clear Creek Township, John Garvin, who held a Christmas party in his barn in 1888 attended by about 250 neighbors, including Isaac.

To read interesting articles about efforts to save old barns you may visit titled Preserving the Midwestern Barn by Hemalata C. Dandekar and Eric Allen MacDonald, and also 

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Those big horse barns are disappearing fast even in the area where I grew up where they would be much newer than the barns in Kansas, I would guess. I am glad that people are taking an interest in them and preserving at least a few. Your barn does look sad and lonely with the doors open to the weather. Good photos.