Taking care of your old barn

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Historic Barn Types

Because farmers have traditionally remodeled or combined barns over the years to suit their needs and tastes, it is often a challenge to recognize these basic types today. There are also other types of historic barns and specialty outbuildings found on many Vermont farms. Consider this guide a starting point.

English Barns
(before the 1770s to 1900s)

Vermont's early farmers built their barns based on a traditional barn design that the original colonists brought with them from England. The basic design remained popular for smaller barns throughout the nineteenth century. Measuring about thirty feet by forty feet with a pair of large, hinged wagon doors on the long side and unpainted vertical boards on the walls, the English barn usually stood on a level site without a basement. Inside these barns were divided into a center drive and threshing floor (onto which the pair of doors open) with hay and grain storage on one side and animal stables on the other.

Yankee Barns (1820s to 1870s)

By the mid-1800s, many farmers adopted a new design for their barns which allowed them to house up to ten cows and shifted the main entrance to the gable end. Inside the center drive floor followed the ridge of the roof with cow stables in a row on one side and hay storage on the other. Usually built into a hillside so that manure could be pushed into and stored in a basement below, these barns could be expanded by adding additional bays to the rear. To reduce winter drafts, farmers rejected traditional vertical board siding in favor of tighter board-and-batten, clapboard or shingle sheathings. They soon found that rooftop ventilators were needed for fresh air and windows for light.

Late Bank Barns (1870s to 1900s)

Those farmers specializing in dairying soon needed space for more than ten cows, and many built huge multi-storied bank barns to house cattle and other livestock and to store winter forage and grain for them. At the uphill gable end, a covered bridge or "high-drive" often provided access for wagons to the upper hayloft. Cow stables with rows of wooden stanchions are in the story below, with manure stored in the basement. Most late bank barns are sheathed with clapboards and have elaborate wooden ventilator cupolas, often topped by decorative weathervanes.

Round Barns (1890s to 1910s)

Although fewer farmers built round barns than other types, the distinctive shape makes it noteworthy. Like a late bank barn, this design takes advantage of gravity to move hay from the loft down to the cow stable and manure to the basement. Often a silo rises through the center. The design was meant to save labor, with all cows facing into a central feeding point, and for a time was promoted by agricultural colleges as a progressive way to house dairy cattle.

Ground Stable Barns (1910s to 1950s)

After 1910 government health regulations for the production and handling of fluid milk required new barn designs. Agricultural college experiment stations promoted the gambrel-roofed, ground stable barn design, which was widely adopted throughout the country. These barns housed cows on a washable concrete floor in steel pipe stanchions at ground level. The gambrel roof made an ample hayloft and could be erected with pre-fabricated trusses. Ducts from steel ventilators atop the roof provided fresh air for the cows, and long rows of small windows gave light to the stable area. A small, milk house was usually attached to the building.

© 1995 Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. All rights reserved.




  1. What is the origin of the word barn?

  2. What is a “three bay threshing” or English Barn?

  3. Why are so many barns painted red?

  4. Name some of the states where the barns were located.

  5. What is the difference between an English (Yankee) and German Barn?

  6. What are two types of framing used in Barn construction?

  7. What can the number of window panes tell us about barns?

  8. Who is “Chocolate Chip”?

  9. How is hay moved to the top area of a barn?

  10. List the various names used to describe barns.

  11. Draw a thumb nail sketch and the common name of 4 barns



  1. Name and draw 6 major types of roof styles found on barns.

  2. What are some common types of foundation materials used under barns?

  3. How do post and beam (timber framed) barns differ in materials and age compared to balloon framed barns?

  4. What are the general range of dates for when these barns were built?

-English (Three Bay Threshing)

-Late Bank Barn


-Ground Stable (Wisconsin Dairy)

  1. Two pictures of the same farmstead are posted. One is from the 1950’s the other from the 1990’s. What changes do you observe between the photos?

-what has been removed

-what has been added

-what has changed with the changing farming practices

-what is the major type of farming done today

-which photo is older


Draw an 8” x 11 picture of a barn and label most of the following features if they are found on your picture of the barn:

-cupola -lightning rod

-hay mow door -hay peak

-hay trolly -type of foundation

-type of roof style -materials used on roof

-type of framing -age of the barn

-silo -type of materials used on walls

-milk house -ramp

-hay loft -stalls (milking stantions)

Any other features that are typically found on or near barns.

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