Barns are an important part of American history, continuing to influence many aspects of our life. As a child you probably learned about barnyard animals singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm. You might have played with a miniature barn but how much do we really know about barns? We can read about barns. We can enjoy the old country barns dotting the American landscape.
There's something special about stepping inside a barn so if you've never visited a farm, I encourage you to do so if only for an hour or two. The buildings are magnificent and you won't realize that until you step inside. My opportunity came when my best friend's daughter bought a farm. Having visited the farm for several days recently (read: Farm Life Offers a Different Perspective on Life), I also got to drive around.
The photos here are mostly from the Catskill Mountains in New York. There might also be a few from road trips throughout New England. For other barns you'll need to visit Pinterest for photos of old country barns from around the world.
Traditional Ways Old Country Barns Were Used
Traditionally old barns have been the cornerstone of American farms. These barns began as agricultural buildings. It's where the animals lived, where they stored the food needed to feed them and the equipment and tools used to run a farm. Sadly many small farms have been displaced by mega farms which is why we see so many dilapidated farms when driving through rich farmlands.
Some of these farms and old country barns are being renovated today. Before we look at these ideas, let's take a peek at how old country barns were once used, and how they're still being used on today's family farms.
- Housing for lifestock like cattle and horse. Here's a video showing how a dairy milking barn is used on a small family farm. This barn will also store food used to supplement the animals natural foraging in the fields, and the equipment to support them.
- Sheep barns are still being used and what they look like varies by location. You can watch a live cam of an active sheep barn here or learn more abut sheep farming with this beginner's guide to raising sheep.
- Tobacco barns were used to dry the tobacco leaves. That industry though is slipping away. According to NPR's article, Tobacco Barns: Stately Relics of a Bygone Era, the number tobacco farmers in Kentucky has dropped from about 60,000 in the early 1990s to 10,000 (article written in 2006).
- Potato barns are designed to store potatoes so you'll find them partially below ground to provide the temperature they need. Potatoes can not freeze or get too warm, so most old potato barns build with concrete walls.
- Bulk crop storage in barns enabled farmers to hold onto their produce until market conditions provided the best price.
Fun Ways People are Reusing Old Country Barns
Old country barns are being rescued from decay by lots of people. How they plan to use them will determine the type of renovations done before they take on their new role in American history. Here are the best ideas we found:
- Old barns are finding new agricultural roles like growing mushrooms.
- Barns make great homes for those who love living in the country and aren't afraid of the work involved in fixing up an old building.
- Some old barns are being transformed into bed and breakfast places so lots of people can enjoy them.
- Barns with great views are ideal for restaurants, offering good food and a lot of history.
- Barns are being transformed into stores that need lots of space like lumber yards and antique malls.
- Barns are being used to store household goods and other things like cars.
- Old barns with all their space make great community centers and sometimes …
- Barns are used as wedding and entertainment centers so they can be enjoyed by lots of people.
American BarnsThe Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, FinishingHow to Build Small Barns & Outbuildings
How Country Barns Have Influenced Construction Today
We might not build many new farms or country barns today but their influence continues in many ways. Barn construction techniques are present in timber-frame, pole barn and post and beam design. So you're likely to see barns that look old when they're not because some barn lovers build them. You might also see reclaimed barn lumber for sale (read: 5 Things to Know About Barn Board).
Probably my favorite barn feature that is being adopted in more homes today is the barn door. These doors are a great solution for so many space problems where you want a door but don't have the floor space needed for the door to swing open. You do give up wall space but with the right wood door, it becomes a decorative feature in addition to it's functional role. Here are some barn door kits available for purchase on Amazon.
Wood Barn Door Steel Antique Style Sliding Hardware Set Coffee (6.6 ft)Sliding Barn Door Hardware For Wide/Two Openings (10 ft)Double Door Sliding Barn Door Hardware (J Shape Hangers, 6.6 ft)
Country Barns Just Because …
Remember how this story started? Not only did I spend almost a week living on a farm, I also had the opportunity to drive around the countryside and take photos of some wonderful barns that I wanted to share. We've got more barn stories here on Home Tips for Women, so take a peek …
I almost bought a barn today because I found a set that sells them for $1 down and no credit check. lol definitely not something I need to buy at the moment though, so I’m glad I was distracted by the beautiful barn pics in your article. You just saved me thousands of dollars. 😉
I love the country and barns. Thanks for sharing this, I didn’t know how much they influenced our lives!
Thanks Aimee, it’s fun to capture & share these great icons of our American history
I always wanted to run a barn full of dogs! And its most definitely an open space concept if someone wanted to convert into a home 🙂 Xx-Doran @HauteBeautyGuide
Fascinating, a barn full of dogs as I can see the large floor space but not sure how you’d use the high ceilings, LOL.
Barns are a huge part of our history and culture and it’s awesome that people are preserving them and reusing them. I’ve dined in a barn that has been converted into a restaurant and it’s awesome! I love the rustic/cozy feel!
Thanks for sharing your story Carol … I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a restaurant in a barn.
There are only few barns in our country but whenever I would see them in pictures, they remind me of the country side or a province where lifestyle is a lot more relaxed and laid back. I would love to see a barn turned into a business establishment that really sounds great
I love barn houses when we go upstate. Where I live in the city we do not have any. It is amazing how they have transformed.
I grew up as a weekend farm girl. Our family ran a dairy farm and we had the classic red barn for a long time. It is such an iconic farm structure!
What fun to try & imagine your life growing up on a farm … so I’m guessing you will make sure to share this experience with your children.
Pretty amazing to see barns being re-purposed instead of tearing them down. I dream of living in the countryside, far away from this urban jungle where I was born and raised.
I grew up on a farm in Iowa, so barns like these make me feel right at home. Over the years, we’ve known of a few families who’ve converted them into homes, and they’ve turned out beautifully. In addition, at one of our favorite parks, there is an old barn that’s been converted into a community center. It’s a perfect place for large gatherings! x
I love how each barn has its own personality in there. They might look a little similar from outside. The owner could do so much inside.
You’re right that we only get to see the outside … and imagine what they look like inside. Meant to mention this & forgot so thanks for bringing it up.
Seeing barns –be it on TV or while driving always gives me a nostalgic feeling. Barns make great houses too!
I played in the barns on my grandparents’ farms as a kid. Those were some great times for me!
I love seeing old barns converted into either a home or a entertainment space. So beautiful and grand to see them out in the fields!
All of my Mums brothers went into building and they have changed some amazing things into homes. One in particular used to do a lot with barns & it always used to blow me away how he could do such an amazing job.
Sarah, Everyone has different gifts and for some, it’s being able to see what structures can be … and then if they have the hands-on skills, they can turn ideas into reality like you said.
I love to see transformations of barns to houses. They are amazing structures.