Crib Barns

In southeastern or Appalachian Ohio, the initial settlement group was the Scots-Irish. Although they were relatively small in numbers and their settlements widely scattered, they did introduce both Single and Double Crib barns. A thin veneer of these still remains in the region. These barns were formed of square or rectangular cribs or pens made of rough hewn logs laid horizontally and held together by notched corners. Shed or gable roofs were formed of riven boards. Sixteen feet by sixteen feet were typical plan dimensions for the largest ones. However, because little level land existed in this region and all of it needed to be hand cleared, Crib barns of smaller dimensions served the earliest settlers well. The initial cribs were multi-functional, sheltering livestock, housing hay, storing equipment or holding ears of corn.

In contrast to log houses, these barns were only roughly chinked, or in some instances, not chinked at all. Not only was much valuable labor saved, if hay was to be stored good ventilation was critical to reduce the danger of spontaneous combustion. As farms gradually expanded and more barn space was necessary small specialized buildings were attached, or a second crib, pen, or shed was added, or perhaps a Double Crib structure with a roof runaway or aisle between was built from scratch as a replacement.

Double pen barns have been classified into at least four sub-types depending upon size and plan of the cribs and how access to them was gained, from a center aisle or directly from outside (Noble 1984, 2:2).

Later on, as settlement matured, and especially after saw mills became common, transverse frame barns replaced the original double pen log ones. Doors of these later barns are always on the gable end of the structure. The ground plan of the barn may provide for one, two or three aisles, with a corresponding number of doors on each gable. The Transverse Frame barn normally is longer than wide.

Dimensions of 24-30 feet by 36-45 feet are not unusual. The ground level is given over to sheltering livestock, grain storage, and equipment housing and the loft provides space for hay. Multi-function barns are the norm in most of Ohio’s agriculture areas.

German Bank Barns

A large region diagonally draped across the middle of Ohio from Columbiana county in the east to Van Wert county and the Miami valley in the west has barns of quite different types. Here, Germanic influence established the parameters for barn building. Migrating westward along the line of the National Road from which the Germans moved somewhat north as well as somewhat south, but always westward, they introduced a number of banked barns whose design had been worked out earlier to the east in Pennsylvania.

These barns had two full stories plus a half story loft and were partly excavated into the bank of a hill slope. The lowest level entered from the downslope side was primarily for housing animals and because it was partly below ground, it was warm in winter and cool in summer. The upper floor was cantilevered on one, two or three sides over the basement story. The downslope cantilever was the most distinctive characteristic of the structure. Referred to as the forebay or vorschuss, the overhang often contained grain bins which could be emptied directly into the feeding lot below. Access to the upper floor was gained directly from upslope on the opposite side of the barn, allowing wagons to be driven into the structure for unloading. Hay mows were located on either side of the central driveway which also functioned as a thrashing platform. In order to create sufficient draft for winnowing, the barn had two large threshing doors which opened out over the downslope feeding lot. Looked at from outside, these doors were high and suspended in air. No one ever came in or out of these doors.

Although not all German derived barns have a forebay, most do and can be recognized by it. Geographer Robert Ensminger has identified almost twenty sub-types and variants of the basic German barn. They are classified primarily on the basis of form, including number of stories, location and type of forebay, and most important, the characteristics of framing. German banked barns are among the most easily identifiable of barn types, primarily because of the overhanging forebay. These barns have proven to be suitable both for general or mixed farming, as well as for small and medium-sized daily operations.

One of the most delightful features of many German barns, and a feature picked by many other farmers, is cutting out of small decorative openings high up on the gable wall. Often called owl holes, they also offer nesting openings for barn swallows. These decorative openings, which have diamond cross, heart, half moon, star, and triangle shapes, are a vestige of German barn design imported to Ohio.

Raised or Basement Barns

As agriculture prospered and farms grew larger in size, the old English barns became more and more obsolete. This was especially true in those parts of northern Ohio where dairying became ever more important, requiring barns to be capable of housing large numbers of dairy cattle. In northwestern Ohio dairying did not challenge grain farming until quite late. Hence, it is here that one finds the greatest number of Ohio’s surviving Three Bay Threshing barns, even though the threshing process has been radically changed by mechanization.


Those farmers who moved toward dairying throughout northern Ohio needed a larger structure. This need was met by the development of the Raised or Basement barn, a building quite like the German barn except for its lack of cantilevering and forebay. The Raised or Basement barn is essentially an English barn raised up, with a basement at ground level inserted beneath. Originally thought to have originated in upstate New York, or perhaps an idea borrowed after contact with Pennsylvania Germans, subsequent research has revealed probable antecedents in the Pennine region of the U.K.

Entry to the basement is usually through doors on the gable ends of the structure, another difference from the downslope-side entrance of the German Bank barn. Entry to the upper floor of the Raised barn is by means of a ramp or barn bridge. This, of course, meant that the Raised barn could be readily built on level lands, which predominate in the western half of Ohio.

A closely associated feature both on some Three Bay Threshing barns and some Raised or Basement barns, which may indicate an English origin, is the covered porch entry. This is by no means found on all such barns, but at the same time, it rarely occurs on other types. Northeastern Ohio possesses the greatest concentration of entry porches (Noble 1993, 24).

Side Hill Barns

English derived settlers did contribute an English Banked barn which has been given the designation of Side-Hill barn (Fink 1987, 137-150). In almost every particular the Side-Hill barn resembles the German Bank barn. It is two and a half stories high, and partially excavated into a hill slope so that both floors are entered directly, the lower floor from downslope and the upper from upslope. The barn has inaccessible-from the-outside threshing doors, and performs basically the same agricultural functions as the German Bank barn. It is not easily confused with the German Bank barn because it does not have an overhanging forebay. Its original antecedents are to be found in northwestern England (Brunshill 1978, 82-86; Hughes 1985, 173-174). In humid England, this barn almost always survives only in stone or brick construction. In Ohio, the Side-Hill barn has a stone foundation, but otherwise is in wooden construction.

The axis of the Side-Hill barn lies along the slope of the land. A few somewhat similar, two and a half story barns have their long sides athwart the slope and doors are on the gable ends. These barns seem to have originated near the Welsh-England border area. They have been given the designation of Welsh Gable-Entry barns (Noble and Cleek 1995, 84). In any event, they represent a small minority of banked barns in both the British Isles (Williams 1986, 167-170) and even less in Ohio.

All of these log and timber frame barns together represent the golden age of Ohio barn buildings. As the 19th century waned, more and more of the new barns were constructed of sawn lumber rather than log or hewn timber. Also, the types of barns changed because agriculture was changing, becoming more specialized. Farming in northwestern Ohio steadily focused on cash grain operations and livestock feeding.

Ohio Saxon Barns

The barn of choice in these situations was derived from the north German plain, where it has been described as the Saxon barn (Wilhelm 1992, 70). Germans from Lower Saxony migrated to Mercer and Auglaize counties of western Ohio in the 1830s. In Ohio, the barn which they erected differed considerably from the housebarn they had built in Germany. First, the house and barn parts were separated. Second, the internal arrangements of the barn were changed reflecting the structure of other Ohio barns of Germanic origin. Finally, the door shifted from the gable end to the side, a position common to all the barns thus far discussed. What was retained from the original type was squarish plan, a gentle roof pitch, and a three window configuration on the gable wall. With floor plan dimensions of up to 50 or 100 feet, the roof must be of large size. Its extent is further accented by low side walls. The gable wall is perforated by three small, square or rectangular windows located high up, a feature of the original Saxon housebarn. The interior is usually subdivided into three to five bays, including straw or hay mows, threshing floor, cow stanchions, storage and feed preparation area, and horse stalls (Wilhelm 1981, 8). Barns of this type are relatively few in number and restricted to the extreme western fringe of the state.

Transverse Frame Barns

As time passed, the Ohio Saxon barn incorporated modifications which enabled it to perform differing agricultural functions better. Additional aisles were added, accessed by smaller doors on the gable. If used primarily for crop storage and processing, the structure is usually termed the Transverse Frame barn, or sometimes the Midwest Three Portal barn. A threshing floor occupies the center and the other interior features of the Ohio Saxon barn are peripheral. The major difference from the Ohio Saxon barn is the orientation of the entryway. If used mostly for livestock, the structure is termed a Feeder barn, with a row of cow stanchions on either side of the central aisle. A connection with transverse frame barns brought into Ohio from Appalachia cannot be discounted (see Crib barns).

Dairying Changes Barn Form

Dairying continued to expand and the form of buildings accommodated the change. The most profound modification toward the end of the 19th century was the development of the tower silo. These sentinel-like structures enabled green fodder to be stored and fed out during the winter months. Previously, cows had to be fed on dry grain and hay with the result that they dried up and could not be milked. Feeding green fodder permitted milking all year long, satisfying the growing demands of expanding urban populations.

Another barn addition was the milk house, a small, sanitary building to house freshly produced milk in cool environment, and running water to cleanse empty containers. The first milk storage facilities were inside barns, but by the 1940s state regulations required an outside and separate structure. These small, rectangular barn appendages have become standard features of all barn types.

Finally the Raised or Basement barn itself was modified by the addition of a two floor straw shed at right angles to the existing barn (Noble 1974, 14). The basement level permitted herds to grow by offering additional stanchion space. In the early decades of the 20th Century different roof types were popularized in order to increase the loft capacity to store even more hay and straw for growing herds. The gambrel roof became most widely adopted. Round roof or Gothic types were tried, but never became widely popular because they required expensive rafter systems of curving design. Many farmers, however, continued to employ the gable roof, even in new construction.

Wisconsin Dairy Barns


As dairying continued to prosper, a barn type worked out at the Wisconsin Experiment Station became widely popular on dairy farms in the northern and central parts of Ohio. The structure, termed the Wisconsin Dairy barn, is an example of the scientific approach to agriculture which typified the new 20th century. The great advantage of this elongated plan, end-entry, barn was the ease with which it could be further expanded as dairy herds grew.

In addition to its extended length, large loft for hay storage, and gambrel or round roof, it is characterized by a large number of small windows which allow light to penetrate inside. This feature reflects another aspect of the scientific approach to agriculture, a recognition that expanded sunlight not only made milking and other chores easier, but it also increased sanitation by reducing bacterial growth. The work of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station was matched by other scientific improvements in agriculture at the Ohio State Agricultural Experiment Station facilities.

Other Traditional Barns

Not all barns fit neatly into the classification systems of cultural geographers, folklorists, anthropologists, or other scholarly observers. Some barns employ a combination of features perhaps derived from several types, but put together by innovative builders. Others are true examples of ethnic structures, but because the group was so few in numbers, these barns are rare and always highly localized. A few one story, gable-entry, timber frame barns still stand in the Welsh settlement areas in Allen county (Noble and Cleek 1995, 84-85), and at least one Dutch barn has been identified by Hubert Wilhelm (1995, 75) in Mercer county. Amish-Mennonite farmers built a different barn in the area around Madison county (Wilhelm 1976). These structures are unusual in having a pent roof on one side, sheltering stock access doors, and an off-center wagon door beneath a cantilevered hood. Unlike most other barns employed by other Germanic groups, this structure is not banked.

In some other areas, the agricultural system which emphasized certain products in restricted areas resulted in unusual barns specifically designed for these conditions. In southwestern Ohio, especially in the Miami valley, and further south in Brown and Adams counties are a few, transverse frame barns, relics of the tobacco raising era of the turn of the century. These "rather flat-roofed tobacco barns" also often have roof-mounted ventilators and movable side panels (Wilhelm 1983, 20). Often these barns have a small, attached building called a stripping shed in which the tobacco leaves are removed from the coarse stem. The shed is recognizable by its chimney flue, required to vent the gasses from the stove. Boiling water is necessary to raise the humidity and facilitate the stripping.

Preservation and Conservation