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.