Blog How to Tell the Age of a Barn How to Tell the Age of a Barn February 6, The barns of yesteryear are as majestic a part of the American countryside as cow-dotted pastures or the sun setting behind the hills. Weathered but proud, they stand among fields and modern farmsteads as a testament to the work of our forefathers.
They are a piece of our story, and will hopefully be with us a long time yet. However much they speak to us, though, barns can be awfully good at keeping a secret. Most old barns are a bit bashful about revealing their age. Trying to figure out the age of a barn is tricky for several reasons. The barn had to get built. Winter was on its way and there was nowhere to keep the hay dry. Wolves were picking off the sheep and cows one by one.
Tools were rusting, and grain was spoiling. That meant the barn went up in a hurry, using utilitarian processes. However, if you know what to look for, it is possible to zero in on the age of an old barn.
Depending on where you live in the country, this history will obviously be different. Here are some general facts about when different areas were settled. This area has been home to European settlers more or less since the early s.
Over the following centuries, land traded hands among the British, French and Spanish. Around the mids, the British took control of the Midwest. France had previously controlled this area, and once the French were expelled, it became the frontier against Spanish country.
After the American Revolution in the late s, it belonged to the United States, where it has remained ever since. Its eastern line roughly follows the Mississippi River.
This entire territory was largely incorporated into the United States by the mids. Of course, there will be variations within this broad set of brushstrokes. Want a more reliable figure for the earliest year your barn could have been built?
Look up your local history. For instance, some areas of the east coast, which has been settled for more than years, experienced an influx of farmers in the late s or early s. Ultimately, learning the local history is going to prove quite valuable — and while you have your nose in a book, you may as well take a look at the tax records. Search the Tax Records When a surveyor must figure out the history of a piece of land, one of the most valuable investigatory tools available is the tax record.
Tax records often date back to the first settlers of an area, taking record of those to whom the land was either sold or allotted. Though tax records may give clues as to when a barn was built, the specific information on the barn may also be omitted if the records are very old.
This is because early settlers, when settling a piece of land, often felled trees and used them to make a log cabin. After the log cabin was built, they would clear more trees and construct a barn. They would then be able to start working and making money off the land. After the barn was finished, they would focus on building a proper farmhouse to fit their family. Regrettably, it is often the case that the tax record reflects the construction of the house, but not the barn. This information will probably narrow down your search to within a decade or so.
You may be able to ask the staff to help you find property deeds as well. Examine How the Barn Was Built The construction of barns has changed through time in response to different technologies. By studying how your barn is constructed, you can glean some information on when it might have been raised. Barns are massive structures, and the shape of their roofs can make a significant difference in their internal volume. This internal volume, in turn, affects how much hay can be stored inside the barn.
Older barns were built low, with a gabled roof. The gable is that triangular wall of a barn that forms the end of a pitched roof. When farmers stored hay in the old days, they did so with a pitchfork, which limited the amount of hay they could store in a barn. In addition, his company came out with a line of hay-handling equipment that made it possible to unload larger amounts at a faster speed, allowing greater amounts of hay to be stored in a barn.
The only problem now was the gabled roof. The ceiling was so steep, farmers could only pile hay to a certain height above the walls, which were roughly 12 feet tall.
A gambrel roof is the one we immediately associate with barns, with two slopes on each side of the ridge. This design increased the internal volume of the barn, allowing more hay to be stacked. Additionally, farmers began building their barns with taller walls.
If your barn has a gambrel roof, it is still possible the barn is older than the s. Many older barns built with gabled roofs simply had their roofs rebuilt to accommodate more hay. If the barn has roughly foot walls and also has a gambrel roof, there is a good chance it could be older — the roof might have just been altered. How Is the Barn Framed? Framing barns is another science that has evolved greatly in the last two centuries.
Older barns, particularly those with gabled roofs, tended to use more stabilizing structures than newer barns. These included ceiling joists and tie beams that ran from the top of one wall to the top of the other. Purlins, which are vertical or perpendicular beams between the rafters and joists, were also used.
The function of these beams was to keep the roof from caving in and the walls from caving outward. However, they had an unintended consequence: They took up valuable space inside the barn.
Again, with the onset of technology in the mid- to late s, ceiling beams became more of a hindrance than a help. It was at this point that the hay truck began bringing more hay indoors than farmers knew what to do with. To remedy this problem, farmers began to modify their barns, removing the pieces connecting the purlins and putting in gambrel roofs.
They created structural rigidity in new, innovative ways. You can look for the signs of a modified roof by examining the purlins for mortices or signs of a tenon that has been removed. Nails have changed a lot due to the onset of mass production, as well as improvements in metallurgy tools. There are three distinct shapes that can clue you in to its birthday. These nails were made by hand and hammered into a four-sided, pointed shape.
The heads of these nails are very distinctive — they looked almost like rose heads, as they were repeatedly hammered flat. Hand-forged nails were used until near , when the cut nail came to market. These nails have a distinct square or triangular head. These were invented in , and quickly gained popularity in the early s. Finally, wire nails are the same as those we use today.
They are round, with a circular head, and came into being around If your barn has no sign of other nails, it may be a 20th-century barn. When settlers built their barns, their options for wooden beams were limited by where they were, when they happened to be alive and who else lived nearby. Essentially, the possibilities boil down to these four: The farmer probably shaped the beams by axe, pit saw, gash saw or circular saw. Farmers who struck out into the wilderness alone often had no means of hewing logs other than their own axe.
The marks of an axe-hewn beam are very distinct: If the beams in your barn are hand-hewn, it is entirely possible you are dealing with a very old barn. Check the history of your area to see when the settlers arrived — your barn is probably in that date range. This hand-powered tool was essentially a saw blade that ripped beams in half.
The user would walk along the top of the beam and saw through its center. Alternatively, the saw would have two handles, and one person would pull from above, while another pushed from below. The earliest settlers also used this kind of saw, so signs of its use place your barn in an older age range.
Its marks are irregular gouges that run up and down. The distinct marks of the gash saw are easy to recognize. These vertical, chipped marks were made when this water wheel-powered saw blade cut through beams.
Gash saws came to the east coast in the s, and were in use through the midth century. The circular saw came into being in with the help of steam power, and woodworking was never the same again. Its circular saw marks are easy to identify, and place the barn after the Civil War. Come to Superior Hardwoods Old barns and the wood that comprises them are a part of our history. At Superior Hardwoods, beautiful wood is our passion.
Not only do we pride ourselves on the reclaimed timbers that made America — all our products are also made in America. And we back up everything we do with the best customer service in the business. All our antique and reclaimed flooring is percent authentic — that means percent antique and percent usable. Whether you are remodeling or installing hardwood floors, we have the right wood in stock. Hardwood flooring is as healthy for its owners as it is beautiful.