While modern structures have new look and purpose: Old barns reflected times now gone from scene

Buildings around the farm have always been an interesting topic of discussion for people from all walks of life.

Pictures of old barns and other farm buildings often end up in the city hanging on the walls in the waiting area of a doctor's office and family restaurants. Many calendars showcase old farm buildings. Even when the news media is reporting from the president's ranch, many times an old run-down barn will be in the background. There is just simply something about old farm buildings that captures the imagination of almost everyone. However, time, especially in the South, is changing the look of these buildings.

Old farm buildings in the South were usually constructed of wood, with a conventional tin roof. Many were small structures, and the farmer usually had several scattered around the house. One was built close to the house, and just big enough for the one car or pickup that the family owned.

Another small building was for the tractor. It was built after the farmer traded his mules for what was originally called a traction engine, later named a tractor. Most of these tractor sheds had a shelf around it to store engine oil in glass quart containers. Some farmers used pump buckets.

Farmers did not trust the cardboard containers with tin tops and bottoms that engine oil came in back then. They were afraid the container would contaminate or leak the oil, so they stored it in glass or metal containers. A special funnel would screw on the quart jar for pouring it in the tractor's engine.

Most of the time you could tell which building was the tractor shed because the gable was cut out so the tractor's exhaust pipe would go in the shed while still on the tractor.

Of course the outhouse was necessary since indoor plumbing, in most cases, was just a dream. The smokehouse was an important building used for curing meat.

There was talk of something called refrigeration, but very few farmers threw away their old “ice boxes,” which literally cooled with a block of ice. Refrigeration finally came, and in my opinion was the top technological advancement of the 20th century, reaching many rural homes when electricity came by the farm.

Finally, on most farms, a barn with a hayloft was built away from the house. Corn, grain and hay were stored in the barn, and in earlier days used to feed the mules. A large portion of every farmer's crop was required just to feed the mules. Unlike tractors, mules eat whether they are running or not.

Most farmers had a milk cow for the family's fresh milk and butter, with plenty of milk left for her hungry calf after each milking. After the farmer finished his milking, he would open a little gate and let in the waiting calf to finish the job. Then, off to the “chicken house” to pick up the eggs on the way back to the house.

If you get a chance to visit an old barn, you will enjoy taking a step back in time.

Modern barns have new look

Today, especially in the South, even though farm buildings are still constructed to protect people, crops, equipment, and animals from the weather, they have taken on an interesting new look and purpose. Barns are becoming much larger, with the family living quarters as part of the barn.

I have visited many huge barns where the complete loft area was an elegant house. Equipment, animals and hay are stored under the wings of the barn, and horses may be stalled on each side of the hall. The huge open hall area is used for entertaining, complete with pool tables, wet bar, and an adjacent swimming pool. When the party is over, the hall becomes a garage, with one end of the barn used for storing feed and recreational vehicles.

Why the big change in farm structures? It had to happen because the farmer has changed. At the turn of the 19th century, over 95 percent of the people employed worked at home, mainly involved in agriculture. At the turn of the 20th century, over 95 percent worked away from home, but still respected their country-life roots.

It seems that today it is popular to work in town and make a living, but play and relax in the country.

Many kids left the farm as quickly as they could; now they are trying to get back as quickly as they can. However this time they are going back to play in the barn, not to work in the barn.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.