“Dutch,” or “Dutch-American” Barns have been large and recognizable parts of our rural landscape for over 300 years. They have a distinctive shape (when they haven't been added to) and a very distinctive interior structure that makes them one of the easiest forms of architecture to recognize — once you know the basics. The key is in the basic structural framework.
This framework consists of a series of braced H-frames or “bents” that march down the center of the barn, from one gable to the other. The H-frame consists of two large vertical beams or "anchor posts" connected by a massive horizontal cross beam or "anchor beam," usually more than half way up the posts. This anchor beam is recognizable not only because of its size — often with a width of 12 inches or more on the side that is up-and-down — but by its mortise-and-tenon connection (a thin extension inserted in a hole in the post) that goes completely through the post and, often, protrudes from the other side. There are usually diagonal braces or "corbels" between the inside of the posts and the underside of the anchor beam. The H is usually much shorter above than below the cross beam, creating a high, wide "story" surmounted by a truncated storage area. Originally, loose poles were stretched across the anchor beams, making an airy platform for unprocessed grain stocks.
Beams or "purlins" connect the tops of the bents, and the rafters sit on these, usually with the purlins roughly midpoint on the rafter beams. The walls are not weight-bearing, and on the sides are usually little more than 14 feet high, while the gable peak is several stories tall. This creates the typical exterior distinction of Dutch-American barns: a high-pitched roof spreading down to short sides.
Large wagon-doors in the gable ends are also distinctive, since other types of barns tend to have doors in the side walls. Here the doors are often "Dutch" style, such that one or both doors are divided in half horizontally so they may be opened only partially. This was part of the threshing system for which these barns were designed; wind was let in at gable ends and blew across the wide main section, separating stocks and grains that were tossed by the workers. Frequently there are small doors on the gable ends toward the side walls, allowing separate access to the aisles on either side of the threshing floor; these aisles could be used for animal stalls, workshops, or storage.
Two other typical distinctions are the roughly square floor plan, and the stone supports or piers that hold the floor beams and posts above the ground, decreasing the danger of water absorption and rot.
(Notes by Steve Jones, September 2006)
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