Saturday, July 6, 2019


Our Family Bank Barn
The second Sunday in July is designated “barn day,” when the importance of barns in the farming communities in the United States is observed. Throughout our lands, there are many different styles of barns, built and designed to reflect the type of farming that occurred there.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, our dairy barn was a bank barn which meant it was built into a bank allowing for easy ground access to both the upper and lower floors. The upper floors accommodated haylofts where first loose hay and later baled hay were stored for the cattle housed on the lower floor.

Most barns in Northeastern Pennsylvania were constructed of hemlock, a very hardy wood which seasons to a light gray color. The eastern hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania, and large plentiful stands existed in the 1800s.  
Old Hay Loader

By design, our barn was fashioned after a style called the Dutch Barn with its hip or gambrel roof which had two symmetrical slopes on two sides with the lower slope steeper than the upper one. However, the barn itself was more rectangular, like the English and German barns, and the broad expansive side had wide doors on tracks that opened and allowed for wagons to enter directly into hay loft, making unloading the hay easier.  
Double Harpoon Hay Forks

How did they get the hay into the loft or mow? A long rail or track ran along the inside length of the roof, from peak to peak, and accommodated a double harpoon hay fork, pulleys, and trip rope. Once the fork, with its two giant tines, was secured into a bundle of hay, a horse—and later a tractor—pulled the stack of hay up and onto the track. After delivering it to the proper location, a yank on an attached rope would trip the hay fork to release its load. I often worked the mow. Using a pitch fork, I dragged layers of hay to the far corner and edges of the loft to even it out.

Old Stonewall
Because we found newspapers from the Civil War, used as insulation in the attic, we suspected the house, and probably the barn as well, were built before 1861. However, we also knew the Irish Potato famine of 1845-49 brought many skilled Irish immigrants looking for work when they arrived in the United States. It was said they went from farm to farm, seeking shelter and food—and in return, cleared stone from fields and built the stonewalls in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We have many of these sturdy walls still standing on the family property today.

So what do you do on Barn Day? Why not take a ride in the country and go looking for old barns? They are a disappearing structure on our rural landscape as the farming industry has slowly faded over the years and the barns have gone to disrepair.


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