Gardens to Gables

Baby Got Barn: The Kentucky Log Crib Edition

A recent article on Facebook listing 12 beautiful barns in the Bluegrass caught my eye the other day. Excited, I clicked,  scrolled, and then I sighed.  While I am always happy to see articles extolling Kentucky’s amazing buildings, I didn’t think this list was…all that great. I am in a different position than many when it comes to Kentucky barns: not only am I a farmer’s daughter, with a deep appreciation for the oft-humble and ignored barn, but I study and document them professionally. (Yes Virginia, you can study barns!) So I thought I would start highlighting some of the hundreds of barns I’ve encountered – both on the Gardens to Gables Facebook page and in a more in-depth fashion here.

There might not be any barns on this old postcard, but three of the famous products are directly farm-related...

There might not be any barns on this old postcard, but three of the famous products are directly farm-related…

Long before burley tobacco was introduced in Kentucky, and the ubiquitous tobacco barn came to dominate the landscape, the most common barn in the Bluegrass was a log crib. I discussed this type in another post but in brief, the simplest (and earliest) barns were built in cribs, or pens, of rectangular stacked logs.  These cribs usually had a raised wooden floor, and held hay or corn. Today most of these structures are hidden inside a later superstructure, and it is only when you venture inside, eyes blinking to adjust to the low light, that you see the original barn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the outside, it doesn’t appear overly exciting…

When I first saw this barn in Mercer County, Kentucky, it looked like  a standard English barn, which while not common, isn’t a rare specimen either. The English barn is distinguished by openings on the long side of the barn, not on the gable end, like most barns in the state. Typically the barn will have a central aisle, open to the roof, which will allow a wagon to be driven into the barn. On either side of the central aisle are side aisles, usually divided into stalls for livestock, with lofts above for the storing of hay and grain.

Drawings of a circa 1800 English barn in Delaware, from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Drawings of a circa 1800 English barn in Delaware, from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The Mercer County barn follows this pattern, to some extent. It has sliding doors at either end of the central aisle, on the north and south elevations. Inside, two cribs face each other across the central aisle. The one on the west side is log, and the one on the east is frame.

The log crib inside the later English barn.

The log crib inside the later English barn.

The log crib is V-notched, and one-bay wide; the door jamb is pegged into the logs. It is 17 logs high, with a massive sill resting on stone piers and a wooden floor. The batten door on the front of the log crib is constructed of circular sawn boards with cut nails. Saw marks can help narrow down construction dates for barns – but it is always conjecture, unless you are lucky enough to stumble across archival documents that state exactly when a structure was built (this very rarely happens).

A detail of the log notching.

A detail of the log notching.

You might think that as the farmer’s needs changed, the log crib got surrounded by a larger, more modern barn. While in a sense that is true, shed extensions off of log cribs were common very early, sometimes right after the log crib was built. A farmer might construct shed extensions (for example, a lean-to) to shelter livestock and protect the logs from the weather. Over time, these extensions or lean-tos might become larger and taller, until they completely obscured the original log crib.

This is a frame (made of milled lumber instead of logs) crib directly across from the log crib.

This is a frame (made of milled lumber instead of logs) crib directly across from the log crib.

Some of the logs on the crib displayed evidence of reuse – spaces hewn out for non-existent joists (which would have supported a floor/ceiling) or other members. Behind the log crib, on the west side of the barn, are four stalls, each with an exterior door. These stalls area appear to have a fairly early construction period (not too long after the initial construction of the two cribs); built with circular sawn lumber, they contain built-in mangers and troughs. The stalls were likely used for the farm’s mules and horses.

A Greek Revival door was being used inside the barn; it likely came from an older house once on the property.

A Greek Revival door was being used inside the barn; it likely came from an older house once on the property.

The evolution of this barn is uncommon only in that the different building periods aren’t usually all still intact. It seems that the barn started with the log crib, and soon after, the farmer built another crib across from it, perhaps with a covered aisle between the two. That would have provided shelter for a wagon, or livestock, and set the stage for the exterior of the barn appearing as it does today.

Another view of the exterior of the barn.

Another view of the exterior of the barn.

This barn likely won’t win any beauty pageants – but then, unlike houses, the outbuildings that supported the work of the historic Kentucky farm were designed to be functional and not necessarily pretty, and to adapt to the changing needs of the farmer. I like to say that dwellings show how people wanted to be perceived – and the outbuildings on the farm (barns, corncribs, granaries, etc.) show how people worked and really lived.

Even when it is very chilly out, I am delighted to document a historic Kentucky barn!

Even when it is very chilly out, I am delighted to document a historic Kentucky barn!

And, it does prove the old adage right – you can’t judge a book by its cover! I always imagine, when I go inside old barns, the daily rhythms of the farm family as they went about their day. The structure I photograph, and puzzle over, was part of their livelihood, and the stories I can spin about its origins or use, barely scratch the surface of what the building could tell us.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 Thoughts on “Baby Got Barn: The Kentucky Log Crib Edition

  1. David Shewmaker on July 15, 2015 at 8:43 pm said:

    Ms. Janie-Rice the next time you are in the neighbor there’s a barn near me that is very similar to your drawing. My guess it’s 1810-1820. But may be slightly earlier. I’m sure it was built by some of the Dutch that settled here here.

  2. David Shewmaker on July 15, 2015 at 8:49 pm said:

    Janie-Rice there’s a barn near me that almost matches your drawing. Probably built by the Dutch that settled here. Probably built around 1805. I’ll be honored to take you there the next time you’re in the neighborhood. I need to take pictures and if I had your email address I’ll send them to you.

  3. david shewmaker on July 16, 2015 at 10:33 am said:

    Janie-Rice,
    There is a barn here in Mercer County whose construction almost matches the 1800English barn drawing in your blog. It was built in the early 1800s probably by the Dutch Reform group that settled in the immediate area. I have been asked to take pictures for a speaker at the “Friends” meeting this September. If I get you email address, I’ll send them to you. David

Post Navigation