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Barns of Polk

  • LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS (PLEASE USE THIS BARN AS THE LEAD PICTURE WITH THE POEM UNDERNEATH IT) The Shafer/Howerter/Hartman barn, located along Mountain View Road, has long been neglected and falling into disrepair. But it is a reminder of a farm…
    LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS (PLEASE USE THIS BARN AS THE LEAD PICTURE WITH THE POEM UNDERNEATH IT) The Shafer/Howerter/Hartman barn, located along Mountain View Road, has long been neglected and falling into disrepair. But it is a reminder of a farm that once flourished and provided sustenance to the families who owned it. It is a sign of the times with farms disappearing across our nation's landscape.
Published July 30. 2010 05:00PM

Roy Christman of Towamensing said he heard a statement that America loses one barn a day.

With that thought in mind, two members of the Polk Township Historical Society, Norman Burger, president, and Elmer Heissam decided they were going to record as many barns in Polk Township as they could. To date, they have documented 33 standing barns and 47 that no longer exist. At one time there were estimated to be over 80 barns in the township. With their search came knowledge about some of the history of the area.

At a Polk Township Historical Society meeting, the two gentlemen shared their findings through a slide presentation of the barns they located, giving a little bit of information about each.

Polk Township was becoming settled by immigrants around the 1750s by mostly farmers. Farmers needed a place to house animals and store hay. A barn was often built before a house was.

Today old barns are like links to the past. They represent ethnic traditions and local customs to the technology of today's farming practices. But there are fewer working farms today. Many barns are now just standing testaments of the past.

It is that past that Burger and Heissman hope to preserve for the future.

"Barns are slowly disappearing. Some have been modified to be used for different purposes like the Lobach/Wagner/Anglemeyer barn's lower level being converted into a home located on Mountain View Road. The Steiner/Charles Christman barn is part of Camp Harlem and has been converted to a social/dining hall," says Burger.

Some have deteriorated to the point of collapse, burned or were torn down.

"Sometimes the cost to maintain it is more than current owners can afford or are willing to spend," he adds. "But with the demise of each one, we are losing a part of our history. This is true not only here in the east but also across the United States."

The popular styles of barns in the Polk area are the Dutch barn, the Bank barn, or Pennsylvania Upcountry Posted Forebay barn.

The Dutch barn has a broad gable roof and center doors for wagons and a door to the stock aisles on one or both of the side ends. A pent roof (or pentice) over the center doors gave some slight protection from the elements. Few openings other than doors and traditional holes for Martins/birds puncture the external walls.

The most distinctive aspect of the Dutch barn are the inside mortised, tenoned and pegged beams arranged in "H"-shaped" units with columned aisles alongside a central space (here used for threshing). The ends of cross beams projecting through the columns are often rounded to form "tongues," a distinctive feature found only in the Dutch barn.

The Bank barn gets its name because it is built into the side of a hill, permitting two levels to be entered from the ground. The lower level housed animals, the upper levels served as threshing floor and storage. The hillside entrance gave easy access to wagons bearing wheat or hay. Fodder could also be dropped through openings in the floor to the stabling floor below. Where a hill was lacking, a "bank" was often created by building up an earthen ramp to the second level.

Bank barns were ordinarily constructed with their long side parallel to the hill, and on the south side of it. This placement gave animals a sunny spot in which to gather during the winter. To take further advantage of the protection its location afforded, the second floor was extended, or cantilevered, over the first. The overhang sheltered animals from inclement weather. The extended fore bay created is one of the most characteristic features of these barns. In some bank barns, the projecting beams were not large enough to bear the entire weight of the barn above. In these cases, columns or posts were added beneath the overhang for structural support.

Since "curing" green hay can generate enough heat to start a fire through spontaneous combustion, adequate ventilation in barns is vital.

Have you ever wondered why so many barns are painted red? According to an article by Sandi Duncan in the Sept. 16, 2008 Farmers Almanac, "red is (or, perhaps, was) a popular color for barns due not to its color shade but for its usefulness."

In a time when there were few choices for paints or sealers, farmers relied on what they had available to protect the wood of their barns. They sealed the wood with limeseed oil, which is an orange-colored oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant. To this oil, they most often added milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture the color of red. Later, when paint became more available, many people chose red paint for their barns in honor of tradition.

Tradition. That's something Burger and Heissam are doing with recording Polk's barns.

"We want to preserve this knowledge for the people who come behind us so they have something to learn about the community they live in and it helps us understand the generations that came before us and their traditions, culture, beliefs and customs," says Burger.

When this country was formed, Thomas Jefferson envisioned this new nation to be dependent on citizen farmers for its stability and its freedom. The family farm has been a vital source of life for this country ever since.

As the main structure of a farm, the barn is a symbol of tradition and security, of closeness to the land and with the people who built them.

Long may they stand.

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