Barn Reading List
Indiana Barn Foundation board member and barn expert Duncan Campbell has assembled an excellent reading list on barns. The list below has Duncan's synopsis following the title. At the end of the list is an Amazon link to the titles available for purchase.
John Michael Vlach. Barns. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Co., Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 2003.
This volume is by far the best visual and written reference on American barns that I have encountered. The text is authoritative and the organization sensible; and the photos and technical drawings are taken from the best collections in the Library of Congress. Michael Vlach is a foremost folklorist and professor of American studies and anthropology who trained with Henry Glassie at Indiana University, and currently directs the Folklife Program at George Washington University. Good, used copies cost from $35.00 to $50.00, but new ones are now over $100. Nevertheless, this book and the following one are the best illustrated, and most authoritative in scholarship. Should be in most libraries since it is a Library of Congress Sourcebook.
Allen G. Noble. Wood, Brick, & Stone: The North American Settlement Landscape, Vol. 2: Barns and Farm Structures. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
This is the second of two volumes by the preeminent geographer, Allen Noble, and addresses both the typologies and origins and distribution of the American barn and farm buildings. Volume 1, Houses, is also excellent, and addresses similar issues surrounding historic house types. Together, they are an education, but volume 2 is best for our purposes, addressing the disciplines of cultural and historical geography as well as social and cultural history, folklore, and architecture. Last I checked this book was out of print, but I found a very good copy of both volumes for around $50 online at abebooks.com.
Allen G. Noble & Richard K. Creek. The Old Barn Book: A Field Guide to North American Barns & Other Farm Structures. New Brunswick, N. J., Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Based on Vol. 2 of Wood, Brick, & Stone, this book is an excellent field reference, addressing barn types, special identifying features, as well as origins and ethnicity. The authors also address associated farm structures and agricultural practices that assist in an understanding of building purpose and use. Inexpensive and extremely useful as a quick reference during site visits! Used in paperback for $20.00-$25.00.
John T. Hanou. (Forward by Maury Williamson). A Round Indiana: Round Barns in the Hoosier State. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1993.
This is a knowledgeable look at Indiana’s round barns, and round barn history and distribution across the state. Hanou includes the only authoritative catalogue of Indiana’s round barns, extant and no longer standing, which is an invaluable resource. Plus, our own Maury Williamson introduces the volume with a poignant ode to American agriculture and its historic landscapes. Used paperback for around $20.00.
Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney. The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America. Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society Ltd., 1972.
I inherited this book from a preservation mentor, and it is the first I book that I read about barns. It is beautifully illustrated with excellent descriptive text and historical references, and presents wonderful close-up color photography of barn details, and historic photos of barn raisings. It includes some floor plans and section drawings of barn framing techniques and a glossary of barn terminology that could be useful to those looking for more technical data. This is a large, coffee table style book, and if you are looking for an original edition it will cost you about $60.00 or more, but used hardbound copies of subsequent editions can be found for under $5.00 at abebooks.com. A real bargain.
Donald H. Scott. Barns of Indiana. Virginia Beach, VA. The Donning Company, 1997.
This book also features a delightful introduction by Maury Williamson, and is unique in that it features Indiana barns from several regions of the state, northeast, east central, southwest, etc., interspersed with attention to specific aspects of barns—advertising, cupolas, decorations, roof designs, hay hoods, and the like. The color plates are very good, illustrate a wide variety of Indiana barns, and are accompanied by ample descriptive captions that include locations, in case you want to go barn hunting. These captions make up the bulk of the narrative information, although each region highlighted has a short introduction. Available used for about $5.00. A second volume (that I have not read) is also available that was written with Maury, and published around 2001. I found used copies for around $20.00.
Byron D. Halsted, Editor. Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings: Placement, Design and Construction. Chambersburg, PA. Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc., 1994.
Originally published as Barn Plans and Outbuildings in 1881, this book is beautifully illustrated with black and white engravings from another era, and introduces the reader to all sorts of farm buildings for every agricultural use. Its intended reader seems to be the farmer himself who may be looking for ideas and plans for his own use, but I found it a welcome education in agricultural practices of the past--temporary and permanent solutions to every farm need from sheltering cattle under a constructed hay mow, to designing piggeries. Not a great reference for barns, although several types are included, but more a practical guide to constructing farm buildings of all kinds. Fascinating, nonetheless. Available in paperback for $14.00.
Michael J. Auer. Preservation Brief 20. The Preservation of Historic Barns. Technical Preservation Services, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
This publication is available online at the National Park Service, and is a good, but very general guide to barn preservation, useful primarily because it captures and explains in a general way the basic historic preservation approach to protecting historic buildings, the preservation of original materials, integrity, and historically defining features. A short should read for all interested in protecting historic barns, but not particularly thorough in addressing barn types or technical information about barn construction.
Will Beemer. Learn to Timber Frame: Craftsmanship, Simplicity, Timeless Beauty. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2016.
This is a very well illustrated and written book about how to build structures with timber framing, or mortise and tenon pegged joinery, in much the same way that our historic barns were constructed. Though not about barn construction specifically, the illustrations and diagrams amply demonstrate how its done, and a careful reading will bring a familiarity with barn construction technology. Cost is about $25.00.
Thomas Durant Visser. Field Guide to new England Barns and Farm Buildings. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1997.
As well as giving a really good overview of New England farm buildings in general, Visser does a good job with the English Barn in particular, as well as several variant forms occurring in New England that are not seen elsewhere, but what I liked most about this book is the first chapter, called “Discovering the History of Farm Buildings,” in which he explains the characteristics that one encounters when entering an historic barn: timber frames, hand hewn timber, saw marks, design and materials, scribe rule technique, nail variations, and other telltales that assist in the interpretation, dating and condition analysis of barns.
Eric Sloan. An Age of Barns. New York: Ballantine Books, 1967.
This classic book is about how Americans lived in a time when farming, or husbandry, was a way of life shared by all—an age of barns.From describing the tools needed to construct a timber frame, to the whys and wherefores of barn styles and their origins in everyday practice, Sloan’s particular drawing style lends itself to the illustration of the products and practices of early American farm life, and his narrative inseparably entwines the two. Available new for around $20.00, or used for $10.00.
Elric Endersby, Alexander Greenwood, and David Larkin. Barn: The Art of a Working Building. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.
This beautiful “coffee table” book of barns, uses remarkable photography to take the reader from old county origins to the new world rebirth of American barns, and combines articulate models of structural frames to illustrate construction details. We are treated to a modern day barn raising, depicted with on site pictures of costumed barn builders and more explanatory modeling to illustrate the task at hand. Barn also addresses the adaptive use of barns as homes, discussing acceptable and unacceptable practices, and presents some outstanding examples. And it concludes with an excellent illustrated glossary of terms. I didn’t really think I would like this book very much, because it seemed a bit too glossy, but the authors do a good job of telling the story of our barns with a contemporary twist. $60.00 when new, you can pick this one up used for a little over $5.00.