Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pennsylvania German Barns

Do you like barns? I’ve always had this thing for these imposing structures. Which is probably to be expected since I’m the daughter of Mennonite farmers and grew up on a farm. You get a mystical feeling standing in an old barn with its huge hand-hewn beams and hay mows overhead, roof timbers soaring high above like the ribbed vaults of a cathedral, and dust motes lazily trailing down through the golden sunbeams that slant through the cracks between the weathered boards of the exterior walls. I even have a Pinterest board devoted to Barns and Farms. 

18th Century Swiss-style forebay bank barn
So today I’m going to indulge in my addiction and take a look at the barns of the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania during the 18th and 19th centuries. Descended from generations of farmers, the Germans who immigrated to Pennsylvania during the 1700s were among the best farmers in the colonies. The soil they found in this new land was unlike the over-farmed soil of their homeland in that it required little fertilization. So they went to work, and after building a house and clearing land for fields, they built immense Swiss-style bank barns like the one shown on the left of the James Barn, located in West Rockhill Township, Bucks County.
Berks County, c. 1820

The first log structures were soon replaced by barns built of stone, and later frame or even brick, with shingled, slate, or tin roofs. Most barns had 3 levels, with a threshing-floor and granary on the main floor and expansive mows for storing hay above. The lower level provided stalls for horses and cattle and a milking parlor. These buildings were anywhere from 50 to 60 feet wide and 60 to 120 feet long, and typically the main level protruded 8 to 10 feet beyond the lower level, as you can see in the picture at right from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum and Commission.

The classic Pennsylvania barn is most commonly found in the southeast and central parts of the state and was the most prevalent barn structure to around 1900. Most closely associated with the Pennsylvania Germans, it developed during the later 18th century with the spread of diversified grain-and-livestock farming that required efficient labor management to produce cash grain crops, primarily wheat; feed grain for cattle and horses such as oats, corn, and hay; and livestock that provided beef, dairy products, and pork to eat and to sell.

Barn at Carriage Hill
Some of these barns had stars, hearts, diamonds, quarter-moons, or other designs painted on their sides and ends. The picture above from my Pinterest board shows what we typically envision when we think of Pennsylvania German barns adorned with painted symbols. It’s of newer construction, and it has both plank and stone cladding.

Carriage Hill barn main level
Last summer I visited Carriage Hill Farm, an 1880s German Baptist farm in Huber Heights, Ohio. Although this farm dates to the late 19th century and is located in Ohio, the barn retains many of the features you’d see in earlier Pennsylvania structures. To the left is a shot I took of the barn’s main level. You can see the hand-hewn beams above the threshing floor. Obviously tobacco was a cash crop here. Below right is a picture of the grain bins along the right side of the threshing floor, each neatly labeled with the grain stored inside.

Grain bins
The last picture, below, is of the barn’s lower level, showing a walkway between one of the stalls on the left, with storage bins and feeding troughs for another stall on the right. Clearly these barns were designed for the greatest labor efficiency, with gravity allowing hay and grain to be fed down to animals on the lower level with the least amount of effort. Indeed the barn was the farmer’s most important tool for his work.
Barn lower level

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5-Star Review from ECLA

The response to The Return has been amazing, and we’re praising the Lord for His favor! Below is the latest 5-star review it’s received, this one from the Evangelical Church Library Association, written by Theresa M. Hughes, a professional writing major at Taylor University.


Beginning where the first book left off, this historical novel follows the lives of Jakob Hochstetler and his two sons, Joseph and Christian. Having been captured by local Indian tribes and now separated from his sons, Jakob struggles with plans of escape while longing to learn what happened to his boys. Joseph and Christian are each forced to grapple with their religious faith in the midst of the Indian’s religion and their new homes among their captors.

Nicely paced and engaging, this book draws together historical elements, cultural differences, and internal human struggles. The Return puts the reader into the shoes of the characters, showcasing how difficult the decisions are that the Hochstetlers have to make. It guides the readers through their own beliefs by exploring the minds and emotions of each of these fictional characters. This book continues to deliver well written descriptions and dialogue that make the setting and times come alive in the mind of the reader.

The Return masterfully paints a picture of the life of Jakob Hochstetler and his family, with the bulk of the book spanning nine years. It forces readers to examine feelings related to racism and cultural differences, as well as human love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. Competently bringing together the genres of historical, Christian, and Amish fiction, The Return is a sequel worth reading.

Christian Impact

This book forces readers to grapple with the morality of hard decisions that do not have simple yes or no answers. It looks at issues from varied perspectives, showing the reader multiple interpretations of individual dilemmas. This book also highlights the idea that God has a plan in the end; no matter what happens, He can be trusted.