The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 18, 2013

Farm foundation collects data on vintage Pa. barns

By STEPHEN J. PYTAK
Associated Press

— POTTSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — In the 19th century, forebay barns, also known as Pennsylvania barns, were common.

They were the kind that grain and livestock farmers preferred.

Now, they're slowly fading away, according to Ken Sandri, East Stroudsburg, a member of a volunteer group from Kutztown, the Historic Barn and Farm Foundation, which is searching for vintage models of the barn.

"The purpose of our group is to survey and document them. They're disappearing. I think we'll see them diminish if people don't take care of them," Sandri said Sunday.

Sandri will give a talk on the subject at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Schuylkill County Historical Society, North Centre Street, Pottsville. The session is free and open to the public.

A Shamokin native, Sandri is a preservation specialist with the U.S. Forest Service at Gray Towers National Historic Site, Milford.

Forebay barns have a projecting 7- to-8 foot forebay, or overshoot.

"I think they built them that way for cover when it rains," farmer Bob Kreager, 57, of Schuylkill Haven, said Monday.

The website for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Harrisburg, offers a description of how these barns looked and functioned in the 19th century:

"The barn is banked and organized such that the upper level consists of central threshing floors, flanked by mows" - places where hay, grain or other feed is stored - "and a granary, sometimes in the forebay, sometimes next to a mow on the bank side. The Pennsylvania Barn almost always has a gable roof. On the lower level, stable and stalls organized crosswise to the roof ridge, separated by alleyways for humans, housed horses, milk cows, beef cattle and sometimes sheep or hogs."

The bottom floor would typically be used to house animals while the top floor would be used for feed storage, Sandri said.

There's a forebay barn one on Kreager's family farm, K&B Dairy Farm, along Kiehner Road, just off Route 443 in Wayne Township.

"I believe it was built between 1820 and 1830," Kreager said Monday.

It was built to house cows, horses and feed. Since the mid-1970s, Kreager said, his family has used it for storage.

While his family put on a new roof and replaced a few beams over the years to keep it standing, some of the beams are original, Kreager said, adding, "You can see the ax cuts in them."

Dennis Marbarger, 59, of Schuylkill Haven, also has such a barn on his farm just off Schwartz Valley Road.

"It was built around the time of the Civil War," Marbarger said Monday. He said his family acquired it in 1896.

Marbarger Family Farm still uses it to house steer. To keep it in shape for his animals, he's made numerous improvements over the years. He put steel siding on it in 2008. But the historical stone foundation is still in place.

"We spent a lot of money to put the new siding on. Some people said we should have put boards back on. But that would have been even more labor-intensive and you have to paint them. And it wouldn't last as long," Marbarger said.

Sandri did not have statistics on how many of these barns are in the county or state, but said he hoped his survey would provide that information.

Forebay barns started to dot the North American landscape in the 18th century and flourished from 1820 to 1900. They're closely associated with the Pennsylvania Germans, according to the commission website. "With these barns, you can track the migration of Germanic folks through Western Pennsylvania into the Midwest and down into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia," Sandri said.

Farmers who built them tended to produce wheat, oats, corn, hay and livestock, according to the site.

Time, technology and the economy have changed and challenged farmers over the years and forebay barns have either been renovated, abandoned or knocked down, Sandri said.

"You can still see barns like this if you drive around. Since they're not really conducive to the big, mechanized farms you see today, they're either adapted for new uses or, if they're not being used and they're damaged, they're usually lost," Sandri said.

Older farm barns are disappearing in general, Kreager's sister, Arlene, said.

"Most people don't have a use for a barn these days, unless you have animals," she said.