The Johnson Farm has been continuously operating as a dairy farm since it was platted in 1743. Located on the farm was an old barn that is still being used by the current owner for hay storage and his small herd of dairy cattle as shelter. Charles Johnson, pictured here, is the third generation of the Johnson family to run the small dairy farm, in the Town of Chester, New York. The ax marks that are visible on the hand cut beams tell the story of the building of the barn, estimated to be built in the mid-1700’s. Inside the barn there are faint markings scratched onto a cross beam that show the pitch of the roof’s supports, which would have been constructed on the ground prior to lifting them in place. The diagram would have provided a handy reference for the builders of the barn.
Standing inside the loft of the barn, it felt remarkably solid, despite the condition of the exterior sheathing, which had been replaced with wood and corrugated metal as needed, and the condition of some of the wood slats that had been placed over the floor of the loft time and time again. Wood pegs used in the joints of the beams are still visible, and fixes, such as cast iron supports added throughout the life of the barn convey the importance of this structure to the daily operations of this farm. The barn has been expanded a couple of times, and the no longer used metal rod to glide bailed hay through the loft on a bar is still suspended from the upper most rafters.
The dairy cows shared the barn with a number of animals. Honey bees quietly drifted in and out of one of the supporting beams, while birds fought for the best nesting sites in the loft’s numerous nooks and crannies. There is no telling how many generations of animals, domesticated and wild, had been born and raised in that barn. An old soda bottle in the loft held the secrets of mischievous children who spent time among the bailed hay while looking down at the animals below.
Barns such of as these are majestic occupiers of a rural landscape, and are one of my favorite vernacular structure types. As much as I love preserved barns that have been adaptively reused, I love this type of barn even better. It's value has outlived any the life of any specific farmer who has put its own personal imprint on the barn.
Is there an older barn in America that has been in continuous service as a farm barn? Write preservation news and tell us about it.