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The Barner Family Farm in Clinton County PA.

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North Carolina Flue-Cured Tobacco Barns

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Ira Fox Double Log Crib Switzer

Secreted away in extreme western Berks County in Bethel Township on a back farm lane several hundred yards south of Routes 78 – 22 is a barn that evokes distant memories of a barn construction type that was at one time a commonplace occurrence in rural southeast Pennsylvania. Now in the early twenty-first century the bank barn of double log crib type at the Ira Fox homestead farm on the west side of Deck Drive is a rarity. Its form is a log Switzer – a two level barn with two log cribs. As a full building and vernacular construction type it is one of the most complete and original barns in all of Berks County. Later additions appear at each end wall of the barn.

As an example of a Switzer the Fox barn has an asymmetrical roof silhouette where the distinctive front frame extension or fore-bay creates the barn class. This barn type whose earliest cousins likely initially appeared on the landscape in the middle third of the eighteenth century is in marked contrast to the later style Standard fore-bay barn that has a symmetrical roof. With exterior dimensions at 49 feet long and 25 feet wide the Fox barn is medium sized. The separate front fore-bay is of normal width – 7 feet. The roof pitch is rather steep.

The original section of barn is of three-bay construction – a middle wagon or threshing bay and two log cribs – each about 16 feet wide. At the front of the wagon floor the big wagon doors appear to be very old or possibly original. The entire floor is original with a few planks up to 16 inches wide. Roof support timbers or rafters are 16 in number and all are hewn. The logs of both cribs are good sized but it is the bottom logs that face the wagon floor that are massive – one is 21 inches thick and the other is 24 inches thick. The distinctive notching of the logs at the corners is referred to as full dove-tail type. This type of notching is common in the western half of Berks County and areas to the west. This is in contrast to the inverted V notching seen in both barns and houses that is common in eastern Berks County and points east. The door that leads to the granary is original and has very unusual wrought hinges. The presence of cut nails with square heads on horizontal boards of the granary indicates a likely date of construction in the post 1815 era.

Submitted by Greg Huber – September 16th 2008

Past Perspectives – specializing in House Histories



(abridged version; complete copies can be purchased by contacting the HBFF of PA for $5 each)

Casper Maul Stone Ground Barn Dated 1791

The Casper Maul barn is a ground barn located in Oley Township. There is no basement in a ground barn – no distinct functional area appears below the wagon bay. The Maul barn is also called a boddam or bottom barn. In the German dialect it is grundscheier.

Two photos of the 1791 dated Maul barn appear in Charles Dornbusch and John Heyl’s classic barn book – Pennsylvania German Barns. The barn is 60 ½ feet along the front wall – one of the longest seen in any early ground barn in Pennsylvania – and 33 ½ feet at each of the end walls.



The Old Berger Log Switzer near Shartlesville

By Gregory D. Huber

This is the circa 1790 Berger Log Switzer barn west of Shartlesville in Berks County. Shown is a view of the distinctive early English style Principal and Common Rafter System.

This is the circa 1790 Berger Log Switzer barn west of Shartlesville in Berks County. Shown is a view of the distinctive early English style Principal and Common Rafter System.

Generations have come and gone in southeast Pennsylvania since the very first German settlements occurred in the area. The initial place of German occupation was Germantown in the northern region of Philadelphia in the 1680’s. Since then, untold thousands of log buildings including barns whether they were the ground one-level variety or the bank two-level variety have gone the way of the dinosaur. The log barn as a vernacular building expression has similarly nearly completely disappeared but several dozen of these barns can still be seen and are eking out an existence east of the Susquehanna River and south of the Blue Mountains. Other log barns appear in other areas of the state. Back in the late eighteenth century thousands of such area barns existed. But surely the present time amounts to the eleventh hour for these rare buildings. All German settled counties in southeast Pennsylvania still have a few log barns lurking about and Berks County is one of them.

At this very late stage perhaps 300 years after the first German log barn was built in Berks County about twenty of the barns in the county survive at various homesteads – some close by an easily accessible road and others way back on land much removed from any main road. A few others are seen plain as day such as the log Switzer that stands a few feet south of Old Route 22 about one and one-half miles west of Shartlesville. No excuses allowed not even to octogenarians who pass by – the logs of the near end wall of the barn close to the road are easily seen and are shouting out to be appreciated. This barn may soon go the way of the saber tooth tiger – never to be seen again.

Two Types of Log Barns in Pennsylvania
Almost all log barns come in basically two forms. The first is a one-story ground level structure where all main functions except crop storage of the barn occur on the ground level where animal stabling in the side bays and threshing occur on the wagon floor in the middle bay. An excellent pre-Revolutionary War example can be seen on Route 662 in Pricetown. The other form is a two-level bank structure – the early Switzer type that includes a distinct basement level for stabling of animals and an upper or top level for threshing and mow crop storage. Ground barns were principally built from likely early in the eighteenth century to somewhere in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Switzers were similarly erected at the same time. There are certain prototypes of Switzers that were borrowed from early European log barn traditions – specifically from cantons in eastern Switzerland.

Switzers have asymmetrical roofs. The lack of roof balance is derived from the fact that a distinctive cantilevered fore-bay appendage like structure appears at the front of the barn. In addition, interior framing units seen in the main section of the barn are not included in the fore-bay. The much more prevalent later style Standard barns have symmetrical rooflines and because of this they have framing units contained within the confines of the cantilevered section that also appears at the front of the barn at the upper floor level. The Shartlesville barn belongs to the Switzer category as do most of the remaining log barns in Berks County.

Shartlesville Barn – Built 1790 – 1800
The Shartlesville barn is also known as the Berger barn as the family of that name occupied the homestead lands many decades ago. Three main buildings occupy the old farm – the rare log barn and two buildings across the road – the main house and another log building just east of the main house. The dates of construction of the two buildings on the north side of Old Route 22 have not been determined. It appears that the log barn was likely built in the 1790 to 1800 era.

The Berger Switzer is of three-bay construction as were many log Switzers. The 2 four-log wall units or cribs (each crib is a bay) and middle wagon bay constitute the three bays. Exterior dimensions are 46 feet 2 inches on the long side walls (front and rear walls) and 25 feet at each end wall. In addition, the front fore-bay section of frame construction is 6 ½ feet wide. The exterior log walls were likely originally sheathed with vertical siding as were the end walls above the logs as well as the front fore-bay wall. At present the front fore-bay wall is mostly covered with narrow non-original vertical chestnut siding applied to the wall perhaps 75 or more years ago.

The roof slope it will be noticed is fairly steep. The roof covering was likely wood shakes apparently none of which remain. Thatch could have been used and only a very old photo of the barn would reveal the possible presence of such.

Functions Performed in the Barn
Farm wagons loaded with farm produce entered the barn at the rear wall through the big main wagon doors. The original doors disappeared long ago. Wagons went up onto the threshing floor where most of the original planks are intact some of which are up to nearly a foot and a half wide. The wagons were un-loaded and the contents were distributed into both log cribs at the sides of the cribs adjacent to the wagon floor and then piled high up to or near the roof peak. Crops were also placed at a height of about eleven feet above the threshing floor that long ago was called the oberdenn. Threshing or breaking of the seed from the chaff of various farm grains was performed on the floor.

Early English Type Roof System
The barn roof structure proves that German builders of two centuries ago borrowed from certain English traditions. Just the opposite is not true, English builders did not normally incorporate German traditions in their barns. The roof system or structural expression in the Berger barn is known as a Principal Rafter System. Strictly German style barns took on certain English framing manners beginning about 1790 or so. This blending of two cultural ways – in this case German and English – is a process called acculturation. This phenomenon also occurred in roof systems employed in German houses. A Principal Rafter System is denoted by large rafters – often up to 10 to 12 inches wide in the middle that taper in cross-section to both their ends. The Principals run from the eave wall to the roof peak and they alternate with varying numbers of smaller Common Rafters. In the Berger barn four Principal trusses or framing units appear. The bottom ends of the Principals join to timbers called upper tie beams that sit atop the combination log and frame walls adjacent to the threshing bay in both end bays. In other area barns that are often of stone wall construction Principal trusses can number up to five or even six (rarely). Normally in 1790 to 1830 barns three or four trusses were incorporated into the roofs. In the Berger barn the Principals alternate with considerably smaller Common Rafters. The Commons are hewn and also stretch from the roof peak to the wall plates. The arrangement of the Commons among the two main trusses is the following – four – four – four – that is – four Commons appear above each log crib or mow and a like number appears over the wagon floor for a total of twelve Common Rafter pairs. Certain other barns have distinctly different Common Rafter arrangements. Except for the log cribs the roof structure is the Berger barn’s most prominent feature. After about 1830 other barns very typically had only Common Rafter systems (with no Principal trusses) – the earlier barns had hewn rafters and later barns had milled rafters. To complete the full picture of roof rafters in the Berger barn it appears that some of the rafters in the front fore-bay barn section are hewn and may well be original. These rafters join to a wall plate that sits on top of the front fore-bay wall.

Purlin plates appear in the barn. Such plates are typically placed in barns from end wall to end wall and help support the Common Rafters. In some barns they appear in single timber lengths and other purlins in other barns are spliced. However, in the Berger barn the purlins are actually pieced – that is – they are not of one long timber. The three purlin pieces per roof slope appear staggered between adjacent Principal trusses in the barn and are placed about half way up each slope. They add longitudinal stability to the roof of the barn.

Three-Bay Construction
Widths of the three bays vary only a little. The end bays or log mows are each about 15 feet wide and the middle bay is just over 16 feet wide. The near log crib is log on three walls – the end wall and both side or eave walls. Spaces several inches wide appear between adjacent logs. On the front wall except the top two spaces all spaces are chinked or filled with “mud” mixed with straw. The presence of such chinking in a log Switzer is extremely rare. One late eighteenth century log Switzer near Schaefferstown in Lebanon County that was recently dismantled had such chinking but apparently to a less degree. However, chinking in log houses is always seen. The function of the chinking in the Berger barn is unknown but could possibly be related to excluding vermin from entering the mow or perhaps fire prevention. Other possibilities are possible. The mow wall adjacent to the threshing floor is both log and frame and this combination of logs and framing in one wall exactly as seen in the Berger is very unusual but not unique. The frame length may have been included in the fabric of the wall to offer a smooth surface for the inclusion of a so-called mow-stead wall. The log sections or log “returns” each run close to six feet from the front and rear corners. The logs at each of their inner ends join to fair sized posts. The frame length of wall runs 13 ½ feet and it is this section that the mow-stead was placed which was 45 inches high up from the floor. Mow-stead walls in barns normally consisted of several horizontal boards one on top of the other all of which are now gone. Such walls in Pennsylvania bank barns were virtually always present. The opening in the frame section of the wall adjacent to the threshing floor from the top of the mow-stead wall to the log just under the upper tie beam is close to 7½ feet and this large opening allowed access to the mow for crop storage.

The far end mow may have also originally been of three log walls. The wall adjacent to the middle bay too was apparently of log and frame but the fabric of the log section and the frame section still basically intact are quite disrupted from the original condition but suffice to say that enough evidence remains that the two walls of each end mow facing the threshing bay were almost identical in construction. The “almost” term as a qualifier comes from the fact that the wall adjacent to the threshing floor of the near log crib has an opening 29 inches high by two feet wide that appears in the “log return” closer to the rear barn wall. Both top and bottom logs are notched to help create the opening. At the one side is a board secured to the adjacent logs with wrought nails that imply originality to the barn. The exact function of the opening is unknown but may have been for access for farmers to drop farm crops to the basement below.

Above is the “log return” toward the rear wall of the intact log crib close to the main road in the Berger Log Switzer.

Above is the “log return” toward the rear wall of the intact log crib close to the main road in the Berger Log Switzer.

The front wall of the far end mow is actually completely missing. The far end wall is of frame construction and the wall has two long diagonal or angled studs done in German style and a built-in ladder appears that is likely not original. At the far end of this end mow is an added single bay and when this addition was built the original far end mow became a second wagon bay. It appears that when the one-bay addition was constructed the walls of the far end mow were radically altered.

Corner Notching of Log Walls
The type of connection at the corners of the log walls is referred to as dovetail notching. This specific corner notching becomes more and more common toward the west end of Berks County. In the eastern third or so of Berks County and into Lehigh and Northampton Counties corner connections in log buildings is of a type called inverted V-notching. Logs of the log walls in the Berger barn vary in height from about 10 to as much as 15 inches.

View of dove-tail notching at corners of log walls in log crib at the fore-bay side of Berger Switzer.

View of dove-tail notching at corners of log walls in log crib at the fore-bay side of Berger Switzer.

Likely the biggest timbers in cross-section in the barn are the wall plates that sit atop the side walls. They are not in single lengths of timbers but are spliced or pieced together with what are called scarf joints. The plates are about 11 by 11 inches in cross-section. In many Pennsylvania bank barns the wall plates are sometimes among the largest timbers.

One-Bay Addition
A bay was added at the far end of the original three-bay barn section perhaps forty to sixty years after the construction time of the original barn. The fourth or added bay is 14 ½ feet wide. This bay has five common rafter pairs and all rafters are hewn. A single canted or angled purlin plate appears on each roof slope which is in part supported by a canted queen post at each side of the far end wall of the added bay. These posts emanate from the top tie beam at the end wall. This added bay functioned similarly to the bay closest to the road in that stored farm crops appeared from floor to near the roof peak.

Beyond the fourth bay is another barn section with an angled single roof slope in lean-to fashion. It may have functioned as a cart shed. The lower parts of the two intact walls are of stone but above the foundation walls the section is almost completely ruinous.

In the original three-bay barn section a peiler eck or peer corner appears at each of the end walls at the front corners of the barn. These are ell-shaped stone formations that help support the barn walls above. The inner surfaces of each peiler eck are curved which is a construction refinement not always seen.

A single summer beam near the ceiling appears in the big single room area of the basement. This beam stretches from the near end wall to the original far end wall and it helps support the floor above. The summer beam about 8 by 9 inches in cross-section is spliced at one point with a simply executed scarf joint.

In a unique treatment at the rear basement wall the ends of the transverse ceiling joists sit on top of a six inch thick longitudinal beam. This feature had never been seen before by the author in more than thirty years of documenting barns.

At the near stone end wall no doors appear which is not unusual for a Switzer barn but is very common in Standard barns. It was at this end of the basement where horses were stabled – toward the house end of the barn. One beam was set into the stone wall with a series of holes for hooks to hang harnesses. Cows were stabled at the far end of the basement. All original stable wall double Dutch doors have disappeared but one remnant door half may be attached to the interior of the front fore-bay wall. At the far stone end foundation wall two windows can be seen that have original shutters – a quite rare occurrence. Each window about two feet square with typical pegged upper and lower corners is painted white but rear face battens are painted black which is an unusual choice of color. The inner far end wall is very finely pointed – the areas between stones were filled very carefully with mortar.

In the basement of the one-bay addition are longitudinally placed joists for support of the floor above. This area may have also acted as a cart shed.

The Berger Switzer although not in pristine condition is nevertheless an excellent example of an early two-level log barn that remains in Berks County. All the features and dimensions described above may be regarded as the sum total of all what amounted to careful and deliberate decisions that were made more than two centuries ago to erect a barn on what was then a main country road. Just as today, it was a road that was traversed by countless thousands of people and travelers. The barn is now taking its last breaths on the land where it was built as the current owner has plans to have the barn removed. Perhaps when the barn is removed modern travelers who often use the road might sense that something is missing from their view – something that withstood the ravages of times and ever changing farming economies for many decades. The original farmers and builders at the Berger homestead have been gone for close to two centuries and their last tangible efforts in establishing the farm just west of Shartlesville in creating a place to store their crops and keep their animals is about to go the same way. And with it a consciousness steeped in traditions that helped forge it will be lost forever.