Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER FALL 2001, Vol 14, Issue 2

(Continuing the series on the history of the American Dutch Barn)

By Robert J. Andersen
The new nation had no choice but to build its wealth upon exports. In the first 100 years it took tobacco and grain, in the second 100 years it took cotton, and in the third 100 years it took machinery to build the country.



In New York State the history books give no hint of the enormity of the agricultural industry. In 1680 ninety-five percent of the population lived on farms. With all those farm folk, there was little room left in the economy for merchants, carpenters, tanners, cobblers, coopers, smiths and politicians. These were strictly domestic artisans, not players on the world stage like the wheat growers.

Pasture was the most efficient source of nutrients for a livestock ration, followed by roughage and grain. Pasture had the added feature in that it was self-fed, thereby saving labor. The early Dutchmen were no doubt disappointed that they could not carryon the accustomed enterprise, dairying. It was not adapted and there were no markets. Those shortcomings could not be overcome.

The New York farmer of Colonial times did not engage in livestock farming beyond the subsistence level. Every family had its own cows so there was no serious commerce in dairy products or beef. It was also true that no means of refrigeration, which was so necessary for milk, existed. Much later the cow came into its own when the huge urban population of New York created an insatiable demand for milk and milk products. This helped to overcome the shortcomings. The lack of mechanical refrigeration also kept it a local industry for many, many years. The author has hauled ice from his uncles icehouse to cool the cans of milk (1932) and he has cooled his own milk (1972) with bulk tank, instantaneous cooling. In 1932 even the milk train used hard ice to transport milk 150 miles to the city. The colonists had no such facilities. They had to use the highly perishable milk, quickly, before it would sour or manufacture some less perishable product like butter or cheese. Those products, to become viable, would require huge amounts of milk, which the land at that time could not sustain. The cows of that period were small and inefficient as milk producers and the available feed was inadequate. Family cows were the norm and as such were not a factor in the design of the barn. The shrewd Dutch businessman required every cubic foot of space for highly profitable wheat.

The economic pressure was real in the lumber industry in colonial times. The Dutch would alternate purchases of lumber between New York and the Balkans depending on prices. New York was known for its spar timber, much in demand for sailing ships. Lumber was a second-class cargo though, because of its bulk. Given the capacity of a vessel, there was much more value in a cargo of flour. Lumber did not become a very serious product for New York State.
"The Lumber Industry" FOX.

Wheat was the most negotiable product because of its durability. As the staff of life, it was always in demand. As the fur trade diminished, the Dutch and English settlers of New York found their fortune in wheat before any other product. A culture they could perform like home in Europe.

The truth of this statement would be verified during the next 92 years. To begin with, Governor Andros reported to the King that New York had exported 60,000 Bu. of wheat in the year 1678. (DOC History of NY) This came to 7 Bu. for each of the 8564 rural residents. In the next 92 years the exports of all the colonies reached these values:

See Table Two, Table Three, Table Four

During the colonial period the small grains required intensive hand labor to produce. The time constraints made the harvest an all hands operation that involved the whole family. As such, it was the limiting factor in the amount of grain that could be grown. The number of people was closely associated with the total number of bushels produced. As the country increased in population so did production. The culture of grain was little changed from that of the pharaohs. Change in production could only come about with more people, and more farms.

Please note that for all the colonies, the per capita production of small grains, for export, was 1.5 Bu. in 1770. We have shown that the figure was 7 Bu. in 1678 in New York State alone. At this point we have no figures for New York in 1770. Since there was no breakthrough in production technology, we are assuming that any new farms in New York would continue the trend to wheat and other grains at the same rate. If we apply the 7 Bu. to the 1770 population of New York we ,can postulate the New York production for that year and what part of the whole can be attributed to the state.

See Table Five

It is estimated that, in 1770, 36% of all the small grains grown in the colonies, for export, were grown in "American Dutch Barn Country."

From the TIMES Union, Albany, NY March 15, 1996

"The Port of Albany, which can still boast of having the largest single-unit grain elevator on navigable waters, is a major site for the export of American grain Last Month, eight ships took on 219,630 tons and sailed down the Hudson."

While the State is no longer a significant producer of grain for export, the above described activity of the port, which started in the center of what was Rensselaerwyck in 1625, is a fitting tribute to Kiliaen van Rensselaer who made a prophesy in 1640. He wrote to William Kieft, Director of New Netherlands saying,

"I think that my farming people will, in proportion man for man, grow more grain than any others and thus help to make the country rich in grain so as in time to nourish Brasil and bring home sugar in return for meal sent there: then New Netherlands will flourish." (VRBM, p. 482)

The importance of wheat was manifested in many civic seals of early New York. This was a tribute to their source of wealth.

With the beginning of commerce in New York State the Hudson River was the stage. The arena would be extended westward with the Erie Canal. The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River would complete the avenues by which the country became the greatest wheat exporter in the entire world. It all started in American Dutch Barn Country.

At the end of the American Dutch Barn reign this countries yearly grain export was distributed as follows:

See Table Six:

It was apparent where the countries grain industry was centered.

In 1860 New York's volume was almost equal to that of the rest of the nation combined. This is the legacy left by those buildings that did the job so well, our American Dutch Barns.

To gain an appreciation for all the grain that was grown in the young colony we must consider the domestic use as well as the exports. A great deal of grain was used for seed and sustenance. In fact, most of the grain was used at home. It can truly be said that the surplus went for export.

Bread was customarily made from wheat and could take many forms: loaf, biscuit, pancake, and other, leavened or unleavened. It dated back to the emergence of wheat 10,000 years ago and it has been a major source of calories for the human race ever since. Wheat always meant great wealth to those who had it, i.e. Egypt and United States. We have allotted one pound of flour (Loaf) per head in our accounting as per "Statistical History".

Beer was also ancient history. Statistical History and even Everyday life in Babylonia 1000 BC, by Georges Conrenau, allot a gallon a day. The amateur beer makers that I have spoken to allow 2 lbs. of grain for each gallon produced.

See Table Seven:

SPIRITS, while a small part of the diet, some grain was required to produce it. One bushel of grain (Rye, Barley, or Wheat) produced one gallon direct from the still. With sugar added it yielded 6 gallons and when further diluted with water 8 gallons resulted from a bushel of grain. (This data assumes a process similar to that described in The Foxfire Book, Anchor Press AO-36, Page 340.)

Because of the prolific trade with the West Indies it was likely that some rum was imported for domestic use. Brandy was also used. The consumption of locally produced drink produced from grain is arbitrarily set at 1.5 gal. per year per cap.

Present day per capita consumption of alcohol is 2.5.

See Table Eight:

1 Reported by the Governor
2 Bolting yield 75%

Final disposition of the 1678 crop must allow for the next years seed. During the decade, population had increased 7.1 % yearly. It was then prudent to save seed for a crop of 107.1 % or 197527 bu. for the next year. At an average yield of 10 bu. per acre this would require 19753 acres and 39506 bu., using the standard seeding rate of 2 bu. per acre.

The grand total became 184432 for disposition and 39506 for propagation, or 223938 bu. in total. The supposition thus became that each of the 8564 rural people had to produce 26 bu., which required 2.6 acres.

(In the next issue we will explore how this was done, the logistics of producing the crop.)

NOTE: The figures in this article contain some conjecture, but the comprehensive numbers are irrefutable. They have been gleaned from 2 official sources. The Statistical History of the United States, US Census and The Rise of the New York Port (Report on Commerce and Navigation, Secretary of the Treasury 1860, pp 310-402) Albion, pp 400.

Book Review

by Peter Sinclair

Peter Sinclair is a trustee of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society and president of The Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture. He has written many times for this newsletter.

A second edition of the New World Dutch Barn, by John Fitchen, and edited by Greg Huber is now available from Syracuse University Press. It is a mixed blessing, a well-reprinted copy of the original 1968 classic, long out of print, but filled with added and uncorrected errors and tainted by what it avoids (*). Huber needs a different editor and an architectural draughtsman who can give the reader bents and sections of what he is writing about.

For all its imperfections the book does add new statistics, observations on regional barn traditions and the dating of barns, a topic that is almost always speculative. Huber takes a stab at categorizing Dutch barns and comes up with five: the True Form, the True Hybrid, the One-Aisle, the Double Decker and the Derivative (1840-80).

The True Form Dutch Barn has become known as the standard type of early ground level 3-aisle barn with a central wooden threshing floor, often a drive-through. It is the New World version of the anchor beam barn separated from the house with a structure and plan derived from 17th century Dutch and Northern German house/barns.

The True Hybrid Dutch barn is a Huber classification I am not comfortable with. It contains a number of Dutch barn types. Many of these, such as the side ramp barns, the rotated roof barns and the U-barns are not necessarily alterations due to outside influence as the term "hybrid" implies.

The One-Aisle Dutch barn is a recognized type but rather uncommon.

For the Double-Decker Dutch barn Huber presents a bad photograph of the Van Wagner Dutch Barn (Uls-Mar-25) and no bent drawings. I have been in the barn but did not measure it or know what to classify it as. As only hilly land was available in the later settlement of the Hudson Valley, 19th-century Dutch barns and houses often make use of a bank to add a partial basement. These bank barns often maintain modified true form timber frames but in contrast to the True form barn they come in many individualized plans and are among the most interesting and complex Dutch barns. I don't like "Double-Decker Dutch" and would substitute "Dutch Bank Barn."

I do not quite get a picture of the Derivative Dutch barn (1840-80). Perhaps we could call it the Dutch/American Side Entrance barn. Just like mature people, many late Dutch/American barns are individual and hard to recognize. I have been using the term Dutch U-Barn for any end-entrance aisle-barn with lowered anchorbeams in the last two bents. It is a form common in Ulster County and the Mid-Hudson Valley. Sometimes this form will have a side entrance as well, in which case the lowered anchorbeam seems to become a swing beam. I believe the two beams are related and serve somewhat the same purpose.

To point out the difficulty of categorizing Dutch barns I present here some measured drawings of a 6-Bay Dutch T-Barn in the town of Rochester, Ulster County, New York. Perhaps the only one of its kind. I documented it in 1997 for a study of barns in the town (**).

The Markle 6-bay Dutch T-barn (1825-1835) (#478 in the Town of Rochester registration of historic sites) is something like a groundlevel 3-bay single-aisle Dutch UBarn with side wings and a partially rotated roof. It is a barn that is difficult to date because it has a scribe rule frame yet the rafters are butted and nailed at the peak, a practice I normally put with square-rule frames after 1840. One feature that seems to indicate a late scribe-rule frame is the pride the carpenter took in showing off the marks of his old-fashion traditional craft that was largely replaced with the more efficient square rule system by 1820. These traditional scribe-rule markings are the chiseled marriage marks, the two-foot scribed line with a half circle and the scribed level lines all placed on the very visible right side of the lowered anchorbeam in bent 3, section C. The marriage marks were used for matching timbers, the 2-foot mark as a reference for cutting the mortise shoulder and the level mark to correct a tenon from the warp of a timber. They are generally not found on later square rule frames.

(*) One of the chief faults of Greg Huber's second edition of Fitchen is his systematic avoidance of reference to anything associated with the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, The Timber Framer's Guild or Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture. His edition lacks a bibliography. The reader, new to the subject, will assume from his notes that the only writing available concerning the Dutch barn is by Greg Huber in his several self published volumes.

(**) Report on Historic Barns and Timber Framing, Town of Rochester; Ulster County, New York; by Peter Sinclair and Susanne Sahler, Spillway Farm Press, 1997.

The Dutch Barn Preservation Society

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