Dutch Barn Preservation Society

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NEWSLETTER, Spring 1991, Vol., 4, Issue 1
The Dutch Influence Alive In Barns Near Holland, Michigan

Text and photographs by Peter Sinclair This article describes a two day inspection of barns in an area of nineteenth century Dutch settlement near Holland, Michigan. The first day's tour, organized by Betty Galer of Grandville, Michigan, took a group of us north and west of Holland, primarily in Ottawa County. We noted many small barns with high side walls and entrances on the gable ends. These barns were often accompanied by a red brick house with decorative use of cream-colored bricks. Many of the barns were painted red with white trim on the major doors. We received permission to inspect several barns, took photographs, made rough drawings and notes, but did no measurement. The proportions, and the arrangement of uses, was similar in five barns, designated as Type A. (See illustrations.) The first barn we looked into, the Sunrise Acres Farm, had its hay stored on mow poles. There was evidence of this tradition in most of the barns visited. The second barn, owned by the De Boer family, was a three-bay barn, as were many of the Type A barns. The original barn had burned and the present one is a 60-year-old replacement. The third barn, the Lanings- De Kline barn in Zeeland Township, was bought by the present family in 1919. Corner notches in some of the columns show evidence of built-in mangers. The barn was raised by the present family to provide a basement for cattle. The fourth barn, the Vanderkolk-Brouwer barn near the village of Drenth, was built in 1873. Mrs. Brouwer told us that the round decorative corners of the painted doors were formed by using a pie tin. The two-part wagon doors of her barn were held shut with a removable center post, the only example of this door latching system which was found in Michigan. It is common in New York State barns. The Roelos-Zeerip barn, the fifth barn, was built about 80 years ago by the grandfather of the present owner. The sawn timbers were brought by horse and wagon from Holland, Michigan.

Type A barn. The De Boer barn, red with white trim, has two-part wagon doors, hung on a track, opening to a center nave. The small door to the right opens to the aisle. The drawing illustrates the bents of a Type A barn. The main horizontal beam is mortised to the side columns and rests on two internal columns. At center, the rafters rest on purl ins supported by the queen posts. These Type A bents are designed to divide the floor of the barn into a central nave for threshing and unloading wagons, and two side aisles where cattle are kept, very much as the H-bent of the European and eastern New World Dutch barns functions.

Drawing of the Type A frame of the Lanings De Kline barn. By Peter Sinclair.

The tradition of the eastern New World Dutch barn, which was established within the Dutch colony in New York and New Jersey by the mid1600's, persisted until the early 1800's when its design was altered as it was adapted to new ideas and changes in agriculture. The later Dutch immigration into the Holland, Michigan area began in the mid-1800's and its barn construction tradition was a separate development from the eastern one. It chose a vertical instead of horizontal siding and did not make use of the raising hole, common in eastern barns. Despite the differences in time and geography, the New World Dutch barns in the Northeast and those in Michigan share a number of features based on their common roots.

An example is the sixth and final barn visited on the first day, the Raak barn. This barn is known locally as "Dutch." It is a five-bay barn formed with H-bents. It is the only such barn seen, and is designated Type B.

Type A barn. The Roelos-Zeerip barn has typical additions on either side. Cattle in the left aisle are separated from the center by a plank wall with horizontal "Dutch" doors that open down for feeding.

Although Type B is more similar to the eastern barn than Type A because of the Type B use of the H-bent, there are a number of differences. The wagon doors open into the right aisle rather than the central nave. The anchorbeam is 16 1/2 feet above the floor where 11 feet is normal in the northeastern barn. The Raak barn has two side aisles on one side, no transverse struts connecting the columns and posts in its right aisle, and no longitudinal ties between the columns on this aisle. The barn, which measures 62 feet wide and 75 feet long, is an example of the great simplicity and economy of means made possible by a Dutch framing system.

The second day I went alone to inspect barns in likely areas of Dutch influence south and west of Holland, primarily in Allegan County. I found many large barns there. Almost all had their entrances on the gable end and many had very low side walls, in Dutch fashion. Some had a simple gable roof line, and others had a gambrel roof. Those with a simple roof line I have designated Type C. I did not examine any of the gambrel-roofed barns.

At the first Type C barn in the township of Bentheim, I introduced myself as a member of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society to a man working on his tractor. He was hesitant to let me go inside the barn, but we talked for a short time outside and he was very helpful. He told me that his grandfather had built the barn in 1886 and showed me how it was dated on the front just below the peak of the roof by holes drilled in the siding. He stated that the first house on the farm had been built of logs.

Through wagon doors which were partly open I could see in the dark interior that the end wall at the back of the barn had a distinct martin hole cut in the siding. According to the farmer, it was to let birds into the barn. The barn had a new metal roof and the vertical siding was unpainted, "to avoid taxes," as he said. He mentioned he could still speak a little Dutch with occasional Old World visitors.

The next Type C barn I visited was in the township of Fillmore. According to the present tenant, Sue Brown, it was built before the Holland Fire of the 1870's which was started by debris from the Chicago Fire. The barn and the wood frame house were among the only structures that survived the fire locally. Built by the Ten Cote family, the barn and the house are to be torn down on the death of the last Ten Cote, now in a nursing home. Ms. Brown expressed her concern that the buildings will not be saved as a historic landmark. The house retains its original six-over-six sash windows. It and the barn, with its star-shaped martin holes, are in near original condition.

I drove next toward the area east of Holland which the farmer had told me was the earliest local settlement. There I met Elmer Van Der Kolk at his "City Farm" on Country Club Road. Elmer can remember barn raisings, at which he helped. He showed me some tools he owns which relate to timber frame construction - a hand drill, two types of rollers for moving timbers, and two types of pikes for raising bents. Elmer's Dutch barn was difficult to inspect because it was filled with baled hay. From what I could see, it was of a design I had only seen in books about European barns. The Van der Kolk barn, like the Raak barn, has a narrow internal H-bent The side walls were raised as separate units after the main frame was up. The "City Barn" does not have its original siding and the entrance is off center. Elmer thinks that there may have been central wagon doors at one time.

Type B barn. Frame of the five-bay Raak barn echoes the H-bent of the New World Dutch barn, but is higher and contains lighter members.

According to Elmer, the gambrel roof barns were the last barns built locally. They date to the twentieth century. In contract, nearby was the Van Raalte farm of 1845, which was the first farm settled here.

The Holland, Michigan area is rich with barns of many sizes and designs. Many of the barns there are in use today by the Dutch families who cleared the land in the nineteenth century. They often maintain traditional uses, but as agriculture changed, barns were also remodeled and expanded. Each timber frame barn is the cultural expression of those who built it and used it Each barn is an artifact filled with evidence of the past, of a persistent technology and of design based on traditional models.

"Type C barn. The Ten Cote barn retains evidence of a 20-foot-long manger, although all but two of the stakes, close to the back wall, are missing from the holes drilled in the four-inch rail.

Peter Sinclair, Vice-President of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, has led an effort to save the "joy" barn at Kingston. He recently launched a new publication featuring living history.

Spring 1991 Newsletter, Part Two

The Dutch Barn Preservation Society

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