The Many Uses of Farm Buildings

Lumberyards offered plans, advice for farm buildings.

The Book of Practical Farm Buildings

Front cover of a 96-page book on farm building plans provided by Charles Foulke Lumber Co.

Illustration courtesy George Wanamaker

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The farm building has existed practically as long as farming. For centuries, buildings were used to protect grain and fodder until needed, and to protect farm animals, keeping them safe from the elements (and theft). A cow, for instance, will produce healthier offspring and more milk if shelter from inclement weather is provided.

Early farm buildings were built of earth, stone and wood. At first, generic structures were used for many purposes. As time passed, buildings were designed and built for specific purposes. By the late 1800s and early 1900s structures had become very specialized. There were barns for horses, barns for cows, dairy barns, sheep barns, pig houses, chicken coops, granaries, corn cribs, equipment sheds, creameries, smoke houses and ice houses. Generally, a farm would have several different structures from that list.

The barn was the building most closely associated with the farm. A typical general purpose barn provided space for cattle and horses, possibly some grain storage, feeding and birthing on the ground floor. The second floor consisted of a large open space for storage of large amounts of loose hay (for feed) and/or straw (for bedding).

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, these structures were principally made of wood. Some were built on site, with the builder cutting and assembling every board there. Materials for others were precut in a factory or lumberyard, shipped by rail and/or wagon and assembled onsite. The latter method allowed for much quicker assembly at the farm.

Early marketing effort

Today, there is a movement back to the ideas of the past. We are designing buildings with a single design that can be used for varied purposes. Typically rectangular, these buildings are constructed of poles and sheet metal. They have a large open space that can be used for implement storage, hay storage, grain and seed storage, feeding purposes, workshop areas, milking and animal protection from the elements. Interiors are often custom designed for specific uses.

In 1930 this was not the case. A 96-page book, Our Latest Book of Practical Farm Buildings, contained plans for eight general barns, four dairy barns, four cattle barns, two sheep barns, one horse barn and 25 miscellaneous designs. The book included plans for hay sheds, bull pens, manure pits, highway markets, feeding sheds, hog houses (12 styles), movable hog houses (12 styles), poultry houses (18 styles), granaries and corn cribs (16 styles), scale houses, dairy houses, smoke houses, implement shed, creamery, cheese factory, ice house, farm shop and numerous feed bunks.

Copyrighted in 1930, the book was supplied by Charles O. Foulke Lumber Co., Macomb, Ill., with a branch office in Industry, Ill., a small town nearby. I have seen two other copies of the same book issued by other lumber companies, indicating that it was made available to retailers throughout the industry.

Plans and advice

Each building plan was accompanied by a picture of the structure, a brief description of the structure and its advantages, dimensions and capacities, a floor plan, and, in the case of the barns, a cross-section view. The book offered complete sets of working blueprints and material lists for each structure, and directed readers to the sponsoring local lumber company for top-quality material in sufficient quantity and expert advice.

Using the information in this book, a farmer could select a plan and order the blueprints and materials. He even knew where to turn for advice. In most cases he would hire the lumber company to build the structure, or at least recommend a builder.

Today, the major difference in building farm structures from 80 years ago is in the materials used. Oh, and the price of labor and materials! FC

George Wanamaker is a past president of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn. He started collecting carpenter’s tools in the mid-1970s. Since then he’s also become a collector of farm and kitchen tools and anything old and unusual. Contact him at george.wanamaker@gmail.com.