The Disappearing Corncrib

The corncrib is a vanishing icon in farm country.

| October 2014

While driving through the countryside in the eastern part of the country, one occasionally sees an unusual outbuilding at an old farmstead.

These long structures are narrow at the bottom with sides that taper outward at the top and are usually sided with narrow slats nailed on either vertically or horizontally. A shed or gable roof, a door at one or both ends, and a couple of small doors high up just under the eaves on one side complete the thing. The building is usually in a dilapidated and run-down condition, teetering on posts set in the ground, leaning one way or the other, and at serious risk of toppling over.

The buildings are corncribs. They were in common use back in the day when ears of corn were pulled from the stalk, husked and stored. Where corn fodder was used for feed or bedding, corn was cut, shocked and left to dry for a few weeks in the shock before husking. In areas where the fodder had no value, the corn was allowed to dry on the stalk before being pulled and husked, either by hand or a mechanical picker. This usually resulted in corn with moisture content of 20 percent or less when the ears were put into the crib where air circulation through the slatted sides dried it even further and prevented spoiling.

Customized to individual needs

The recommended size for a small corncrib was 4 feet across the bottom with sides about 6 feet high and tapering outward to a width at the top of 6 feet. With those dimensions, one could figure on space for about 25 bushels per foot of length (cribs were built in varying lengths depending upon the anticipated storage requirements). These long, narrow cribs had either gable or shed roofs and sometimes were built with vertical outside walls.

Corncribs were set 1 to 2 feet above the surface of the ground on wooden, stone or concrete piers, each of which was capped with a metal shield to deter rodents from climbing them. Wooden slats measuring 1 inch by 3 inches were nailed to the sides vertically, diagonally or horizontally, and spaced about 1 inch apart. An entrance door was placed at one end and smaller doors were placed under the eaves on one side; corn could be shoveled through those when filling the crib. On really long cribs, the interior was sometimes divided into separate bins and additional entrance doors were required. When mechanical elevators became common, hatches were often cut into the roof for filling. Corn was removed through small doors cut into the side at floor level, or sometimes through the entrance door.

Wide overhanging eaves and the tapered sides kept all but driving rain from penetrating the sides, while the narrowness of the building and the 1-inch space between the siding boards allowed adequate air circulation to completely dry the grain.