Some years ago I started photographing old houses and barns wherever I traveled.
After hundreds of photos, I realized that there were many different types, varying in size, shape, materials used, and the culture of the community in which they were built. In many cases, they were abandoned and in disrepair. Still, they were some of the most interesting buildings to be found in each region that I traveled through. Some were huge, some were small, some were simple and practical in their design, and yet some were works of art. They were the work of master craftsmen and artists in their own right.
The barn structure as we know it grew out of the need to protect livestock and crops from the rigours of a harsh winter, and Cape Breton was no exception. The structure and style show some variety throughout the island. Bulk hay and field crops required large storage mows and scaffolds and so many barns became large structures.
Throughout Cape Breton, the shape of the barn varied mostly with the shape of the roof. High steep-pitched roofs were common and often found in the Scottish communities. Gambrel roofs (sometimes referred to as French roofs) were built to make maximum use of the space within the roof. In the Acadian district from Belle Cote to Cheticamp, barns were often attached to the house to make the trip for barn chores easier on stormy days. Some barns simply had long sloping roofs on the windward side. I have seen many of these along the Gaspe-Bay of Chaleur coast.
Attached barns were very common in many of the communities in the New England area. Potato barns in New Brunswick are built into the hillside with only the roof showing. Bank barns utilize sloping land to produce different levels for different uses.
Pennsylvania’s Amish communities often have elaborate designs and hexes painted on them.
Changes in the use of the barns have produced changes in the design, style, and structure. Poultry barns no longer have hundreds of windows they once had. Dairy barns are now low, one-level structures, with no mows or scaffolds. Plastic now covers tons of hay in round bales that are left out in the fields or are close to the livestock barn.
The older barns usually had one large threshing floor where crops were taken in and then lifted to the scaffolds and mows by a system of pitching machines, ropes, and an overhead rail that ran the length of the barn. Some really big barns had two threshing floors. Some barns often had a lean-to built on one end of the barn.
Just over the next rise and turn in the road looms the grey hulk of an abandoned house. It is still relatively square, the roof intact, and is the windows are not broken. But it has character and worthy of a picture. Who forgot this place? Where have all the young people gone? Were they adventurous spirits who sought out their fortunes in some far-off city? Were they willing to give up their independence in a rural setting for the security of a far-off weekly pay cheque?
No more does the smoke curl from the chimney and the smell of burning firewood or freshly baked bread have an inviting “how do you do, come on in.” If this old house could talk, imagine the stories it would tell.
As one who restored an old abandoned derelict structure I feel sad to see these old forgotten buildings swallowed up by natural forces. For the photographer and painter, these old abandoned houses and barns are gems. Hopefully they will be left standing long enough so that they may fade gracefully into the landscape.