Posted by Donna on 8:50 AM with No comments

June 23, 2014

We barreled across the farmlands of upstate New York on Monday, through Jefferson County, Oswego County and countless small map-dot towns on our way to Niagara Falls.

It was an early start, but a perfect day for riding - blue skies, puffy white clouds, temperatures in the low sixties. Three states, 322 miles and one great lunch later, we arrived in Watertown, NY.Barns punctuate the landscape of rural America. They are one of the most recognizable structures in the country; stereotypically painted red in sharp contrast to the white farmhouse and vividly green grass and fields.

American barns are huge utilitarian structures, often bigger than the farmhouse itself. While the style of the farmhouse changed from the mid 17th to the mid 19th century, the barn design remained constant, a dignified structure built with the pre-requisites of strength and convenience. Weather also played a part in the planning of a barn, as Eric Sloane points out in American Barns and Covered Bridges (Dover Publications, 2003). Sunshine, wind, moisture and water drainage were carefully deliberated to ensure the proper storage of grains and timbers and the protection, health and safety of the animals who would call the barn home.

But why are they red?

Early American barns were unpainted, constructed of hand-hewn, seasoned wood. Farmers discovered that the right wood in the right environment didn’t need any paint, but by the end of the 18th century, with so many barns falling into disrepair, farmers needed another way to help preserve and maintain these essential structures. They began to coat the barns with a mixture of linseed oil, milk and lime. The concoction dried quickly and lasted a long time, but didn’t protect the wood from mold. Rust, it turns out, does. By adding ferrous oxide to their paint mixture, farmers preserved their barns and produced the familiar red hue we know today.

By the 19th century, paints were mass-produced, and more barns were painted. Since red was the cheapest color to produce, it continued to be the most prevalent. White barns started to pop up on dairy farms, while black and brown barns were visible throughout the tobacco growing regions of Kentucky and North Carolina, since the dark colors helped heat and cure the crop.

The big red barn still dominates the Midwest and Northeast, and no matter the shape or size, dairy white, brilliant red or weathered gray from years of use, the barn will forever remain a true symbol of Americana.

Click here to see the pictures!