The Oley Valley Barn Conference Tour
BY GREGORY HUBER
(abridged version; complete copies can be purchased by contacting the HBFF of PA for $5 each)
Casper Maul Stone Ground Barn Dated 1791
The Casper Maul barn is a ground barn located in Oley Township. There is no basement in a ground barn – no distinct functional area appears below the wagon bay. The Maul barn is also called a boddam or bottom barn. In the German dialect it is grundscheier.
Two photos of the 1791 dated Maul barn appear in Charles Dornbusch and John Heyl’s classic barn book – Pennsylvania German Barns. The barn is 60 ½ feet along the front wall – one of the longest seen in any early ground barn in Pennsylvania – and 33 ½ feet at each of the end walls.
A liegender Dachstuhl or early style German roof structure with four main trusses is seen in the Maul barn.
Both mow-stead walls are almost completely original and boards are secured with early style wrought nails. On the cow side of the barn are at least three boards 18 inches wide. There is one “doodle” area that has five concentric circles – the outermost one is 32 inches in diameter. The threshing floor consists of mostly original planks up to 15 inches wide. The Maul barn retains a great deal of its original features.
Jacob Keim Homestead – with Early 1750’s Stone House – Ancillary Building and Unique Double Fore-bay Barn
The excellent Jacob Keim homestead offers a wide array of German buildings. The main attraction of the old farm is the large and early main two-section house of all stone construction. The earlier section is from 1750’s and is replete with early German construction features and other details including an extremely rare original second floor chevron door.
The stone ancillary house that stands only about 15 feet from the main house is a rarity as only a few other German homesteads have them. The roof ridgeline is at a distinct angle to the roof ridgeline of the main house. The steep pitched roof is now covered with red tile distinctive of early German house roof coverings.
At the rear of the main house is a unique two-level bank barn. It has no banked or ramped condition at the rear wall. It does have however a cantilevered condition or fore-bay at each side or eave wall. The barn measures about 44 feet long by about 32 feet wide. A hay hood door appears at the roof peak at the one end wall for entry and exit of farm crops.
Diener – Fillman Log Switzer
The Diener Log Transitional Switzer in extreme southern Pike Township is the only log barn that was visited on the tour. Although Berks County still is home to almost 25 log barns, the county two hundred years ago was the residence of hundreds of such generic structures. The earlier style Switzer barn is distinguished from the later and very common Standard barn type in that the Switzer has an asymmetrical roofline and interior framing units that are not contained with the distinctive appendage like fore-bay at the front of the barn. The Diener barn is called a Transitional Switzer in that the end walls fully extend to a point that is in line with the front fore-bay wall.
The one log crib is composed of four log walls while the far crib has one frame constructed wall adjacent to the one wagon bay. The logs are joined at the corners by squared v – notching that is so often seen in eastern Berks County and areas east. West of the Diener barn location half dove-tailed and full dove-tailed corner notching becomes progressively more common in both barns and houses out to Lancaster and Lebanon Counties.
Bertolet-Coker Stone Classic Switzer – Dated 1787
This early barn in Oley Township at the Bertolet homestead is what might be called a masterpiece of barn construction. It is one of the most outstanding barns in not just all of the Oley Valley but in the entire state of Pennsylvania. This is the Bertolet stone classic Switzer in Oley Township. There is a 1770’s two-story stone house with addition and a small stone cabin that is said to have built in the 1730’s. The Bertolet family was of French Huguenot origin and they settled in the Oley Valley in the early 1700’s.
The stone Switzer is actually the older of the two homestead barns. The other barn is a Standard type and is immediately adjacent to the Switzer and is dated 1837. The Switzer barn is, except for the front fore-bay, made completely of stone construction including to the peaks at both end walls and the rear wall and part of the rear wall of the fore-bay. End walls have the very distinctive vertical ventilator slits or splayed loopholes that are commonly seen in pre-1830 barns.
Barn dimensions are not unusual where the end walls are each 33 feet long and the barn length is about 65 feet. The front fore-bay extension is six feet. The barn is of three-bay construction – two end bays and a single wagon bay that has a rare extension at one side below an equally rare swing beam. Tethered horses swung around below the swing beam for the threshing of grains. While the main wagon doors are not fully original the so-called haar-hung doors still swing on their original vertical pivot poles. The doors are extremely rare in any type of barn in Pennsylvania and have ancient roots in Europe. The carved date of 1787 with names of the Bertolet family is seen on the lintel beam above the wagon doors. There are two other exterior features of very particular note. The first is the very rare mostly original short projecting pent roof at the basement level toward the house side of the barn that protected animal and human entries at that end of the barn. The other feature is the extremely rare completely original early style plank stairway that appears at the front of the basement stable wall that leads to the fore-bay. Perhaps even more rare is the fully original wooden trap door with unusual German hinges at the top of the staircase that forms part of the fore-bay floor.
German families often stored their grains in the attics of their houses in much of the eighteenth century. Later they apparently stored grains in closed or walled in spaces in the fore-bays of their barns that were called – appropriately enough – granaries. It appears that the Bertolet barn has the earliest original granary in any barn in Pennsylvania in the fore-bay at the far end of the barn. The ceiling and the walls of the granary formed by wide boards are all secured with wrought nails. The granary door itself is original with rare type wrought metal hinges. Even the grain compartment bins within the granary are formed with partition walls that are mostly original.
The 1837 Standard barn at the homestead is very typical in most regards for a frame constructed bank barn. Built precisely one half century after the stone Switzer was constructed the later barn resulted from the ever expanding need for greater crop storage space that most farms in the northeast experienced during the Industrial Revolution. The craftsmanship in the newer barn is much less fine than that found in the original barn. The two barns offer a wonderful study in contrast between two very different eras of building construction traditions.
Kaufman Homestead – with 1766 House and Two Main Barns
The Kaufman homestead is replete with out-buildings of which the main attractions are two barns. Toward the rear of the farm yard is a massive sized circa 1840 stone Standard barn about 40 feet wide by about 90 feet long. There is an added on out-shed or rear granary at the far end of the barn. Its walls are plastered. The barn is of four-bay construction – two middle wagon bays and two end bays. At the one main wagon entry is another very rare example of original haar-hung wagon doors. Above the wagon doors is a not often seen overhead pentice or roof projection that protects the two wagon doors.
Hewn common rafters are seen and vertical queen posts help support the roof. Rarely seen are original hay-hole shoot frames like open sided boxes that appear – one at either side of each wagon bay. In the basement is a rare condition where an original feeding alley is flanked by original staked mangers at either side that span most of the width of the barn.
A much smaller two-level stone barn is seen at the front of the barn yard. It is about 42 feet long by about 35 feet wide. There is, very oddly, no banked or ramped condition at the rear of the barn. In fact at the rear wall of the barn are three wall openings with stone arched doors. A cantilevered wall or fore-bay appears at the front of the barn. At the end walls are louvered windows. At the house end of the barn is a large wood door opening toward the peak that allowed entry and exit of farm produce. A large impressive single length summer beam seen in the basement supports the upper floor. Two partly original transverse staked mangers survive. Very peculiarly horizontal spriggel bars appear at each animal door at each end of the stable wall. Usually the bars that help to contain stabled horses appear at or toward only one end of a stable wall. This barn may have been for the exclusive use of horses.
Stapleton – Ruth Variant Ground Barn
One of the finest barns of any type in all of Pennsylvania is the Stapleton stone barn in Oley Township. There is a quiet raging debate whether the barn is a variant ground barn – there is no floor level below the threshing bay – or a variant English Lake District barn – as some of these barns are apparently found in that region of northwest England. A date of 1782 is seen on an exterior wood piece and it may be the original date of construction. Only two others barns in southeast Pennsylvania only one of which still stands approximates the general design features of the Stapleton barn and may have experienced similar influences of building traditions.
The distinctive and almost medieval like roof slope of the Stapleton barn is one of the steepest of any barn in the greater Oley Valley. Kicks in the roof appear at each side of the barn. This of course indicates early German roof framing which the barn has. All exterior barn walls possess splayed loop holes. The barn measures 68 feet at each side wall and 33 feet at each end wall. No other ground barn of any type or any close relative built in the eighteenth century attains such a length.
Farm animals were stabled at the basement level at each end bay at very distinctly different floor levels. Above the stables were mow areas for crop storage.
Tuttle Classic Stone Switzer
The Tuttle classic stone Switzer dates from either the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is of five-bay construction with two wagon bays and three hay mows – two mows of which are back-to-back.
This barn boasts of an English style Principal Rafter System, the only barn on the tour with such a roof. In certain respects, this roof structure type is similar to the early German style roof in that there are principal rafters. However these rafters in the Tuttle barn extend the full length of each roof slope and are thickened in the middle or mid-span areas for the joining of barn length purlin plates. The Principals are supported by vertical queen posts. Between adjacent Principal Rafters are common rafters that are seen in early German roofs.
One remarkable feature seen in a few mow-stead wall boards are tally marks. Every fifth mark is considerably longer than the preceding marks. In addition, every twenty-fifth mark is considerably longer than the long “every fifth” marks. This tallying system may be unique.
Among other features seen in the barn is an original threshing floor with planks that are pegged. The granary room that is intact with its probable original door is very large in that it extends the widths of two bays. The threshing doors are of frame construction with mortise and tenon joinery that was likely common in barns of 150 to 200 years ago.
Fisher Homestead – Superb 1801 Georgian-Federal Stone House and Unique Stone Variant Two-Level Ground Barn and Massive 1862 Stone Standard Barn
The Fisher homestead in Oley Township is another superb example of a collection of historic buildings. The Fisher place is the home of the latest built house on the tour, constructed by Conrad Heinrich and Gottlieb Drexel in 1801. Two barns are seen at the rear of the house complex. The smaller one is unique in the German cultural landscape. Its type may be called a variant ground barn although it does have two levels. The barn measures about 50 feet long and about 28 feet wide.
An over one hundred foot long stone to the peak Standard bank barn appears a number feet south of the variant ground barn. It is dated 1862. It is of five-bay construction – three side by side wagon bays and two end bays.