Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER Spring 1993, Vol., 6, Issue 1, Part Two

Dutch Anchorbeams In Pennsylvania
Swiss-German Barns

by Greg Huber
Photos by the author
The term "anchorbeam," the anglicized form of the Dutch word ankerbalk, was popularized by John Fitchen in his book, The New World Dutch Barn, published in 1968. An anchorbeam, the conspicuous large beam with protruding tenons, is the horizontal member of the H-frame bent that characterizes Dutch barns. A Dutch barn anchorbeam is a most distinctive and diagnostic feature. Originally, in some seventeenth century accounts, anchorbeams were referred to as loft beams, because they carried the poles or other flooring for the loft.

The bents are the structural internal framing, consisting of horizontal anchor beams, vertical posts and diagonal braces, that render support in vernacular barns. It has been assumed that only Dutch barns have H-bents with anchorbeams, since no original condition English or Pennsylvania barns with anchorbeams have been reported in the literature. The rarity of the appearance of a Dutch barn-type anchorbeam was confirmed in correspondence and conversations with three authorities on Pennsylvania barns - Robert Ensminger, Alan Keyser, and John Heyl. The author, however, was fortunate to discover three forebay barns in Bucks County, each with one anchorbeam per barn. Two of these special barns were observed in 1978, and one early in 1992,with help from Ron Walter, of Hilltown, Pennsylvania.

These barns, although of Swiss-German origin, may reflect a Dutch influence resulting from a complex migration of Dutch families from Brooklyn, New York, which by 1765 had reached as far as York County, Pennsylvania. From there, they moved into Virginia, now West Virginia, and finally into Mercer County, Kentucky, according to research by Howard Gregory, of Harrodsburg, Pennsylvania. Some of these families may have stopped in Bucks County.

Pennsylvania barn in Doylestown has stone in gable ends. Structure on left is a later addition obscuring the forebay or overhang.

Pennsylvania forebay barns are distinctly dissimilar from Dutch barns. The Pennsylvania forebay barn is always of two levels and has an extended upper level or forebay that appears as an overhang above the first level stable wall. This overshoot projects from three to as much as 20 feet, but is generally four to seven feet. These barns are built into a slope or are banked on the upper level at the rear to permit loaded hay wagons to enter through large doors, unload their contents and exit out the same doors. These doors lead into the central threshing floor. On either side of this floor are haymows. In the forebay or overhang, the granary is found. On the lower level are stables for livestock. Thus the basic functions that are carried out in Dutch barns are performed in Pennsylvania forebay barns as well. Forebay barns were built as early as 1725 to 1730/ according to Bob Ensminger of Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, through the rest of the eighteenth century, and throughout the nineteenth century.

Pennsylvania barns most often have bents that have their main horizontal beams stretching from side wall to side wall, in a manner very similar to English barn construction. In contrast, Dutch barn bents have horizontal main beams or anchorbeams that end generally 10 to 11 feet from the walls.

All three Pennsylvania forebay barns found with a single Dutch-type anchorbeam had the anchorbeam incorporated into the upper floor level. The anchorbeam stretched from a post in the bent flanking the threshing floor on one side to a post of the bent on

the opposite side of the threshing floor. Thus this single anchorbeam per barn was arranged parallel to the roof ridge line and was situated approximately two-thirds of the way back from the rear upper floor wall. Each anchorbeam was of oak and had extended and double-wedged tenons on each end.

Additional Information: The following are some additional details about each of the three Pennsylvania forebay barns which incorporated a Dutch barn-type anchorbeam:

(1) Barn in Furlong, Bucks County; Pennsylvania. The anchorbeam had six-inch extended tenons. The barn, made of stone extending to the peaks in the gable ends, was a fully-supported Pennsylvania forebay barn, i.e. the forebay was supported by a wall at each end. It is no longer standing.

(2) Barn in Doylestown; Bucks County. Here another fully supported Pennsylvania forebay barn is still standing. The barn, 60 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a forebay extending five feet, is supported by stone walls 17 inches thick. This frame and stone barn has a slate roof and end walls of stone extending to the roof peak on both gable walls. (See photo.) The fore bay faces 30 degrees west of south. The anchorbeam is 20' 6" long including the extended tenons. These are 8 1/2" long and 2 1/4" thick. At its midpoint, the anchorbeam is 13 3/4" in height and 9 1/4"in width. Both tenon wedges are about 13 inches long. The upper surface and the lower edge (soffit) of the anchorbeams are both curved so that the anchorbeam forms a distinct arch. (See photo.) On the rear vertical surface facing the front or forebay wall appear nine equally spaced mortises that house 8" by 3" milled joists. These extend to a similarly arched horizontal beam that is without extended tenons. This beam abuts the outside forebay wall. These two arched beams and joists in concert seem to function for extra hay storage in the middle bay of this three bay barn. The soffit (lower edge) of the anchorbeam at its midpoint is 8' O 1/2" from the threshing floor.

Both columns that the anchorbeam passes through are about 8 1/4" by 6 3/4" and the anchorbeam-column juncture has diminished, haunched shoulders, called Niefalz in Pennsylvania German dialect, according to Charles Speicher of Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. There are no braces connecting the two. The frame and stone barn is in excellent condition except for a few minor areas, and probably dates to between 1795 and 1820. A Will of 1825 suggests the barn predates 1825. The farm where this barn is situated has come to be known as the "Home Place."

(3) Barn near Carversville, Pennsylvania, off Route 413 in Bucks County. Removed in 1978, the barn was a closed forebay Pennsylvania barn but, unlike the previous two barns described, the upper level was of frame construction. The length of the anchorbeam including extended tenons was 18' 1 1/2". At its midpoint the depth of the anchorbeam was 12 1/2 inches and it was 8 1/4" in width. Tenons extended at each end 7 1/2" and were two inches thick. Tenon wedges were exactly one foot long and their cross-section was 2" by 1 3/8". This anchorbeam was very similar to the No. 2 barn anchorbeam in form and overall dimensions. It, too, was arched.

The column the anchorbeam passed through was 6 inches wide and 14' 10" in length. The soffit of the anchorbeam at its attachment to the column was seven feet from the bottom of the column. No braces attached the column to the anchorbeam.

Single Dutch barn-style anchorbeam introduced into Pennsylvania forebay barn shows a gentle arch. Tongue protrudes through column.

Today only one of these three unusual barns remains intact. It is probable that no one will ever know with certainty why one or more Swiss-German barn builders chose to utilize a distinctly Dutch barn construction technique, inserting an anchorbeam in order to increase the hay storage capacity in a relatively small area in these barns. Undoubtedly there were once other Pennsylvania barns in Bucks County and perhaps elsewhere with at least one Dutch barn-type anchorbeam in them. The use of anchorbeams in barns other than Dutch barns is a testimonial to the value of an anchorbeam supported in the Dutch fashion within the barn, and a tribute to the Dutch barn building model tested through hundreds of years by vernacular barn builders.

The author is a Dutch Barn Preservation Society Trustee who has studied many barns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In The News

The Jan Mabee Farm at Rotterdam Junction once boasted a full complement of barns, including a Dutch barn, right center. The barns are now gone, but recently the steep-roofed house from c.1680-1706, with its rare outdoor kitchen and attached small building, has been donated to the Schenectady County Historical Society, which will operate the site as a historical museum. Photo courtesy Schenectady County Historical Society.

RESEARCH FINDS: Old Dutch Barn Photos

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