Edward M. Fielding

Edward M. Fielding


A collection of New England Barn Photographs

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Living in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont (we even share schools with our neighbors across the Connecticut River), one can almost become in regards to the local scenic beauty of the local family farms that dot this area and their colorful outbuilding, barns and work spaces. 


We have working family farms past down from generation to generation, gentleman farms that grown nothing more than hay and scenery and even wannabee farms in which people build garages or yoga studios that look like classic New England barns.


Placement of a barn was not something left to a landscape designer.  Practical things came into play.  You wouldn't want your dairy's milking area too farm from the homestead if you had to get up every morning at 4am and milk the cows.  Especially in the middle of winter.


Every piece of property is limited by the land but typically the best area is away from any low-lying areas or the bottom of a hill. By placing a barn there, you will run the risk of flooding after a storm. You will want to situate the barn so it is downwind of any residential dwellings to keep the smell from people's living space. Also, try to position the barn so that it gets winter sun, but is shielded from the hottest summer temperatures. Try to position it so it catches the summer winds for further ventilation.  So even if a barn looks like it was placed in the ideal spot for a pleasing composition to the eye, most likely their were practical reasons for its placement on the landscape.


Why are barns typically red?

Red barns look great again white snow and green grass but is not all about looks.  Centuries ago, European farmers would seal the wood on their barns with an oil, often linseed oil -- a tawny-colored oil derived from the seed of the flax plant. They would paint their barns with a linseed-oil mixture, often consisting of additions such as milk and lime. The combination produced a long-lasting paint that dried and hardened quickly. (Today, linseed oil is sold in most home-improvement stores as a wood sealant). Now, where does the red come from?

In historically accurate terms, "barn red" is not the bright, fire-engine red that we often see today, but more of a burnt-orange red. As to how the oil mixture became traditionally red, there are two predominant theories:

  • Wealthy farmers added blood from a recent slaughter to the oil mixture. As the paint dried, it turned from a bright red to a darker, burnt red.
  • Farmers added ferrous oxide, otherwise known as rust, to the oil mixture. Rust was plentiful on farms and is a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, which were known to grown on barns. These fungi would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay.

Regardless of how the farmer tinted his paint, having a red barn became a fashionable thing. They were a sharp contrast to the traditional white farmhouse.

As European settlers crossed over to America, they brought with them the tradition of red barns. In the mid to late 1800s, as paints began to be produced with chemical pigments, red paint was the most inexpensive to buy. Red was the color of favor until whitewash became cheaper, at which point white barns began to spring up.

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