A number of readers have reminded me that the large barn on the north side of Grooms Road, just west of Grooms Corners is celebrating its centennial. This fact is fairly obvious since the large white gambrel roof structure sitting on the edge of the road has the date of construction “1901” displayed prominently on its slate roof. The farmhouse, owned by the Brown family, is located on the opposite side of the road. Some old timers may remember the baseball diamond known as Brown’s field located behind the barn. (publisher’s note: this historic barn was unfortunately demolished by a local developer.)
Barns are among the most conspicuous and easily recognizable features of the countryside. They are visible links to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. Not long ago most residents of our town lived on farms or in small hamlets close to the countryside. Their acquaintance with barns was intimate. They knew them as workplaces, dance halls, social centers for husking bees and similar activities, and even as religious sites, where congregations gathered before a formal church was built (the Schauber barn on Old Schauber Road was used as a meeting place for the Burnt Hills Baptist Church).
Although a person might be a doctor or printer or lawyer by profession, he or she was also, of necessity, a farmer. Husbandry was often not only a business, but also a way of life. You farmed to feed your own household and livestock. The character of our town, however, has changed. Many of the barns left standing in Clifton Park are no longer used for farming. These white elephants are expensive to maintain, and are often neglected and deteriorating.
Dutch settlers like the Van Vrankens and Vischers who lived along the river in the Forts Ferry and Vischer Ferry area built the first barns in Clifton Park. These barns, now long gone, were undoubtedly of the Dutch type. This compact, gable-front barn is square or often somewhat wider than long. It has large wagon doors, one or both of which are Dutch doors, and single, small doors near one or both gable-end corners. The moderate-to-steep roof pitch means that the height of the ridge is more than twice the height of the low side walls. There is little or no projection of the roof beyond the wall. Examples of this style barn can be seen at the Altamont fairgrounds, and at the Maybe House in Rotterdam.
Shortly after the American Revolution, as immigrants from New England poured into the Clifton Park area, the “English type” or New England Barn became prominent in town. This barn is timber-framed, with post-and-beam construction. It is side-gabled with a central runway used for threshing and usually equal-sized spaces on either side used to store sheaves of grain (three bays including the runway). The bays are sometimes divided by lightweight construction. The barn has a single story, with a loft for hay storage. A small room in the back corner served as the grain bin, and stalls for horses were usually in one of the end bays. There is a low stone foundation, or sometimes the barn sits on individual large rocks.
Fine examples of the English barn survive throughout Clifton Park. The barn at the Abner Irish House on Vischer Ferry Road south of Ray Road is a fine example. Another early example can be found nearby on Taylor Drive. One of the barns at King Crest Farm at Grooms Corners is yet another example.
A variant of the English barn is the raised barn. Commonly 30-50 feet wide by 60-100 feet long this English barn is raised on a stone, brick or concrete foundation. Doors to the basement are usually on the gable ends, but sometimes on the down slope side. Often it has inaccessible threshing doors opening to the rear side. Usually it rests on level ground with an earthen ramp or barn bridge built to the wagon doors. The Droms barn on Droms Road, and the Caldwell barn on Route 146 are examples of the raised barn.
The gambrel roof is a dual-pitch roof that covers the same wall dimensions as a gable roof, but allows for much more loft storage space. Gambrel roofs often have been used to replace worn-out gable roofs. Silos were added to barns in later years. Most existing silos were built in the 1900s.
Dating an old unrecorded barn is a job of detection. Even then, the answer is usually nothing more than an approximate guess. Vertical marks of the up-and-down saw usually indicate a pre-Civil War building. Irregularities of those marks may distinguish the older of these structures. Siding put up with cut nails dates a barn as being built after 1800, but wrought nails were used wherever clinching was customary, as in battening doors. Round nails, of course, are recent.
Clifton Park is fortunate in having at least four barns where the date of construction is displayed prominently with different color roof slate. The earliest is a large white barn on the farm of the late Guy Howard on Riverview Road just east of Vischer Ferry. Hannah Wool Fellows, widow of Lewis Fellows who had drowned in the Erie Canal in 1877 built this large raised English barn in 1880 (as indicated on the roof). She had finished building the farmhouse the year before.
The Caldwell barn on the north side of Route 146 west of Waite Road displays both the date 1887 and the initials B. R. C. on its roof. This raised English style barn was built by Barney Caldwell, and is still owned by the family. Both the Fellows and Caldwell barns have cupolas that serve as ventilators to prevent spontaneous combustion of the hay.
Not far away, on the west side of Appleton Road is another large barn displaying both date and initials in its slate roof. The date is 1898 and the initials “N. C. H.” are those of the builder, Nelson C. Hayes. Although the farmhouse was removed several years ago the barn is still in use. Around the corner on Grooms Road is the large gambrel roof barn with the 1901 date in the roof, built by Abram Brown.
Sometimes the barn builder dated a beam or inscribed his name inside the barn someplace. My wife and I have a barn on Vischer Ferry Road that contains several pencil inscriptions, stencils, and dates. William Leversee, L. Brown of Rexford (a relation of the Brown who built the 1901 barn?), and B. Hutchinson of Elnora have all left their mark. The dates are from the very early 1900s, when an earlier barn was rebuilt or replaced.
Most barns were painted red, because that was the cheapest paint color available, and barns needed a lot of paint. Later as paint became less expensive barns were painted white to match the farmhouses. Besides red and white barns there are a couple barns in Clifton Park recently painted a dark green, and one that is painted a bright blue. The blue barn is of course on Blue Barns Road.
Probably part of a larger barn complex, the remaining blue barn survives on the corner of Blue Barns Road and Bradt Road. It is just south from the old Delaware and Hudson Railroad crossing, and tradition tell us that the barns were painted blue by a former owner because he liked the blue color of the passing D & H railroad cars.
Joe Platukis of Jonesville, a railroad historian, tells me that the official colors for the D & H Railroad were blue and yellow, and for many years, passenger cars, freight cars and even the diesel engines were painted those colors. The major color was blue and the trim was yellow. One wonders if the owner of the barns may have worked for the railroad and used left over paint.
Clifton Park is indeed fortunate in having so many barns that still exist. The State and Federal governments have begun offering incentives for barn owners to preserve these buildings. Not long ago grant money was awarded for barn restoration projects. The Barn Preservation Act passed last year offers tax incentives for barn repairs. Barns, whether in good condition or weathering alongside a highway, provide relief to a landscape dotted with new houses. They are reminders of a lifestyle that is rapidly passing.