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Barns have held a particularly important place among most Mennonite farmers probably because of their conscientious interest in the stewardship of crops, machinery, and livestock.

From the structural standpoint, one found three general types of barns in the United States and Canada. First, the large general utility type barn found on farms among those with a Swiss and German Mennonite background. By and large, they were found among the Pennsylvania-German cultural stock. The barns were distinguished by their two stories. The livestock was kept on the first floor and the harvested crops and farm machinery on the second. Usually the second floor contained a wide driveway. Many of these large barns were called bank barns because they were erected with one side against a natural or artificial incline or a hill so as to make it possible to drive with farm wagons and machinery directly onto the second floor. In the eastern United States and Canada farmers generally housed their animals during the winter months. Many of them were dairy farmers and made every effort to house their cattle carefully. Therefore larger buildings were needed for livestock, forage, grains, and machinery.

Mennonites in the eastern part of the United States and Canada often displayed artistic tastes in painting their barns. A wide variety of artistic designs could be found on their barns in the 1950s. A white painted arch over the window of a red painted barn was a common decoration; stars of varying sizes were also frequently painted in central positions on the barn sidings; and other geometric designs were also found. Frequently pictures of a model horse, a cow, or a fowl were painted on a conspicuous place on the barn.

The second general type of barn among Mennonites was found chiefly in the midwestern and western parts of the United States and some parts of Canada. The barns were not as large as those in the east because they were generally not used to provide storage of straw and livestock, but mostly for a kind of temporary shelter for livestock in the more severe winter weather and as a milking shed for those engaged in dairying. The straw and hay were often stacked in the fields or in the barnyards. Machinery was frequently left outdoors throughout the entire year. The high winds and occasional cyclones may account for the fact that barns were lower and smaller in structure. It wes noticeable that among these Amish and Mennonites in the Middle West whose parents moved from eastern Pennsylvania communities, the same large, eastern-type barns were found. Mennonites in the Middle West generally painted their barns but artistic designs were seldom found except occasionally on farms of those who carried over the pattern from their eastern background and Swiss Mennonite heritage.

The third type of barn was common to western Canada, especially Manitoba. It was a single story frame structure, in many ways similar to that found in the midwestern United States, but it was attached directly to the residence and often under one roof with it and the shed to the rear. There was always a direct passage from residence to barn. This type of farmhouse, composed of three structural elements, including the barn, was a Frisian survival transplanted from Russia along with other aspects of European culture. It had been adopted by the Mennonites in Prussia, taken along to Russia and in the early days also to western Canada and, more rarely, the United States. In the original arrangement of the barn, the cows were stabled on both sides of a central feeding alley, while the horses faced the wall next to the residence.

In addition to these general types there were many variations among the scattered Mennonites in various parts of the United States and Canada, such as those in the warmer climates of California and Oklahoma, and the cooler climates of Washington and Minnesota. There was a noticeable variation in the concern exercised for the care and appearance of the barns and accompanying outbuildings. In some areas barns were not painted or well kept up, but in by far the largest number of Mennonite communities, especially in the older settlements, an unpainted and ramshackle barn was a rare exception. In many communities group pressure was exercised against those who do not paint and maintain their barns, and well-kept barns became a source of community pride. On the other hand, in some areas, such as earlier in Ontario, the unpainted, weathered barn was a folk-custom, which by no means always indicated a careless attitude. (See Architecture.) Barns are often used by the Amish for church services, also special occasions such as weddings.

Author(s) J. Winfield Fretz
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Fretz, J. Winfield. "Barns." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 29 Nov 2023.

APA style

Fretz, J. Winfield. (1953). Barns. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 236-237. All rights reserved.

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