Barn Preservation Society
to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns
Spring 1993, Vol., 6, Issue 1, Part Two
Dutch Anchorbeams In Pennsylvania
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
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
(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
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
Dutch Barn Preservation Society
The Mabee Farm Historic Site
1080 Main St. (Rt. 5S)
Junction, NY 12150
Phone: (518) 887-5073
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