Pennsylvania Barn Stories

(This is a proposal I submitted for a Guggenheim grant in the fall. I didn't get the grant, but I still intend to do the project.)

I spent a lot of time driving the Interstate 81 and 80 corridors in Pennsylvania this summer and began to pay attention to barns. I saw old barns and new barns, deteriorating barns and barns that had been converted to other uses. I began to wonder about their stories and thus was born this proposal.

I want to not only photograph barns that have unique stories behind them but also to include their stories in a coffee table book titled Pennsylvania Barn Stories. The Penn State Press is interested, according to Kathryn Yahner (kby3@psu.edu), assistant editor, whose areas are Pennsylvania history and regional studies. When I outlined this proposal to her, she replied: “I would be happy to look at a final manuscript—this sounds like an interesting project, and one with a good potential fit with our list. Do keep me apprised of your progress. At the point where you have some sample material to share, I'd be very interested in discussing the project in more detail.”

First, I have to find the barns, and I have mapped out a plan to do that. I have as one resource The Pennsylvania Barn: Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America (Creating the North American Landscape) by Robert (Bob) Ensminger, a professor emeritus of geography. This is the only book devoted to Pennsylvania barns and the barns are specific to a certain style whereas I will consider all barns. It is an academic study, not a popular book, but it does contain some information about barns that might have stories. I’ve also found books and Websites about barns in a certain county or in a certain area and I will use those as needed. (According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania has 63,000 farms. Agriculture is the leading industry in Pennsylvania.)

The Historic Barn & Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania has volunteered to publish in its newsletter an item about the project. I will also send news releases to news media outlets throughout the state and ask their help in publicizing the project and even identifying barns with stories. In the meantime, I’ve opened a page on Facebook devoted to collecting Pennsylvania Barn Stories. (The first half-day generated one contact and others followed.)

I don’t want to prejudge what barn stories are worth telling, but the possibilities include architecturally and historically significant barns, barns that have been in families for generations, new barns built in a different style (I have identified one already), barns that have been converted into houses (I know of four conversions and one in progress) or other uses (I know of two). An Amish barn raising should also be on the list.

Once I have a list of willing participants, I will map out photographing the barns and collecting the stories. I expect each barn will require at least two days of on-site work in order that I may photograph in the morning and evening light as well as taking interior shots during the day. I plan on using the high dynamic range process, especially for the interior shots. High dynamic range is a process that results in sharply detailed photographs. (See interior photograph of St David’s Cathedral in Wales above.)

I also want to take photographs to cover the range of seasons so I anticipate that I would return to some barns to photograph them in different seasons. Between identifying barns, photographing the barns and collecting the stories, and returning for seasonal photographs, three years is a reasonable timeline.


  1. Hello,
    Dave Scofield, the director of Meadowcroft, division of Heinz History Center here in Avella, PA, passed your email on to me. I have been working with Meadowcroft for many many years. I have my families farm bought in 1797 and has always remained in our family. We have a lot of history here and our barn was built about 1803. You might be very interested in checking it out. It sounds like what you are looking for from your email. We also have a sheep barn that is in rough shape built around 1850's. If you are interested please contact me. 203-858-7778 or margie@mancheter-farms.com. Also check out my website which is a work in progress www.manchester-farms.com. If I can get your email I can send you some more specific information and photos (not professional) if you think this might be of interest!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.