Monday, June 17, 2013

Smokehouses, Privies, and Corn Cribs: Historic Outbuildings on the Farmstead

I'm kind of obsessed with old outbuildings. I LOVE them and find so many uses for outbuildings on today's modern homestead or small farm.

likely and old dairy barn, Alamance County, NC

gabled barn, Pamlico County, NC 

either a privy or smokehouse, Franklin County, NC

A couple hundred years ago and earlier outbuildings were essential to the farmer-- a profession in which the majority of Americans participated. A farm was not complete without a handful of dependencies including structures such as:

- detached kitchen
- privy (or outhouse, sometimes called a "necessary")
- smokehouse
-spring house or dairy
- corn crib
- livestock barn
- chicken house
- tobacco barn
- storage sheds for hay or grain storage
- pack houses
- dairy barn
- horse barn or carriage house
- greenhouse
- well house
- canning shed

small cottage possibly used for overseerer of farm or servants cottage, Pamlico County, NC

former smokehouse, Yancey County, NC

spring house, Yancey County, NC

most likely a former dairy barn, Iredell County, NC

Most farms didn't necessarily contain all these outbuildings, but at least a handful of them were needed. Even older urban homes sometimes contained a privy, detached kitchen (if in the South), and a carriage house.

farmstead with collection of surviving outbuildings, Duplin County, NC

The placement of outbuildings either behind or to the side of the main residence or farmhouse often followed a pattern depending on geographical region or type and purpose of the farm. Several architectural historians have looked at this in their research and one of my favorite books on the subject is John Michael Vlach's Back of the Big House.

Livestock barn, log construction double crib, Hoke County, NC 

Most outbuildings were constructed with wood as the primary material but there are many also constructed of stone, brick, stucco or other hardy materials. More recently farm outbuildings have been commonly built with concrete or metal. I still think outbuildings are incredibly versatile today for the modern homesteader. First of all, we can never have enough storage, and many older outbuildings can even function in their original purposes. Minor updates and careful repairs may be all that are needed to stabilize and preserve historic outbuildings.

I know wherever our family ends up buying a permanent home I hope the property comes with a variety of old outbuildings- I can find uses for all of them!


  1. I love old outbuildings ! I love riding through the country here in N.C and seeing these great tobacco barns ! I always think who built them ? The history behind old buildings are priceless ! Have a wonderful day

  2. I love all the old red barns in my native state of Wisconsin. More and more, as farms need newer buildings, they are building metal ones. Of course, they do not have the same charm!

    I also love following several Scandinavian blogs in which the owners have saved older farmhouses by dismantling them and then building a "new" house with the logs as a starting point. Those farms often come with the dependencies also.

    1. Do u have a list of those blogs sounds like the ones I like ?

    2. Andy,

      I'm not sure if you are replying to my comment, but two Scandinavian blogs I like in particular are Lundagard and Mamsell Lufolk. Their building skills are amazing.

  3. I'll add New England's sugar shacks to the list too.

    I had a lot of friends that lived on properties with outbuildings as a kid. Some were on working farms, others were left unused from times gone by and were used a huge playhouses. I remember a lot of fun times climbing up old ladders to hay lofts and swinging from old ropes in these beautiful buildings.

    1. Yes- New England sugar shacks for sure! I'm sure I left out a lot of outbuildings only common to specific regions. That would be an interesting post in itself!

  4. I love outbuildings as well! So much history and they are so useful. We looked at one house before we bought our current place and what we liked most about it was all the old outbuildings.

  5. The house next to us has oodles! We have a huge barn and a huge garage, but not the outbuildings. They used to keep their chickens over the garage, which I find interesting. Fun pictures!

  6. I'm fond of old barns especially... Our neighbor has a partial underground barn that is soooo close to our property. If he ever sells - we'll have to negotiate with him about buying the barn. We have a tree house and a garage - that's about it! :) Great photos!

  7. You should consider reading Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn by Thomas's a great book!

  8. Wow...I share your love for historic buidlings!...great pics...

  9. I just checked via Internet and my local library has the "Back of the Big House" book. Thanks for mentioning it! I'm going to go check it out this week and learn something. :)

    Love this post. Barn outbuildings need a champion!