From Horse-and-Buggy to Modern Day Marvel: The Fascinating History of Amish Pole Barns

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember a scene in the Harrison Ford film “Witness” in which an entire Amish community comes together to raise a barn in a single day on behalf of a young pair of newlyweds. What the farmers lacked in power tools and electricity, they made up for in numbers and old-fashioned building skills. And while a farmer didn’t pay members of the community to help raise a barn, it was expected that he would reciprocate and lend a hand when another neighbor needed a barn, and that the non-builders of the community – women and children – would pitch in to create a festive community atmosphere with food.

Raising a barn for a family was once a common tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in the United States and Canada. Since most rural dwellers at that time were engaged in farming, the need for barns built well and built quickly was urgent for those raising crops or livestock (or both). To get the job done quickly, farmers would prepare all the materials they needed in advance, including any foundation required, before friends and neighbors came in to begin assembly of the barn.

While the tradition has largely died out in most places, it remains a twenty-first century practice in Amish communities. In addition, there are vestiges of the tradition left in the process of erecting a post-frame barn, commonly called a pole barn.

What Is a Pole Barn?

A pole barn is a type of building with simplified construction that can be accomplished quickly. Pole barns first appeared in the 1930s as a more modern alternative to traditional barn raising, which became impractical as farms modernized. Farmers needed larger buildings built faster in order to store the new mechanized farm equipment they were adopting, but they still needed these buildings created with a minimum of cost and labor.

Pole barns use metal steel or wood poles and cross beams to create a sturdy structure. The poles, or posts, act as a frame to anchor the structure a few feet deep into the ground. (The term “pole barn” was used during the Great Depression, when building materials were scarce, as farmers often used recycled telephone poles as the basis for their barns.)

A few decades later, in the 1960s, materials and standardization became more modern, and changed the way post-frame buildings were created. Farmers were able to buy metal components to stabilize the building and eliminate some manual labor. Post-frame buildings became sturdier and more durable.

Present-Day Pole Barns

Today, pole barns are still a great option for farms, industrial sites and any other business that needs sturdy, reliable and inexpensive storage for equipment, agricultural materials of livestock. Because they do not require a concrete foundation, they use less material and can be erected faster than more traditional buildings and tend to use less wood and steel. Because of their design, they also require less labor to build, which saves on costs, and can be customized in terms of style and functionality.

Choose an Experienced Pole Barn Partner

To determine if a pole barn is the right choice for your needs, look for a partner that is experienced in the sales and construction of post-frame buildings.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based CHA Pole Barns has been serving Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Virginia for many years. To learn about how they can help you design a pole barn that will keep your cattle safe and comfortable, visit their website for an online quote or call 717-687-6673.

Contracting with CHA since December 2009, to have two very large buildings constructed at our farm. We have personally referred several friends, relatives and neighbors to use them and we have never heard anything but praise for their workmanship and hard work. Our experience with CHA has shown us that they are most honest, reputable building company we have contracted. Their staff is very hard working, polite and very conscientious about their work. They got the job done on time, work tirelessly and waste no time while working. At the end of the day they clean up the job site and put all their tools and equipment away leaving the job site spotless.

Carin Guelich