A Short History of Vermont Agricultural Buildings

Historic Picture of Starksboro FarmsteadVermont farm families have continually adapted their barns and farm buildings to keep up with changing markets, technology, and styles. For early families, a single barn provided shelter for livestock, a storage space for grain and animal fodder, and a protected area for work and chores.

By the 1850s Vermont farmers faced increased competition from farm products shipped by railroad from western states, and they began specializing in dairying and other income-producing activities. On many farms the main barn became the dairy barn, as farmers built separate for horse stables, granaries, corn cribs, poultry houses, shops and equipment sheds. In the second half of the nineteenth century new machines for mowing and harvesting allowed families to farm more land and increase their livestock. Farmers built very large barns to house their herds and to reincorporate many of the functions that had for a time been in separate buildings. As the making of silage became popular, interior and then exterior silos became a fixture on dairy farms. To improve sanitation, farmers began keeping milk cool in small milk houses attached or next to their dairy barns.

In the twentieth century dairying became the dominant farm activity. Tractors and electrical power transformed much farm labor. Sanitation regulations required washable concrete floors in barns and the cooling of milk in separate milkhouses and then bulk tanks. Buildings for horses gave way to equipment sheds for motorized field equipment. Purchased bulk feed replaced many traditional grains raised since first settlement. Although the number of farms in Vermont has dropped dramatically, the amount of milk produced has not.

© 1995 Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. All rights reserved.

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