bank barn with dark green siding and light colored metal roof sitting beneath the evening sky

The History of Bank Barns: From Europe to America

While bank barns today serve a multitude of purposes and are built by contractors nationwide, they were once exclusively used for farming, with their roots dating back to the 1660s in England. Built into the side of a hill, with two levels accessible from the ground level, they have been used primarily in locations with uneven landscapes and on steep-sloping properties.

The design, construction, and use of bank barns have come a long way in the past few centuries, though. With a unique architectural design and practicality, they have played a significant role in agricultural history, but are now popular for residential and commercial uses as well.

Let’s take a look at the current status and unique history of bank barns from Europe to America.

Origins of Bank Barns in Europe

In addition to England, in countries like Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands, where the landscape is known for its hills and slopes, farmers faced the challenge of constructing barns on uneven terrain. The two-level design of a bank barn allowed them to deliver hay and other farming materials into the second floor while using the lower level to house their livestock. The naturally insulated first level kept a regulated temperature, which provided a comfortable living space for the animals year-round. The second floor was mainly used for storing hay, grains, wagons, and, later, machinery. The overall design of bank barns allowed farmers to maximize the layout of their difficult-to-work-with properties.

Bank Barn Migration to America

As Europeans migrated to America, so did many of their building techniques and architectural styles. Bank barns quickly gained popularity among farmers in the American colonies, especially in regions with similar topography to the countries migrants were coming from. In fact, as colonists moved to the New World, one type of bank barn became known as “a Pennsylvania barn,” which was especially popular from 1790 to 1900. Its design borrowed from traditional bank barn styles found in England and Switzerland, with its most prominent characteristic being a forebay overhanging the doors on the first level, shielding them from rain and snow.

Bank Barns Today

While modern farming practices have changed significantly over the centuries, bank barns continue to have a place. Though the necessity for traditional bank barns has diminished due to advancements in agriculture and construction, they hold nostalgic and historical value to many farmers.

In additional to agricultural use, historic bank barns are often repurposed as storage buildings, event venues, or party barns (which can house anything from living space to art studios to game rooms). Their unique design and rustic charm make them sought-after structures for people who appreciate their historical significance. In fact, preservation efforts have become popular in recent years, with organizations and individuals recognizing the importance of maintaining these cultural landmarks.

Interested in Building a Bank Barn?

The continued use of bank barns is a testament to the design and creativity of previous generations. Originally built out of necessity in Europe, they have come to be an integral part of American agricultural and architectural traditions. While their role has changed over the years, bank barns continue to stand as iconic structures.

B&D Builders is a well-respected and highly sought-after builder of custom bank barns, equestrian facilities, luxury homes, and more. Whether you’re thinking about restoring an old barn or building a new one, check out our project gallery for inspiration. Or, if you’re ready to start your custom bank barn project, contact us today. We look forward to working with you to build something truly spectacular.