Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys


New York Colony was preceded by New Netherland, settled under the direction of the Dutch West India Company, during the relatively short span of years, beginning in the 1620's, ending with the English take over, 1664. The Dutch West India Company was a mercantile company, mainly interested in establishing a favorable balance of trade with the Indigenous population and the European settlers on lands within their influence. Dutch cultural influence was manifest in numerous areas and lasted well beyond Dutch control of lands, stretching from the Delaware to the Connecticut Rivers. One such area of influence is the Dutch-style barn.

While the structural details of the Dutch-style barn were in fact brought from the Netherlands, the execution was quite different in New Netherland. The Old World barns included living quarters for humans, their animals, and storage for crops. New World Dutch-style barns were seemingly without exception, built strictly to house the settler's harvested crops, and, to shelter their farm animals during the winter months.

Considerable conjecture has accompanied explanation why settlers, who were used to the combined functions of barn and house, would build separate structures to satisfy these needs in the New World. We know that early settlers were quite self reliant. That is, early settlers, especially those removed from the Atlantic coast, were faced with the necessity of providing the bulk of their necessities, food, shelter, and clothing, until such time as they could produce a crop or other product that could be traded for money or produce they lacked. Given these conditions, settlers often constructed a rude shelter, be it a roofed dug out or relatively simple log cabin, while concentrated their efforts on clearing land for crops and constructing a commodious barn to house their harvest.

The Dutch-style barn architecture provided the settler with appropriate space for crops and animals, when needed. This style of barn represented structural design very similar to that constructed in the Netherlands and along the Rhine River upstream, including the German Palatinate.

Accounts relate that it might be several years before the settler could clear sufficient land to raise a surplus of crop(s) for sale or barter. During these early years, the barn was the premier farm building, and the farm homestead remained a rude shelter. Self sufficiency was not a desirable way of life, and, settlers strived mightily to produce a surplus commodity that would allow participation in the mercantile system; raw materials traded for finished goods. Those settlers fortunate enough to produce a significant surplus crop for sale, or in the case of Hendrick Klock's family, combine farming with their successful trading post, could then construct a substantial farm homestead.

We know that Hendrick Klock, a Palatine German immigrant, purchased a portion of Lot 13 in the Francis Harrison Patent, 1725. Johannas, a son of Hendrick and Maria Margaretta Klock, remained at home, helping to clear additional land and develop their trading post, located appropriately along the then East-West thoroughfare, the Mohawk River. During 1750, the main portion of the stone house was built, the North wing being added 1764.

A Dutch-style barn, similar to that relocated at Fort Klock in recent years, would have been constructed prior to the stone house. And, the earlier barn would have included the same salient features as the present barn.

Note as you walk through the double Dutch doors into the Fort Klock Dutch-style barn, the large central isle, accompanied by a smaller side isle on either side. You will no doubt marvel at the large horizontal anchor beams, tenons protruding through the upright columns, separating each bay. The Klocks would have driven their horse or ox drawn wagon onto the central isle, pitched the sheaves of wheat onto the split poles laid longitudinally on the lower side isle struts. From atop these poles, the sheaves would have been pitched onto split poles laid longitudinally atop the anchor beams.

During the late fall, when the crops were all gathered and stored, Johannas Klock would have opened the double Dutch doors located at either gable end of the barn, and pitched sheaves of wheat onto the central isle, which now would serve as threshing floor. Using a wooden flail, he would remove the heads of grain from the stalks. The grain would be separated from the chaff and stalks by winnowing; shoveling the flailed produce into a winnowing basket, and tossing the contents into the air stream, created by opening the double doors at either end of the barn. The cleaned wheat was stored until use or sale in the granary located along part of one side isle.

As the leaves fell from the trees and shrubbery, and the flakes of snow foretold the coming of another winter, the Klocks would bring their few livestock into the barn. Cows were normally stantioned, while sheep and pigs were penned, along one or both side isles, during the severe weather, when forage from forest and field was not possible. The stored grain crops and domesticated animals housed in these barns were important to the sustenance of the settlers and their animals, as foodstuffs to help feed the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and, help make up the food shortage in the New England Colonies as well.

Barns, such as the Fort Klock Dutch-style barn, were targets of the torch during devastating raids. During October, 1780, Sir John Johnson led a raiding force into the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys. In addition to the loss of lives as a result of this raid, then Governor Clinton indicated, "we have lost at least a hundred and fifty thousand bushels of wheat, besides other grains and forage and two hundred dwellings." Sir John Johnson knew full well, that timing his devastating raid during mid October, would find the years harvest stored in the barns. The aim of Sir John was to make life in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys untenable, which he nearly accomplished.

We can see how the Dutch-style barn was well suited for its intended use, built for a farm economy based primarily on the production of grain for home use and sale of any surplus.

There are a dwindling number of Dutch-style barns located in areas primarily settled by Dutch and Palatine Germans during the 17th and 18th centuries. Those barns remaining have largely been altered, in keeping with the change from grain to dairy animals as the basis of the farm economy. During a study of remaining Dutch-style barns located in the mid Mohawk Valley, the most frequent alteration included raising one full story onto a limestone foundation, which housed a cattle stable. Many of the raised barns now have ramps along one side, where doors were installed, leading to the now upper story, where hay is stored.

A very few Dutch-style barns remain on their original rock column foundation. It is a tribute to their makers that where roof and foundation have been kept intact, barns, some predating the American Revolutionary War, remain structurally sound and make a powerful esthetic statement, where form truly follows function!

Paul C. Flanders

Copyright 2004. Paul C. Flanders, Fort Klock Historic Restoration. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

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