Both Schweitzer and standard barns in the region are frequently found with a practical large earthen bank at its rear, which allowed wagons carrying sheaves of grain or loads of hay to bridge the threshing floor. Perhaps the greatest advantage though was the bedding of animals in a stable area on a level separate from the threshing floor, unlike the English-type barn called in the Germanic dialect, a “Deshutt Shire.” Farmers who did not have enough ground to make a rear bank to reach the threshing floor and hayloft often compensated by constructing a large ground-covered vaulted stone support structure sturdy enough to withstand the weight of farm wagons as they rolled over it into the threshing floor above.
The dirt covered vaulted structure performed double-duty as a bridge to the upper level and as a root cellar with a wooden arched door on one side to permit entrance and a vent-hole at the other end. Not nearly as good for storage of root crops as those cellars were dug below the surface of the earth, these stone-vaulted compartments were mostly used for storing apples or only used during the winter months. These forebays built on the Schweitzer and standard bank barns did more than shield the stable doors from rain and snow. Adjacent to the barnyard, the protected area of the forebay overhang, where feed was stored, often had built-in tack closets to hold the harnesses and bridles for hitching horses, and provided an excellent work area for impromptu farm chores.
These standard Pennsylvania barn with projecting forebay had evolved from the classic Schweitzer (Swiss) bank barn into the predominant agricultural structure of Pennsylvania by the turn of the 19th century from the Great Valley of Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The standard barn for reasons above became more widely chosen over any of the other ethnic varieties. The major difference of the standard barn being the use of symmetrical bents that include the barn’s forebay within the main barn frame rather than making it an adjacent component in the barn’s frame as in the historic Schweitzer barn found prevalent in the southeastern PA Dutch counties of Berks, Montgomery, and Lehigh.
A ladder beneath this forebay allowed the farmer access to the hay and straw hays above without going around outside to use the second floor earthen bank behind the barn. One interesting feature of an early Pennsylvania Dutch bank barn was the “Schpriggel bar,” a bar that the carpenter masoned into the side jamb of the horse stable as the doorway was being framed. This sliding three-to-four-foot bar was drawn across the stable door when opened to allow the stabled creature some ventilation. When looking nowadays for this rare feature the researcher should look to the left side of the stable entrance. The horse stable entrance was historically different from the numerous cow stables, because it may have wooden pegs masoned into its walls to hold horse collars or harness.
By the time the Pennsylvania bank barn of the 1820s had evolved into an efficient farming structure, it also featured a hooded cantilever entrance to the rear feedway at the gable end of the barn. Feedways were still incorporated in the cow stable entrances under the forebay, but now the gable-end entrance also served as a major feedway entrance, sometimes allowing access to the straw and haylofts above on the main threshing floor. The vital cross-ventilation afforded by the gable-end entrance in summer was more than fashionable, and really a necessity against combustion as well. While English barn counterparts had only a ground level threshing floor, the elevated Pennsylvania Dutch barn’s design allowed threshers to pitch the excess loose straw down into the spacious barnyard where some of it was used to bed animals immediately in the compound, and including the large number of chickens and pigs in their adjacent pens. Also beneficial, the laborious task of harvesting grain and straw was advantageously processed.
**Note to readers, the farmer does not wish me to divulge the exact location for privacy and trespassing reasons, therefore the picture if of a common bank barn of the region without this rare feature but does incorporate smartly designed balanced hex signs on its forebay.