Red Barns “An American Icon”

Red Barns – History

As you drive around, there are red barns that are part of the landscape.  While red seems to be the typical, standard color for barns, this has not always been.  

In the past barns weren’t red in fact, they weren’t painted at all. The early farmers that settled in New England had limited income and paint was not a priority, so most of their barns remained unpainted. In the late 1700s, the farmers realized they needed a solution to protect the wood on the barn.  Farmers began experimenting with ways to protect from the elements by making their own protective paint.

A rusty-colored mixture was developed with a recipe consisting of skimmed milk, lime and red iron oxide.   Farmers used materials available such as  iron oxide the compound from red clay which provided a copper color from the soil.  Flax plants provided linseed oil used to seal bare wood against rotting, and it stained the wood a dark coral hue.  Farmers were pleased with this formulation because it was inexpensive and lasted for years.  

A unexpected benefit of the homemade paint was it helped keep the barn warner during the winter because the darker color absorbs the sun’s rays. Red paint spread in popularity due to its functionality and convenience, becoming a standard.

Red barns have become an American tradition that continues to this day. For me, there is a new appreciation of these old barns.