Connecticut’s agricultural heritage is reflected in the iconic barns, silos and outbuildings that still dot the landscape. Originally a working building to provide practical shelter for storing animals, grain or tools, many barns are still in use today on small family farms or have been adapted to suit modern purposes. Pleasure Farms became popular as traditional subsistence farming became unsustainable, yielding to market forces as larger mid-west farms and supermarkets shipped their produce to this area. Thankfully, the rising popularity of farmers markets, wineries and guest stays mean many of these overlooked barns will continue to survive.
This eating fresh movement is also spreading in the retail businesses strengthening the idea of buying local. Family-owned supermarkets like Big Y and Shop Rite support farmers by buying their fruits and vegetables. Arethusa Farm in Litchfield supplies dairy products and meat to area restaurants and other places.
Sunrise Farm, early 1900s. From the late 1800s until 1955, Sunrise Farm raised Havana seed tobacco. "Sunrise Farm" was painted on the barn around 1900. Photo courtesy of Jeannie and Douglas Parker (click image to enlarge).
From humble chicken coops to dairy sheds for milking cows to grand equestrian centers, the visible architectural features document the evolution of building techniques and the fluctuating fortunes of farming. From the early, simple Colonial English-style “saltbox” barn, the New England style (entry on the end or under the peak), including the bank barn (the Horse Guards barn is a bank barn) to the distinctive red barns set high on mortar foundations or the “post and beam” construction to more ornate Greek Revival farmhouses, barns offer insights into our agrarian past. In the mid 1800s large tobacco barns with louvered sides were built to allow the newly introduced leaf crop to hang while being air-dried, a practice that continued until the 1970s when the market waned. As wealth and innovation progressed in mid-19th century ventilators or cupolas added more light and air circulation. These features still form part of the distinctive New England architecture style we are familiar with in this area.
Barns were usually not considered significant; they were undocumented or not listed on Registers for many years so they slowly disappeared from the landscape. As the farming economy deteriorated, barns decayed and fell into disrepair or were demolished as vast tracts of land was sold for development. In 1972, the National Register of Historic Places designated a section of West Avon as the Pine Grove Historic District. This collection of historic properties are all located within walking distance of each other and includes Sunrise Farm (18th Century); Isaac Woodford Farm (1789); David Rood Farm (1820); Marcus Thompson Farm (1840); Cold Spring Farm (1843) and the Society’s gem, our 1865 one-room Pine Grove Schoolhouse (1865) still on view to the public on Sunday afternoons every summer.
With renewed awareness of the importance of barns, The Connecticut Trust commissioned “The Barns Survey” during 2006-2011. It was a special project involving more than 400 volunteers across the state to document significant, historic barns for their website, www.cttrust.org
. Former Society Board Member, Liz Neff, kindly volunteered to document the Avon barns as part of this comprehensive effort. Her survey includes a photo collection of 45 barns showing how many of them are still in town. As a sample, click here
to read her article about Cold Springs Farm. If you want to view more data, historical narrative and analysis, images gathered, and other barn related information from the survey, please visit: www.connecticutbarns.org.
The Connecticut Trust finished this survey in June 2011, completed their report, and closed the project. However, if you own a barn or live near one that you believe should be documented to enable future generations to research Avon’s agrarian heritage, please contact us. The Avon Historical Society is pleased to continue to photograph and document all the barns in Avon, whether new or antique.