Folk Architecture - Log Buildings of Southern Indiana

Warren Roberts was a leading expert on log barns; his book, Log Buildings of Indiana, published by Trickster Press in 1996, quickly became a standard resource. The passage cited below strums a familiar refrain: Warren’s insistence that rural society of the pre-industrial era, or roughly 95 percent of the American population, is the appropriate subject of folklife study. His roots in literary folkloristics and the historic-geographic method that characterize folklore study of the period 1940-1960 are plainly evident in his reference to cultural origins and diffusion of barn types, construction materials and methods, and farming practices. Much like the buildings he studied, his own paradigmatic shift from a literary to a material culture folklorist represents diffusion from a specific point of origin.

"A study of the buildings of the self-sufficient farms of southern Indiana reveals a way of life that existed there and elsewhere for hundreds of years. The patterns of self-sufficient farming, and the family and community life associated with them, were brought from Europe, flourished along the East Coast of the United States, and were then transferred into the Midwest by people who had inherited a strong tradition, including a knowledge of how to build houses, barns, and other farm buildings. They knew how to work with wood, how to hew logs, how to split shingles, how to lay out the floor plan of a house or barn; in short, they knew how to build and what to build, for all this knowledge and all these skills were part of their inherited lore.

Consequently, by studying their buildings, we can learn about a way of life characteristic of the overwhelming majority of the population for an immeasurably long period of time. Early barns can tell us about the ethnic and regional origins, paths of migration, routes of diffusion, traditional farming practices, subsistence patterns, and traditional building techniques. It is for these reasons that early barns and other farm buildings are one of the most valuable sources of information for the student of folklife, the life of most of the population in the preindustrial era."

"Early Log-Crib Barn Survivals,” in
Allen G. Noble and Hubert G.H. Wilhelm's Barns of the Midwest, 26.