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What Makes A Red Barn, Red?

If you've ever roamed the rural countryside, it's likely you've seen the red barns that speckle the farming landscape. Inquiring minds want to know - Why are the barns red?! Here are a few fun theories:


- Some people have speculated that barns are painted red because it makes a visible target for bulls to find their way home...and the cows just follow the leader. We personally think this is an awesome theory! One tiny problem, cattle are colorblind and can't see red or green. Ok...does this spark more questions, or is it just me?


- Farmers would seal the wood on their barns with a burnt-orange colored mixture of linseed oil, milk and lime or turpentine. The combination dried quickly and lasted a long time, but it didn't really protect the wood from fungi. Linseed oil soaks into the wood leaving a shiny, but not glossy, surface that shows off the wood grain. In historically accurate terms, regardless of the color, having a painted barn became a fashionable thing. They were a sharp contrast to the traditional white farmhouse.

- Farmers needed to find a fungi fighting paint and, being natural repurposed upcyclers, decided the best solution was to add iron oxide, otherwise known as rust. No, they weren't scraping their old machinery, the element is common in soil, thereby providing a dirt cheap additive to the traditional linseed oil mixtures. Rust is a poison to barn-eating mold and moss. The recipe was a success! A little bit of rusty brew went a long way in protecting the wood, and it gave the barn a nice red hue!


- Many farmers of the early American settlements preferred trying to outsmart the elements rather than paint their barns. Barn builders decided on a location based on a careful assessment of the wind, sun, and water exposure. They figured the right type of wood in the right environment held up fine without any paint. This theory worked great until the barn building boom demanded a quicker, easier fix for wood preservation.


- Whitewash was an inexpensive solution for early settlers, but that wasn't the only reason it was the paint of choice. White barns were especially common on dairy farms in some parts of Pennsylvania, central Maryland, and the Shenandoah Valley because the color symbolized cleanliness and purity.

- Unpainted barns were the norm throughout the poorer regions of Appalachia due to sensibilities. A painted barn was a sign of extravagance and since the main function of paint was merely to add color, farmers didn’t see much point in spending money to make their barns pretty.

- Brown and black was the color of choice in the regions of Kentucky and North Carolina. The dark colors helped heat the barn and cure tobacco, the primary crop of the area.

- Mass-produced paints made with chemical pigments became available to most people by the late 19th century. Red was the least expensive color, making it popular for use on barns dominating the Northeast and Midwest landscape.

If you have a Red Barn Theory don't stay on the fence - Share it! We are in suspense!

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