A few weeks ago I discussed the New Hartford Barn Survey, done as part of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s statewide survey. In general most of the barns in New Hartford fall into the general-purpose barn category. However, the barn type that people generally think of is the dairy barn; perhaps because these were often some of the largest buildings in a town, eclipsed only by the big mills. Generally they were built on two levels: a large open-span hay loft and a stanchion/tie stall floor below for the cows. In addition to the main barn, the complex also contained a small milk house, often the only stone or cinder-block building on the property, along with silos and semi-open sheds used for housing the calves. Early dairy barns usually would take advantage of natural topography: by combining a ramp with a natural slope access to the hay loft by wagon was possible. By the early twentieth century developments in hay-elevators meant that hay lofts no longer had to be reached by wagon or by manually pitching the hay, giving more flexibility in site planning.
Dairy barns milking forty to a hundred head were common across Connecticut, but their heyday was relatively short: the late 1800’s to post WWII. Prior to the 1870’s large dairy farms were unheard of, except for a few cheese-making farms. This was due to the simple fact that without more efficient transportation and refrigeration there was simply no market for milk produced in large quantities at any distance from a city center. However, the combination of three factors: the growth of industrial/urban centers; improved transportation links, namely the railroad; and technological advances in the storage and shipping of milk; all meant that dairy farming became a major business in the late nineteenth century.
New Hartford still has several large dairy barns visible from the public road: the Ramstein farm at the corner of Ramstein Rd and Rte. 202; the Weingart’s farm on Gillette Rd; the big barn at the Jerram winery which was built in 1906; the Barden’s farm (although that was rebuilt after a fire in the 1960’s); the old white barn on Burdick Road; and the old South View farm on Niles Road (an example of the smaller type). There are also others in town, but these are easily viewed from the road. While several of these barns are vacant if not abandoned, they, for the time, still stand as proud monuments to a part of New Hartford’s agricultural history.