You are here
Woodlawn Manor Barn
In 1832 local stonemason Isaac Holland built the Woodlawn Barn for Dr. William Pennell Palmer. Among the most substantially built and well-appointed agricultural buildings in Montgomery County, if not the state, at the time of its construction, it remains so today. It was erected in the manner of the traditional Pennsylvania barn type that originated in southeast Pennsylvania in the 1730s. The Pennsylvania barn’s heyday was between 1790 and 1840, a period of expanding markets and more scientific methods of farming. By the end of the eighteenth century it was the dominant barn form throughout Pennsylvania and neighboring states, and had diffused westward by the mid-nineteenth century. Among the characteristic features of the Pennsylvania barn is its siting: it is banked into the hillside to provide direct access at ground level to both the stabling at the lower side of the hill and the threshing floor at the upper side. The Woodlawn Barn is actually of the less typical expanded three-story, stone-arched, forebay type, a variation on the Pennsylvania barn introduced by the Quaker farmers of Chester County, Pennsylvania (from where Dr. Palmer, also a Quaker, originated). The late-eighteenth-century emergence of the multi-purpose barn that is now a ubiquitous part of the nation’s agricultural landscape resulted from the consolidation of earlier assemblages of smaller outbuildings—such as the hay barn, granary, stable, wagon shed, etc.—into one large, multi-functional structure.
The stone-arched forebay is distinguished by the arcade at the lower level that provides light and ventilation for the animals stabled there, as well as a covered workspace for the farmer and his farmhands. As a multi-purpose structure the Woodlawn Barn includes livestock stabling, a threshing floor, hay storage, granary, corn crib, and root cellar under a single roof. The Woodlawn Barn is of particular interest because it appears to reflect the rise in scientific approaches to agriculture instituted by Sandy Spring farmers during this period. Local physician William Palmer was also a progressive farmer. As a member of the Enterprise Farmer’s Club of Sandy Spring, Palmer was among those who adopted innovations in farming methods including the use of guano, lime, and plaster fertilizers, as well as crop rotation and the transitioning from tobacco to grain production. The construction of the barn was part of a larger program of renovations and improvements to the Woodlawn property, which includes a brick manor house (c. 1800), to which Palmer made numerous changes and additions. The builder of the barn, Isaac Holland, was a neighbor, living at the historic Snowden’s Manor, and was also a member of the Sandy Spring Friends community.
Woodlawn Barn is constructed of rubble stone with large, cut stone quoining. And as an “expanded” type, it rises a full three stories in height to include an intermediate story between the thrashing floor at the upper level and the stabling at the lower level, to accommodate a granary and two-story hay mows. The first level includes open stabling for livestock and there is also a vaulted root cellar located to the rear. Beyond the arcade is the stable yard. Moving upwards, the next level is partitioned into three bays with the center bay containing the granary, flanked by the hay mows (or hay storage areas) that rise up two stories and open to the roof. The granary is further partitioned into individual metal-lined bins for the storage of grain. The uppermost story, accessed by an enclosed/covered ramp, is composed of a threshing floor used to process grains. To either side of the threshing floor are the hay mows that originate at the second level. A doorway flanked by windows in the front wall of the forebay provides light and ventilation, and would have originally provided a draft for hand threshing and winnowing. This section also includes a corncrib built into one side of the barn near the main entrance; on the other side is an enclosed winder stairway down to the second level.
The development of the extended Pennsylvania barn was a direct response to changes in agricultural practices following the American Revolution and accelerating by the turn of the nineteenth century. The nutrients within the soil of older farms were by this time depleted after generations of single-crop cultivation. In the Philadelphia region where this barn type originated, the crop was grain, whereas it had been tobacco in the Sandy Spring community and other areas of Maryland. Agricultural societies like the one at Sandy Spring, promoted the use of fertilizers and crop rotations and, in fact, the Quaker farmers of Sandy Spring are credited with introducing these innovations to Montgomery County. As occurred at Woodlawn, the production of clover and grass promoted additional livestock, which in turn created more manure to be used as fertilizer. Continuing the cyclical effect, more livestock increased the demand for hay/straw production and the need for its storage, thus further necessitating an enlarged multi-purpose barn. The Woodlawn Barn is without equal in the county and is likely a reflection of Dr. Palmer’s wealth as well as the progressive farming techniques that he shared with other members of the Enterprise Farmer’s Club. The barn is particularly well-designed and well built, including attention to function and detail. Its open arcade with brick voussoirs, and stone construction with over-sized decorative quoining add to its aesthetic appeal, as does the barn’s date stone with Palmer’s initials and the date, “W.P.P. 1832,” in the northwest corner.
Ensminger, Robert F. The Pennsylvania Barn; Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America, 2nd ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Lavoie, Catherine C. “Woodlawn, Barn,” Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, HABS No. MD-578-A, 2013.
Vlach, John Michael. Barns. Norton/Library of Congress Visual Sourcebooks in Architecture, Design, and Engineering. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.