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Barn, Steere–Angell–Colwell Farm

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1930s. 1987, addition to west. Snake Hill Rd.

The house on this property replicates a modified eighteenth-century predecessor destroyed by fire in 1938, but the barn is interesting in its own right. Elizabeth Colwell commissioned professional engineers to build this gambrel-roofed barn, said to represent a model animal barn of the period. As a barn image, it is a type that became one of the most popular of the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s it was the barn for model trains; in the 1970s and 1980s it was the barn for the storage of garden tools and the lawn tractor. Its replication is a favorite in roadside restaurants, antique outlets, and tourist general stores where a barn image is sought.

When a particular image has such currency as the stand-in for its type, a good example is worth notice and thought. The shape swells to the load of hay it contains much more efficiently than a gable permits, while its bloated appearance seems a metaphor of fecundity. At this scale, moreover, the gambrel also invokes hills.f

Beyond its volumetric shape, however, surely the image of its end elevations also makes it memorable. Rectangular openings of various sizes stretch around the perimeter as a monster mask, the center line emphasized by the largest openings and their aggressive diagonals. In the most handsome examples of this type, as here, the abrupt angularity of the gambrel silhouette is modified by a flare at the eaves and, over the hay loading door, by the projection of the roof into a visor for the lifting pulley.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "Barn, Steere–Angell–Colwell Farm", [Glocester, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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