Author to tell how to ‘read’ farm’s past from its barns

Forget about the cows, horses and chickens. When Cindy Falk looks at a barn, she sees history. She h

Forget about the cows, horses and chickens. When Cindy Falk looks at a barn, she sees history.

An associate professor of material culture at SUNY-Oneonta’s Cooperstown Graduate Program, Falk will be at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction on Saturday for a talk titled “Barns of New York: Rural Architecture of the Empire State,” which is also the title of her latest book, published by Syracuse University Press. The program is sponsored by the Schenectady County Historical Society.

“I’m talking about how you can look at a farm and read the buildings, and then learn things about the place,” said Falk, a native of Wayne County just west of Syracuse. “You can discover it’s history. Was the farmer Dutch? Was he English? You can learn all kinds of things about the farm.”

Agricultural history

A graduate of Penn State who went on to get her doctorate in early American culture at the University of Delaware, Falk has been teaching in Cooperstown for 12 years.

‘Barns of New York: Rural Architecture of the Empire State’

WHAT: A lecture by Cynthia G. Falk

WHERE: Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm, 1080 Main St., Rotterdam Junction

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $5, free for members of the Schenectady County Historical Society

MORE INFO: 887-5073,

“My new book provides an overview of agricultural buildings in New York, and along with the big, multiuse barns, that includes chicken coops, windmills and hop houses,” she said. “My goal was to tell the history of New York through its agricultural buildings.”

She has traveled throughout New York researching its barns, meshing architecture with agriculture. Her three favorites include the Windfall Dutch Barn in Salt Springville out near Cherry Valley; the Bronck Family Dutch Barn, home to the Greene County Historical Society near Coxsackie; and the Dutch barn at the Mabee Farm.

“Because I teach a museum studies program, I like barns that are accessible to the public,” she said. “The Mabee Farm and the Greene County Historical Society are two great places, but my favorite, and it’s probably because it’s the closest to me, is the Windfall Dutch Barn.”

What makes it Dutch?

How does the novice identify a Dutch barn?

“The first thing you look for is, where are the big double doors?” said Falk. “On an old English barn, they’re on the long side of the building, on the eave side. A Dutch barn has its double doors on the gable end of the building. As you enter, you’re entering underneath the peak of the roof. Dutch barns are also typically one-story buildings for multiuse. They were intended for threshing grain, housing the animals and for storage.

“And, if you’re lucky enough to get inside,” she continued, “Dutch barns have a very distinctive type of framing. They use H-bents, which means the framing looks like a series of the letter H going down the building.”

Falk said groups like the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, created in 1986 by the Regents of the State of New York, are vital to maintaining this important aspect of early American history.

“You can look at the glass being half full or half empty, and it’s true there were a lot more Dutch barns in New York than there are today,” she said. “But the good news is that so many people have taken an interest in them, and groups like the Dutch Barn Preservation Society are making more people aware of how important it is that we save these great pieces of history.”

More barn talk

The historical society and the Dutch Barn Preservation Society will host another talk on barns at the Mabee Farm on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 3 p.m., when Robert Sherman presents “The Housebarns of America.” Sherman, from Springfield, Ill., is a member of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society and a board member of the National Barn Alliance.

For more information on the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, see

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