The Big Red Barn

The Daily Dig

Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.

Published on: March 13, 2013

I am always one to enjoy a good road trip. Especially if this road trip is through the country on a nice and warm afternoon. Personally, my favorite days to road trip are early Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. Something in the air makes it perfect. And no, it's not the dairy farm down the road I am talking about.

So, on my most recent road trip from St. Charles, Illinois, I wasn't able to take gravel road and enjoy the agriculture. However, I did manage to get lost on a rural highway. No surprise there. GPS can't help this girl. Give me landmarks.

As I made my way home to Iowa, I soon was fixated on the different farmsteads I passed. I observed the placement of buildings, the layout of the windbreaks and the color of the barns. I noticed one out of three barns I passed was colored red. That got me thinking, what was the meaning behind the color red?

Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.
Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.

Back home where I grew up red barns are scarce. They are mostly white-washed, brown or falling apart. Come to think of it, within a 20-mile radius of our farm, I can't recall one single red barn.

So I did some research. Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.

Over 100 years ago, farmers would seal their barns with a mixture of Linseed oil, milk, lime and most times ferrous oxide or rust. Rust is known to kill fungi and mosses so it made for a very effective sealant, and was readily available on farms. Adding rust to the mixture turned it red in color.

As European settlers crossed over to America, they brought with them the tradition of the red barns. Many farmers today will keep tradition and paint their barns red.

Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.
Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.

And that is today's history lesson in agriculture.

Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.
Barns were painted red, not for color but for protection and convenience.