English Barns are the ur-barns in Connecticut. Are far as we can tell, these are the types of barns that the first settlers created. Based on the grain warehouses of the English colonists' homeland, the English barn is a simple building with a rectangular plan, pitched roof, and a door or doors located on one or both of the long sides of the building. In interpreting an early sketch plan for a complex that may have been constructed in Guilford by Bray Rossiter, historian Robert Blair St. George suggests that the barn shown in the drawing may have been a side entry barn. (See figures 1 and 2) Certainly the earliest barns that remain standing in the state (and, New England) follow this plan – for example, the Stiles Barn in Southbury (Figure 3), the barn at the heart of a large complex in Shelton (Figure 4), and an early barn in Norwalk (Figure 5) are all good examples of how early barns in the state looked.
In the New World this traditional building type was organized, according to architectural historian John Michael Vlach, both for efficiency in use and economy in construction, as a multipurpose building that housed animals, grains and equipment. This multi-purpose use is reflected by the building's construction in three distinct bays - one for each use.
The English Barn is interesting, in part, because of its continued use in the state. Not only are Connecticut’s earliest barns English barns but many of the 19th and even some of the 20th century barns use this plan. Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing into the modern era, new approaches to barn construction were introduced. Washington created his famous round barn at Mount Vernon. This plan was intended to maximize the use of space and would be championed, on and off, by agronomists for more than a century. Gable entry barns were introduced in the early 19th century. These lend themselves to expansion because their central aisle, under the ridge of the roof, means that they can be added onto with little difficulty by extending the building along this axis. (If you extend an English barn in the same way it often requires the addition of a second door, since the central aisle can’t be extended in the same way.) Other innovative plans followed including those designed specifically for single crops, such as tobacco sheds. And yet Connecticut’s farmers continued to build English barns, often incorporating innovations that could be adapted to the form. (Figures 6-10)