December 08, 2022

Building a future: Farmstead designs evolve over time

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. — There’s a good reason your grandpa’s hog barn wasn’t built close to the homestead, or why a line of evergreen trees was planted on the border of the family farm.

Indiana’s founding farm families designed their properties based on what made sense at the time.

Maplelawn Farmstead, a nonprofit in Zionsville, is a living museum that gives a glimpse into an almost 200-year-old farm.

“When areas were first settled and farmsteads were first built, there were certain factors that affected how a farmstead was laid out,” explained Tommy Kleckner, spokesman from Indiana Landmarks, during a tour hosted by Indiana Barn Foundation.

“One of those was weather conditions. As you get further south, it didn’t matter. Buildings were further away. You get further north, you start to see building groupings come closer together to cut down on the amount of time outside.”

Windbreaks and groves were placed to protect buildings from the cold north winds in wintertime.

Ethnic traditions also affected how farmsteads were laid out.

“As Europeans traditions were brought over by early immigrants, the first and second generations held to those,” Kleckner said.

“Then you started to see changes in agriculture dictate more of how buildings were laid out. You also had land surveys that affected how farmsteads were laid out.”

At Maplelawn Farmstead, land surveys played a big role in design.

The farm was oriented with the roadways in a grid system — a common feature of farms in northern Indiana.

“As you get down south, you start to see topography be more of the factor of how a farmstead was laid out,” Kleckner said. “They put the barn and house in the flattest area. But here, you’ve got the house toward the main roadway, the buildings behind.”

“What’s wonderful about Maplelawn Farmstead is how intact it is — the fact that this many historic agricultural outbuildings survived.”

The farmstead tells the story of how agriculture evolved from when the area was first settled.

Grain storage was located near livestock barns to make life easier.

“They would have been growing multiple crops,” Kleckner said. “It was about self-sufficiency. There would have been corn, barley, wheat. And that continued until the turn of the 20th century.

“The mechanization of farms was evident. Early on it was hand-shucking ears of corn from the field to a wagon. Once mechanical corn pickers came around, you started to see buildings built for storage of ear corn — the corn crib.

“Once we got combines, we started to see early grain bins show up on the farm. Early corn storage would have been simple little wood structures.”

The theme of self-sufficiency can be found throughout the farm’s life. The families who owned the farm raised chickens and hogs in addition to growing crops.

The chickens were kept closer to the house so the farmers could keep an eye out for predators. The hogs were kept further away because, well, they don’t smell so great.

Through hard work and care, the farm continues to be a part of Indiana’s rural history.

Learn more at maplelawnfarmstead.org and www.indianabarns.org.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor