Outbuildings are an essential part of any farm or rural homestead, providing storage, work areas, and housing for animals. The first settlers in West Virginia built most or all of the buildings on their farms out of logs, the prevalent building material during the clearing of the land. Later farmers used stone, sawn timber, and brick, and in recent times, manufactured materials. A farmstead consisted of a house, one or more barns, and outbuildings. The outbuildings included smokehouses, granaries, corn cribs, garages, privies, springhouses, chicken houses, and lesser buildings.
Historically, smokehouses served both to preserve and store food, although modern smokehouses tend to be smaller metal sheds used purely for smoking meat. Historically, the smokehouse was usually located close to the farm kitchen. Until the late 19th century, log construction was favored for building smokehouses. The tightly chinked logs would hold the smoke and heat but release moisture, which a brick or stone building would not do.
Storage cellars are still used in West Virginia. They commonly are dug into a hillside convenient to the house, rather than under the house, the earth providing insulation against heat and cold. Cellars are most commonly used to store root vegetables through the winter, but all sorts of food can be preserved in a storage cellar, including canned goods. A popular arrangement was to build a small above-ground room over a root cellar, with the upper room entered separately and perhaps used as a workshop. Some cellars are built over springs, which emerge from the hillside in that place; a pool fed by the spring can keep milk and other dairy products at a constant cool temperature year-round. Cellars of this sort often are referred to as dairies.
The icehouse was a common farm outbuilding in the days before electric refrigeration. An icehouse was usually a low building with a stone foundation, dug into the earth, often a hillside. Large blocks of ice were cut in winter from nearby ponds, lakes, and rivers and stored in the icehouse, packed with sawdust to insulate against summer heat.
Corn cribs are important structures on any farm for the storage and drying of corn. They are typically long, narrow buildings built of slats with ventilation spaces between or, historically, of logs left unchinked. The corn crib is usually constructed on high piers, either of wood or smooth stone, to keep rodents out and to keep the corn away from damp ground. Often, two corn cribs are joined by a single peaked roof. The interior passageway between the cribs is kept clear to allow a wagon to load or unload grain out of the weather.
Chickens were common, and chicken houses provided shelter and a secure roost. Early chicken houses were sturdy, often tightly chinked, log structures built on continuous stone foundations to prevent predators from burrowing inside. On most small West Virginia farms, the chicken population would be low, enough to produce eggs and meat for the consumption of the farm family, perhaps with a surplus for sale or barter. However, modern chicken farming takes place in prefabricated metal barns with automated feeders, and a single barn often houses thousands of chickens.
This Article was written by Elizabeth Oliver Lee
Last Revised on October 22, 2010