The Tradition of “Barn Red”

One of the most sought after items at Southern Accents wood warehouse is salvaged red barn wood. What is it about the old red painted wood that is so irresistible? For that matter… why are so many barns painted red? A little research uncovered quite a few very interesting facts as to why barns are painted that wonderful color of red!

This picture of a beautiful red barn in Tennessee was taken by artist Mellissa Meeks.

This picture of a beautiful red barn in Tennessee was taken by artist Mellissa Meeks.

As research has it, some settlers in the early 1700’s left their barns unpainted because they simply could not afford the paint. By the late 1700’s farmers began to experiment with ways to make their own paint in an effort to protect the barn wood from the elements. Linseed oil, which has a dark coral hue, was often mixed with skim milk and lime which sealed the wood to help keep it from rotting. This mixture was inexpensive to make and lasted for years. The linseed oil mixture, however, did not address the issue of mold. Mold, in large quantities, posed a health risk for people as well as the animals. Growing on the barn, mold trapped moisture in the wood causing it to decay. Farmers began adding ferrous oxide (rusted iron) to the linseed oil mixture. Rust was plentiful and was a known poison to many molds and moss. The linseed oil and ferrous oxide were both responsible for the red color, but it was more of a burnt-orange red.

Another theory, which has some credence dating back to the American Indians, states that some farmers added blood from a recent slaughter to the mixture which turned the paint to a darker red. Some believe that the darker red color was an effort to make the barn covering look more like brick from a distance, giving the appearance of affluence.

Salvaged red barn wood from Southern Accents was used to cover this wall at Grabow Outdoors in Fultondale, Alabama.

Salvaged red barn wood from Southern Accents was used to cover this wall at Grabow Outdoors in Fultondale, Alabama.

There is also the belief that farmers chose red so that their cows could find their way home! Given the fact that cows are colorblind and can’t see red or green hues, that strategy failed!

Through the years farmers discovered that painting the barn a dark color kept it warmer during the winter since dark colors absorb heat from the suns rays. Black barns were the norm in the tobacco regions of Kentucky and North Carolina, where the barns were used to cure tobacco. The additional heat absorption from the dark paint helped the tobacco cure faster. This discovery could account for the transition through the years to the use of darker shades of “barn red.”

By the mid to late 1800’s as paints were being produced with chemical pigments, red was the least expensive paint color to purchase making it the continued color of choice. Today, many farmers paint the barn red in honor of tradition. After all, what is more picturesque than a beautiful red barn set against a backdrop of a green field or pasture?

This salvaged red barn wood currently sits in our Wood Warehouse.

This salvaged red barn wood currently sits in our Wood Warehouse, waiting to be given a “new life.”

Written by: Lisa Jones


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