Preservation / Clarence’s Martin/Metz barn
Structure with a story
Gables and a projecting forebay are among the barn’s signature elements.
Photos by kc kratt
Partially hidden at the end of the lengthy driveway located at 9270 Clarence Center Road in the Town of Clarence is a rare example of a Pennsylvania “Deutsch” forebay bank barn dating to the early 1800s. This is one of many significant historic buildings in Clarence.
The Town of Clarence was formally organized in 1808, but was settled in the late 1700s. Asa Ransom and Asa Harris were among the more well-known early settlers. The original town boundaries included the current city of Buffalo, which did not become a separate village until 1810. When Buffalo was burned in the War of 1812, many Buffalo residents fled to Harris Hill, in the western portion of the town, while rebuilding. Settlement continued throughout the nineteenth century, primarily along the Buffalo Road, which is the current Route 5/Main Street. The areas north of Main Street remained largely rural well into the twentieth century, and, according to the Reconnaissance Level Survey of Barns and Agricultural Structures conducted in 2014, Clarence still has more than one hundred extant barns.
What makes this barn special is that most extant Western New York barns of that era are English threshing barns, commonly referred to as English three-bay-barns. Yet, in the Town of Clarence, this and a handful of other barns were built by Germans, whose barns have several features differentiating them from English barns. Although both barn styles have gable roofs, predating the more familiar, brightly painted gambrel roof; vertical, unpainted siding; and wagon entrance doors on the sides, the Germans approached hay and animal storage differently, so that the side entrance on a German barn is usually up an earthen ramp to the second story. Here, they stored hay and other grain. The farm animals were housed on the first floor, accessed by a separate entrance. Often, the second story projected over the first in what is known as a forebay, which provided shade to the livestock below.
It is important to note that although these barns are often called “Dutch” barns, they are not. True Dutch barns dotted the Hudson and Mohawk valleys in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and did not extend west of the Herkimer/Utica area. They were virtually square, not rectangular, had horizontal not vertical plank siding, and steeply pitched roofs with doors in the gable ends.
The Abraham Martin family, part of a wave of German Mennonite settlers who moved from Pennsylvania into Western New York in the early 1800s, constructed this barn circa 1829. As is typical of this era, it is a timber-frame barn, meaning that the structure is built from hand-hewn beams and joints made with notches, wooden pegs, and other wood parts. At approximately forty-by-sixty feet, it is significantly larger than the thirty-by-forty-foot English barns. The primary elements of the “Deutsch” barn style reflected in the Martin barn include unpainted vertical siding, second-story entrance doors from the west side bank, ramp bank, gable ends, and the east elevation projecting forebay. The barn’s stone foundation is visible beneath the forebay. Although displaying common characteristics, this barn also has unique decorative features: specifically, two east-facing gable dormers on the east roof edge.
This rare vestige of our area’s rich rural heritage has been owned by the Metz family for more than thirty years. Although not open to the public, the barn is occasionally featured in rural barn tours. When the New York State Barn Coalition held its annual conference in Amherst in 2001, this barn was the last stop on a day-long barn tour. Visitors toured the interior and enjoyed viewing the many names of former owners carved into the woodwork. The barn and approximately fourteen acres surrounding it have been separated from the rest of the parcel and, in 2015, were placed into a family trust, which will continue to preserve their place in Clarence’s unique agricultural history.