Why are most barns in New York painted red? It's actually a tradition that began hundreds of years ago and has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with affordability.

Central and Upstate New York is filled with acres of farmland. On that land, you more than likely see a red barn. But why red?


Why Red

Barns in the Northeast often featured thick vertical boards in the 1700s and early 1800s. By the mid-1800s, farmers started adding thin wooden clapboards horizontally on the outside of barns to reduce drafts and keep animals comfortable during the harsh winters, according to the Modern Farmer.

These clapboards were sawed quite thin, so painting them provided needed protection and dressed up the appearance of the barns.

Brabant Farms
photo courtesy of Brabant Farms

DIY Paint

Paint wasn't around in the mid-1800s so farmers made their own to protect and seal the wood using an orange-colored linseed oil from seeds of flax plants. They'd often add everything from milk or lime to ferrous oxide or rust into the oil, according to the Farmers Almanac.

Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, it was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red in color.

The reg pigment penetrated well into the wooden boards and resisted fading in the sun, allowing barns to age gracefully for generations.

Credit - Critz Farms
Credit - Critz Farms

Honoring Tradition

When paint eventually became more available, many farmers still chose red for their barns in honor of the tradition that began many years ago. Plus it was the most affordable paint option.

The 1922 Sears and Roebuck catalog offered red barn paint for just $1.43 per gallon. Other colors sold for almost a dollar more at $2.25 per gallon. And when you're painting this much wood, the most affordable option is the best one.

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