Unique Barns in the Laurel Highlands: “Just for Pretty”

This lovely old red barn, #4 on the Somerset Barn Tour, is adorned by a medallion star, serving as ventilation. 

I’m never not on a barn tour — as I’m out and about, if I see a picturesque barn, I’ll pull over and photograph it.

A close up of the barn star medallion. Note the little star cutouts.

We encountered some lovely barns in the Laurel Highlands — Westmoreland County and Somerset County — that are well worth checking out. 

As we drove along the Lincoln Highway (PA Rt 30) we noticed several barns in either Bedford or Somerset counties that sported pretty murals about the Lincoln Highway itself. 

During our visit to Linn Run State Park, we passed by two lovely barns, both with a peculiar triangle design pattern in the stone and brick walls — form and function — that served as air vents for the barns. 

The next day, while at the West Overton Museum in southern Westmoreland County, we noticed barns with the same pattern, so of course, we asked the docent about the design. 

The West Overton Village Museum barn.

He indicated that the two triangles symbolized wheat sheaves. West Overton Village is a 9th-century village offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about life on the Pennsylvania frontier. 

A single sheaf of wheat represents harvest and fertility. In 19th century Christian burials, wheat represents the body of Christ, and is therefore symbolic of immortality and resurrection — and I wonder if that funerary symbolism crossed over to the barns.

This gorgeous old barn has definitely seen better days.

But the barns of Somerset County steal the show, and deservedly so. These are magnificent barns. Like the gorgeous painted ladies of Victorian-era homes, these late Victorian, early Edwardian era barns sport ornate shutters, brackets, columns and barn stars.

Another barn not on the Somerset barn tour (but which you’ll most surely pass if you go on it).

The Somerset Barn tour offers 18 barns to visit, although there are many more in the area — of course, I stopped to photograph every single barn with a barn star that we passed.

Another very ornate barn star — actually one of my favorites — and also not officially on the barn tour.

Most of the barns are bank barns, meaning that there’s a lower level which typically housed livestock or horses with a bank forming a ramp for easy access to a second level, where farm equipment was usually stored.

These elaborate decorations are linked to Pennsylvania Germans, commonly referred to as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Most of these elaborate decorations were not painted, but were cut out of wood and then applied to the exterior of the barn. Sometimes form followed function, and the barn stars and elaborate shutters served as vents.

No one knows why these elaborate and beautiful barn decorations are localized to Somerset County, although one theory is that a local craftsman made and sold these decorations and wood cutouts. 

This red, white and blue beauty is stop #6 on the Somerset County barn tour.
The shutters serve as vents. The cupola also provides ventilation and adds a distinctive look to the
barn, as does the unusual application of the blue on the shutters. Note the applied columns, as well.

Some local barn builders used barn star designs and decorations as their “signatures” on the barns they built. 

This magnificent barn, #2 on the Somerset County Barn Tour, has three
gabled dormers and applied decorative shutter work that makes it quite distinctive.

The Pennsylvania Dutch had a saying, “Uscht Fer Schee,” or “just for pretty.” These certainly are pretty barns! 

This old lovely barn is not on the barn tour. We passed it
as we navigated from #2 on the barn tour to Laurel Run State Park.

Getting there: Get your brochure for the Somerset County barn tour

Hours: daylight

Looking for more fun things to do in the Laurel Highlands? Check out the articles below:

I love that this newly renovated barn has a modern take on the Victorian barn star tradition.

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