What’s up with those oddly-shaped barns in the Smokies? Well, the cantilever barn is a late-19th century style of architecture found primarily in Sevier and Blount counties in east Tennessee. The unusual design features an overhang, or cantilever, over one or more storage areas known as a crib to the mountain farmer.
It’s believed that this architectural style of barns predates the more modern design principle of “form follows function.” Because the Great Smoky Mountains receive over 80 inches rainfall annually, they are one of the rainiest places in the continental United States. This high level of rain and humidity in the Smokies created a constant struggle for farmers to keep their crops from rotting. The cantilever barn provided a great solution for funneling rain off the roof and away from the storage cribs. The open space between the cribs kept the structure ventilated allowing air to circulate further reducing spoiled inventory.
There is also a long-standing rumor in the Smokies that the unique cantilever design was created to stay one step ahead of the government tax man. Apparently, taxes were assessed based on the total square footage of a structure touching the ground. Barely a third of the cantilever barn is on ground level. By building a cantilever barn instead of a traditional barn the farmer would have saved big on his tax return!
There are several examples of the cantilever barn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In Cades Cove the Tipton Homeplace has a nice double cantilever barn at the Cable Mill Historic Area. Hikers will want to seek out the John Messer double cantilever barn one mile up Porters Creek trail in Greenbrier. The Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee has fine examples of both single and double cantilever barns.
Cribs housed livestock, tools, agricultural products and supplies. The cribs often measured twelve feet by eighteen feet and had a breezeway separating them. The upper logs of each crib were much longer than the others to create the cantilever. The cantilever doubled as the floor for the large upper loft. The loft was typically used for storing hay and drying tobacco.The cantilever barns often had a gabled roof.