The Barns

Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead's "Mighty" Barns

In the October 1909 issue of American Homes and Gardens Poultney Bigelow wrote, “Ralph Whitehead is a mighty farmer in addition to his other many accomplishments.” While not a “mighty farmer” Whitehead did, however, have “mighty” barns as he intended that farming be apart of his utopian community from its inception. The double barn was designed by Whitehead and Bolton Brown and built by local carpenters, probably Fordyce Herrick, to include multiple levels and measure in at 6,200 square feet. According to architectural historian Cheryl Robertson barns such as these were “the most potent emblem of landed aristocracy” as photographs show Whitehead could gaze from the porch of White Pines to see his barns that were reminiscent of the farms of his English upbringing. Indeed, Whitehead was enamored with the medieval influences of the Arts and Crafts movement and equipped his barn with a dovecote, a sign of prestige for an English lord of the manor and a cupola, a sign of wealth and status for American aristocrats.

The farming was undertaken by Carl Eric Lindin and Hervey White took charge of the milk, butter, and cream allotment from the colony’s thirty cows. In the upper level of the barn, marked with the cupola, housed the hay making enterprise while the lower barn held the creamery. The complex largely supplied the community with milk, eggs, vegetables, and grain until Whitehead died in 1929.

Farmhands did not always appreciate the meddling of Byrdcliffe residents, especially Jane Whitehead. As local historian and keeper of tradition Anita Smith remarks: “Mrs. Whitehead had a vision of the picturesque life remote from reality. One can imagine the reaction of sweaty teamsters goading their oxen to the plow on a hot day when Mrs. Whitehead and Miss [Marie] Little—resembling figures in a Burne-Jones painting in their flowing gowns and veils—would swoop down on them carrying bowls of mead for their refreshment, especially as the mead was non-fermented honey!”

Images

The Barns

The Barns

A view of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead's barn complex at Byrdcliffe. The upper barn, marked with a cupola, was used for storing hay, where the lower housed the creamery. Ralph, Ralph, Jr., Peter Whitehead, and another woman, likely a nanny are also captured in the image. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

The Barns

The Barns

Another view of the barns at Byrdcliffe | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

View of Byrdcliffe likely taken from White Pines.

View of Byrdcliffe likely taken from White Pines.

From this vantage point Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead could gaze upon his "mighty" domain. The Barns are visible below the crest of the hill. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

The Barns

The Barns

Another view of the Barns. This one features a glimpse of the tunnel that linked the upper and lower structures. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Thomas A. Guiler, “The Barns,” UpstateHistorical, accessed December 18, 2017, http://upstatehistorical.org/items/show/3.

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