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Which is More Americana - Old Barns, or Old Churches?

Updated: Jun 22

I remember back in the old days when two places were always important; any person's church or any person's barn.

pretty white church on a hillside
Coldwater United Methodist Church, Lincoln County, TN

Before we go too far into the question of old barns versus old churches being more Americana, we need to define the word "Americana". Americana is usually defined as "items that reflect on American culture or American history". That makes sense. Often when I am out with my camera and people ask about my photography I tell them that I shoot Americana photography. If they seem puzzled by that term I add that, "if it looks like America, it is Americana".

I sometimes tell people that if I say "small town" photography that will be close. However, even though I have said that many times, it is probably not accurate. While lots of good Americana items/photos can be found in a small town, there are probably as many, or more, Americana items found out in the countryside.


Old barns and Americana

A hundred years ago a much higher percentage of Americans were farmers. In those days farming was not a side job or a part-time affair. A man farmed to put food on the table and a roof over his head - for both himself and his family. Farming was serious business and was much more challenging than it is today. The timely weather reports that we have today did not exist back then. Advanced chemical fertilize and pesticides were rare. Modern tractors and other modern equipment of today did not exist.

Today when older people see a pretty old barn, they think about the old days when a farmer had lots of livestock and fields of crops and the barn was "headquarters" or maybe the "mission control" for all that farm activity.

Some people might see an old barn as a hollow building, a shell with no soul, waiting to fall down or be torn down, to be removed like an eyesore or scrap from ages past. And while that view is partly true, it falls short of seeing a different time in America - a simpler time when family was held dear in a man's heart, just like God and the American flag.

People respected each other, because they each earned that respect. Farmers knew that they would help their neighbors if needed, just like they would receive help from those neighbors if they were in need. If a man's property was damaged by a storm, or in case of sickness or a death in the family, or any family disaster, a farmer knew that his neighbors would be there to help. It was a different time, and old barns are a reminder of that time and those people.

All of that is what an old barn means to lots of people. That is American culture and history, and that is Americana.


Old churches and Americana

The beauty of an old church is more than its outside. A beautiful old church reminds us of many things. One is that, as we see fit, we can worship God along with others in our community - doing that worship all together as a group, not just a congregation, but as a family - a family united in worshiping a good and loving God.

A second thing is that our ancestors worshipped that same God in that same building, which reminds us that God has always been around. Just as God is there for us today, he was there for our grandparents and their grandparents years ago, maybe in that same building that is still here.

To be allowed to worship God as we see fit was part of being an American a hundred years ago and two hundred years ago. Our nation's Founding Fathers wrote about God in our founding documents because they recognized that 1) Americans, as a group, were religious people and 2) the rights of Americans were not rights decided on by men, or granted by the King. Those rights were part of being a human being and as such were given to each person by their Creator. That idea is deep in the roots of America.

The wise person and the not-so-wise both recognize a church as a special place. The religious person and the not-so-religious person (and the in between people) all recognize a church as a solemn place of honor and respect. If a person believes in God, they believe that God is everywhere, not just in that building; but that building is the place where they set all other things aside to concentrate on God and his message for them. Thus it is more than a building. It has meaning in our culture and our history and as such, it is part of Americana.


So which is more Americana?

I will not say that either old barns or old churches reflect America more than the other. Each is a part of America. Each has its place in history and American culture. Now if you want to say that old barns are more Americana than old churches, or vice-versa, I won't argue with you. That freedom to speak your own opinion is also very American.

And don't forget that comments are welcomed here at the bottom of this page. Tell us what you think...

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Aug 17, 2023

Hi, I found your website through your chess club. This was an interesting read! I am not an American but I have visited the USA a couple of times. From an outside perspective I would say that American churches look nothing like the churches you can find over here in the EU and anywhere else I have visited. That being said, I feel as though the barns still look more American than the churches. I think I feel that way because I used to watch western movies when I was a kid and those barns remind me of those movies. And what is more Americana than westen movies, right? Either way, great photography. I would love to see more!

Aug 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your kind remarks!


Aug 12, 2023

Picture Americana would love to read you thoughts here...

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