Learn more about George Washington's great farming innovation, the 16-sided treading barn.

1. The 16-sided barn was designed by George Washington in 1792 and constructed by skilled enslaved workers between 1792-1794.

The barn was a two-story structure, 52 feet in diameter. The 16 exterior walls were each about 10 feet 3 inches long.

2. The barn was located at Dogue Run Farm, located about three miles from the Mansion. 

The other structures in the Dogue Run Farm complex included two stables which could house more than two dozen horses, mules, and oxen as well as two corn cribs for drying a variety of crops including flax, beans, peas, etc., which would have fed the enslaved population, the Washington family, and some livestock.

Dogue Run Farm

3. Several of Washington's hand-drawn designs for the barn survive and can be found in the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association collection as well as the Library of Congress today.

A 1795 plan of the barnyard complex, including the barn, stables, corn houses, fencing and livestock pens. The barn is probably the best documented agricultural building of the period.

4. Washington calculated that 30,820 bricks would be required for the construction of his 16-sided barn.

In a letter to William Pearce in May of 1795, Washington included the amount of bricks he estimated would be needed to build the foundation and first floor walls. He went on to say that he thought 40,000 bricks would not be too many to fire, considering possible loss and breakage during the firing process.

The bricks would have been fired in a kiln on the estate; the clay that was dug for the barn's foundation was used to make the bricks.

View letter

White oak from the Mount Vernon estate was used in the 1996 reconstruction. 5. The lower level of the barn was brick, while the upper level was constructed from three types of wood:  yellow pine, white oak, and cypress.

The brick foundation made for a sturdier structure, and masonry was preferred over wood because the lower level was built into the earth; wood would have rotted rather quickly in that situation.

The upper level was wood frame. The siding and most of the framing and flooring of the barn were built of southern yellow pine. The treading floor was white oak. The barn roof was covered in three-foot cypress shingles.

6. Washington's innovation protected the precious wheat from the rain and mud, which yielded a cleaner, more valuable product.

7. The innovative barn was also designed to prevent theft.

Washington also hoped to secure the grain against thieves and called for barred windows on the lower level and strong locks on the doors. There was no access between floors from inside the barn. Pilferage was of great concern to George Washington, as wheat was his cash crop.

8. George Washington considered himself first and foremost a farmer.

George Washington studied and implemented improved farming methods throughout his life. In fact, he thought of himself first as a farmer.

While his initial interest in farming was driven by his own needs to earn a living and improve Mount Vernon, in later years Washington realized his leadership and experimentation could assist all American farmers.

Washington the farmer

9. The treading barn was reconstructed in 1996 on the Pioneer Farm site at Mount Vernon.

The five-year reconstruction project of George Washington's 16-sided barn was completed and opened to the public on September 27, 1996. 

Pit sawing a framing member using colonial tools and techniques for reconstruction of the 16-sided treading barn in 1996.

10. Daily demonstrations at the reconstructed treading barn are conducted seasonally.

In the late summer through the fall, Mount Vernon's historic trades experts and horses demonstrate wheat treading in the 16-sided barn. 

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