Cantilever Barns: Mountain Architecture

While log cabins in the Great Smokies were not all that different from log houses built anywhere else in a hardwood forest, the overhanging barns erected in East Tennessee were found in few other parts of the country. Writing in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, Marian Moffett reported that she and another researcher found "only six cantilever barns in Virginia and another three in North Carolina. By contrast, 316 cantilever barns were found in Tennessee, with 183 in Sevier County, 106 in Blount County, and the remaining 27 scattered from Johnson to Bradley counties." Professor Moffet coauthored East Tennessee Cantilever Barns, published by the University of Tennessee Press in 1993.

Cantilever barns imaginatively create shelter with a minimal use of material. As best seen at the Tipton Farm in Cades Cove, a cantilever barn begins with two boxlike log structures measuring 12 by 16 or 18 feet and placed about 15 feet apart. The logs at the top of these boxes extend out to support a second floor, which not only bridges the gap between the two structures but also stretches eight or ten feet out in each direction to create shelter underneath. In an area where annual rainfall can be 63 inches or more, sheltering animals and farm equipment was very important.

Most cantilever barns were built during a 50-year period beginning in 1870, yet innovative architects still use the form. The main building of Richmont Inn, a luxurious resort in Townsend (, takes the shape of a four-story cantilever barn. And Maya Lin, the award-winning designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, restored and re-created a cantilever barn as an ultramodern sky-lit reading room for the Langston Hughes Library at the Children's Defense Fund's conference and training center in Norris, Tennessee.