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Spend some time traveling rural roads throughout Franklin County and you'll begin to see a pattern.

More than one, actually.

Sitting near the road's edge or seen across a plowed field are large, old barns with an unusual feature: Neat, pixilated designs of open brickwork patterned on their gable ends.

While the patterns are unique to each brick-end barn, most barns bear common symbols relating to the lives of the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who settled here — 19th century billboards of their beliefs and occupation, such as goblets and squares representing church communion, diamonds forming an Easter lily, triangles for sheaves of wheat or evergreen trees. A barn being preserved near Greencastle shows a man riding a mule, and a Scotland area barn no longer standing indicated a little girl's head.

Brick-end barns are a phenomenon in south central Pennsylvania and nearly unheard of elsewhere. The designs are more than mere fancy; they served the purpose of ventilating the barn's second floor where dry hay was stored through winter.

A Chambersburg landscape photographer, Phil Schaff, cataloged nearly 100 of these barns from 1999 to 2004 as he documented their whereabouts in the county. Even after finishing the project, he continued to find more. All told, he has photographed 110 barns.

"This county had the most brick-end barns of any county in the state," Schaff said. Such barns can be found from Berks County in a kind of teardrop shape spreading west through Cumberland County and on into Franklin. There are a few farther west and in Maryland.

But the barns won't last. Already, Schaff knows of 15 that have been destroyed due to fire, housing development or collapse. That's a barn a year we've lost in Franklin County since he began counting — beautiful stories in brick that we're losing to time.

Brick-end barns are found typically in an architectural style known as Pennsylvania German bank barns — those with a second floor projecting out over the front barnyard and a foundation built into a bank at the rear. A ramp would be built up the bank so wagons heavy with hay could be rolled right into the storage level.

• Copies of "Cumberland Valley Barns: Past and Present," a book published in 2012 by Dianna Heim with photographs by Phil Schaff, is for sale in the Old Jail, 125 E. King St., Chambersburg. Proceeds from sales are given to Franklin County Historical Society-Kittochtinny for the use of their resources.

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