Here are a 19th Century cupola (“KYU-pullah”) atop David’s Folly Farm’s barn in Brooksville, Maine, and a newer cupola on Deer Isle.
Cupolas, old and new, are fascinating features on many New England barns now, but they do have fetid origins that some people would rather not hear about.
Before their use, New England farmers built their barns very tightly with no or few windows to save on the costs and efforts of winter feeding of livestock. Unventilated waste gases accumulated and created an unbearable stench in these dark structures; wall-creeping slime built up, and livestock became sick. The solution was to create ventilation in which the warmer foul air rose and escaped through louvers in the roof.
Soon, the louvers were placed more efficiently in small wooden air chimneys, which New Englanders called cupolas, from the Latin word for “little tub” or the Spanish word for “dome.” Then came cupolas with hung sash windows to let in more light and summer air. Then came fancy weather vanes above and cupolas on residences to view in coming ships, as in this struicture in Stonington:
Then came cupola-loving tourists. (Brooklin, Maine)