Mental Floss
MF EXPLAINS IT ALL

What's the Meaning Behind the Metal Stars You Often See on Old Houses?

Jake Rossen
Stars on homes have been an enduring mystery for some.
Stars on homes have been an enduring mystery for some. / Una Smith,Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA-4.0
facebooktwitterreddit

People don’t always look too closely at the residential homes around them. When you start searching for a new house, though, certain things earn closer scrutiny. Like the fact that some houses, particularly in the northeast, have a five-pointed decorative star hanging on the exterior. It’s been cited as being indicative of everything from religion to a beacon for swingers. But what does it really mean?

Barn Stars

According to The Voice of Pelham and Central Niagara, the décor is known as a “barn star” and may have originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, who fled Europe to escape religious persecution in the 18th century and settled in the area. The Amish, Mennonites, and others took to painting different symbols on barns or homes, including a star that was believed to bring them good luck.

The practice soon went beyond religious affiliation, with homeowners using the star as a kind of property fashion statement or to symbolize a warm welcome to visitors. Some also view it as patriotic, a practice that picked up following the end of the Civil War.

Not everyone agrees there’s a deeper meaning. Speaking to The Morning Call in 2001, Pennsylvania Dutch historian David Fooks said that the star didn’t carry any particular importance and that the Amish simply liked to decorate their barns, which were hugely important to their farming communities.

Star Bolts

A slightly different kind of star sometimes appears on brick buildings. Known as star bolts or star anchors, they're not strictly decorative. Instead, the star is the washer for an iron rod placed through a sagging or compromised wall to preserve its structural integrity and prevent it from buckling further.

A star bolt on a building is pictured
A star bolt is a support anchor for a structure. / Austin Kirk, Flickr //CC BY 2.0

If a star is purely ornamental, some people will hang them based on a belief that their colors represent different things. A black star may mean a home is protected; a blue means peace; red means passion. Maybe the swinger rumor has some validity after all.

[h/t The Voice of Pelham and Central Niagara]

An earlier version of this story did not include mention of star bolts; it has since been updated.

facebooktwitterreddit