All across the midwestern United States, particularly in rural communities and farming regions, barns are almost as much a part of the landscape as trees and houses and corner stores. While those outside the Midwest tend to think of barns as primarily rectangular in shape, those in states such as Indiana and Iowa and Illinois are all too familiar with barns of a more nontraditional shape. Round barns, as they are referred to collectively, can be octagonal, polygonal, or circular, and have been around since George Washington’s time. The sixteen-sided threshing barn he designed and built at his Dogue Run Farm in Fairfax County, Virginia, is widely considered the first American round barn. The design didn’t really take off until the mid-1800’s, however, and their popularity began to wane by the 1920’s.
There were several reasons behind not only the introduction of round barns to American agriculture but also their growing popularity. Because the circular shape had a greater volume-to-surface ratio than a square barn, they were cheaper to build as they used less materials. They were also more structurally sound than a quadrilaterally shaped barn, and in the Midwest they were thought to be more resilient against prairie thunderstorms. Another big selling point was the efficiency factor: the circular interior layout allowed farmers to work in a continuous direction, saving them time and labor. Eventually, however, the novelty wore off, and the construction of round barns had all but halted by the 1930’s.
Today, many of these barns still stand, and some of them have found their place in the National Register of Historic Places. They serve a variety of purposes – some are museums, some are used as wedding venues, and some are still used for agricultural purposes. The barns pictured below represent the various styles of round barns throughout the Midwest, each with their own unique characteristics that set them apart.
George Rudicel Polygonal Barn – Waldron, Indiana
Built in 1910, this 12-sided barn in Noble Township, Shelby County, Indiana, features a gable-roofed dormer over one entrance, and a driveway through the middle. A silo once stood next to the barn, but it was blown away years ago by a windstorm.
Frank Senour Round Barn – Blackhawk, Indiana
Also known as the Crandell Barn, the Frank Senour Round Barn is a true circular barn located about 13 miles south of Terre Haute, Indiana. Built in 1905, it originally featured a cupola that was damaged in a 1922 tornado; the roof was patched, but the cupola was not rebuilt.
Strauther Pleak Round Barn – Greensburg, Indiana
Located near Greensburg, Indiana, the Strauther Pleak Round Barn features a unique 3-tiered design. The round, two-story barn is unusual with a conical roof, silo and cupola, and is attached to a rectangular barn with gambrel roof (not visible in photo). The round barn was built in 1914, and the attached barn a year later.
Ryan Round Barn – Kewanee, Illinois
At 61 feet tall and 74 feet in diameter, the Ryan Round Barn is the largest round barn in the state of Illinois. Inside, the barn features three and a half levels and a central silo; the outside features a cupola up top, and four gambrel dormers around the edge of the roof. Built in 1910, it’s located in Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park and is open to visitors seasonally.
Wheeler-Magnus Round Barn – Arlington Heights, Illinois
Built in 1910 as the primary working barn of a 40-acre farm, the Wheeler-Magnus Round Barn is located on what is now the grounds of a retirement home in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. The 50-foot diameter barn is a two-story structure with a single hip roof and a conical roof cupola. Although surrounding structures – a silo and several sheds – were removed due to their deteriorated state, the barn remains intact in good original condition.
Round Barn, Dubuque Township – Dubuque County, Iowa
A true round barn constructed in clay tile, the 60-foot diameter Round Barn in Dubuque Township, Iowa, was built in 1915 and features a windowed cupola and dormers. The use of structural clay tile was one of the later improvements in the history of round barns. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, and is currently being used for a nursery business.
Dammon Round Barn – Red Wing, Minnesota
Built in 1914 with a foundation of Mississippi River limestone, the Dammon Round Barn was built during a time of agricultural growth in Goodhue County, Minnesota. The round barn design was built around a silo and provided insulation for the silage, as well as making feeding and cleaning easier. The barn is now part of a bed and breakfast inn, and is also used for weddings.
J.H. Manchester Round Barn – New Hampshire, Ohio
The spectacular J. H. Manchester Round Barn in Auglaize County, Ohio, was built in 1908 and has served five generations of the Manchester family. With a diameter of 102 feet, the Manchester barn is the largest round barn east of the Mississippi River. Hay and feed were stored in the center of the barn, and the livestock were housed around the circumference. Today the barn is used for storage.
Spurgeon Round Barn – Sharpsville, Indiana
Featured photo credit: Carl Wycoff