Dwindling Number Of Round Barns Sparks Effort To Save Them

Aug 28, 2017

The animals included in the barn's roof design are animals the Calloways raise on their farm.
Credit Steve Burns / IPBS

Indiana is the round barn capital of the world, with more than 200 built between 1874 and the mid-1930s. The style became popular because it required less lumber and could therefore take less time and money to build.

But, fewer than half of the state’s round barns remain standing. The dwindling number has some calling for action.

 

People traveling along U.S. 31 in Miami County can see the barn's round roof from the highway.
Credit Steve Burns / IPBS

Round Barns Become Well-Known Landmarks Along U.S. 31

Plenty of drivers traveling along U.S. 31 near Rochester have found themselves taking an unexpected detour.

“If we see them out on the road and they’re taking pictures, we’ll say ‘Hey, want to come in and see it?’” says Phyllis Calloway.

She and her husband Jerry live at the red round barn that sits just east of U.S. 31. Its famous green roof adorned with the shapes of different farm animals has become a landmark for many travelers.

 

"If we see them out on the road and they're taking pictures, we'll say 'Hey, want to come in and see it?'" --Phyllis Calloway

“When we re-roofed it the first time, we did it [with] all the animals that we raised,” Phyllis says. “And, we had a cow and a pig sheep and a chicken. And, then the last time we roofed it, since we don’t have sheep anymore, we put a draft horse on. Because we have draft horses.”

The barn dates back to 1914, when the previous landowner decided to build a round barn to replace a traditional barn ruined by lightening. It took eight men one year to build the structure. Jerry’s grandfather bought the barn in 1932 and it’s been in the family ever since. Jerry and Phyllis took it over in 1967 and still use the round barn everyday for farming.

“We have a cow-calf operation and we feed out our calves that are born,” Jerry says. “They get grain and silage everyday. So, that’s one of the first things we do everyday is go feed the cattle. And, the horses can run in the barn for water.”

The couple’s gotten used to curious strangers pulling into their driveway or knocking on their front door, hoping to learn more about the barn.

“When the children were younger, I said ‘That’s how they’re going to learn their public speaking skills,’” Phyllis says. “They’re going to go out and get the people and say, ‘Hey want to come see this? I’ll tell you about it.’”

Phyllis and Jerry Conway happily welcome people onto their property and give them a look inside. It’s a piece of their family’s history they’re happy to share. But, round barns are a part of Hoosier history that are quickly disappearing.

“It’s sad but it takes money to maintain buildings of any kind, whether it’s your home or whatever,” Phyllis says. “It takes a lot of money to do that.”

 

Visitors to the Fulton County Museum can walk through a round barn and get a closer look at how the building is constructed.
Credit Barbara Brosher / IPBS

Several miles north on U.S. 31 sits another historic round barn. The white structure is known as the Bert Leedy Round Barn and dates back to 1924. It’s part of the Fulton County Museum and Director Melinda Clinger knows just how expensive maintaining round barns can be. Severe weather damaged the barn twice.

“In august of 2015, we had a microburst that came through and took the top off the barn again,” Clinger says.

The damage added up to more than $130,000 in repairs, but allowed the barn to stay standing.

It’s one of less than 100 remaining in the state.

Funding Source Needed To Preserve Indiana’s Round Barns

In their heyday, round barns were seen as innovative structures that made farming more efficient.

“So imagine many of these barns had a silo in the center, not all of them but many of them, so you had a central feeding operation,” says Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis. “And, then, around that you would have the stanchions where the animals would be gathered. Then you had manure removal systems. So everything required a much shorter distance for the farmer to travel. Everything was centralized.”

Davis says round barns are a symbol of the golden age of farming in Indiana. His organization put them on its 10 Most Endangered list this year.

“Agrotourism is a rising industry and travelers, tourists they love old barns,” Davis says. “It’s a very popular thing to see. And, if we lose them, we lose that potential.”

Davis says the drastic decline in the number of round barns is in large part due to the expense of maintaining them. As the folks in Fulton County know, the roofs can be especially costly to repair. And many of the structures remain on private property, which means it’s difficult to find money to help cover maintenance costs.

 

There are few contractors left who know how to build or repair round barns.
Credit Barbara Brosher / IPBS

Indiana Landmarks hopes raising awareness about the state of round barns will result in a funding source to help barn owners maintain them.

“Probably no structure better than these round barns depicts that great era in American agriculture,” Davis says.

Just a few years ago the Indiana Barn Foundation formed, which provides grants to help restore historic barns throughout the state. It’s hosting a barn tour in Monroe County in October to help raise money for its efforts.

Very few of Indiana’s round barns are still used for farming. Some serve as wedding venuestheaters and even a bed and breakfast.

Back on the Calloway farm, there are so many memories inside the red round barn that it has its own history book of sorts. The pages are filled with memories and milestones. Phyllis and Jerry hope the barn’s around long enough to warrant a new chapter, with a new generation.

“It’s history,” Jerry says. “And a heritage for our family,” Phyllis adds.