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Round Barn Capital of the World


Indiana had more round barns than any other state. At one time Indiana had about 225 round barns. Now there are fewer than 100 left in the state.

Fulton County had more round barns than any other county in Indiana. 
Originally blessed with 17 round barns, Fulton County had 15 when we were told that this was more than any other county. The Covered Bridge Society surveyed barns along with bridges and told us this. So in 1971 Doris Hood and Bill Myers of Rochester founded the Fulton County Round Barn Festival.

For a long time, Fulton County residents thought we had more round barns than any other county in the world. But when Shirley Willard, president of the Fulton County Historical Society, established the National Round Barn Center of Information in 1991, she began collecting all the references to round barns that she could find. Most surveys include many-sided barns with the round barns. A list of all the round barns in the United States compiled by members of the Covered Bridge Society and typed by Katherine Kirkham in 1970s lists 444 round and polygonal barns in the U. S. and 19 in Canada. These barns were still in existence but later researchers tried to find all round and polygonal barns that had ever existed. These included doctoral theses by agricultural and architectural students.

Nebraska's Round Barns, 1970, Roger Welsch
Round and Five or More Equal Sided Barns of Wisconsin, 1982, Larry Jost
Without Right Angles - The Round Barns of Iowa, 1983, Lowell J. Soike
Directory of Round Barns in Minnesota, 1986, Roy Meyer
Round Barns of Illinois, 1990, Donald Burnell
A Round Indiana - Round Barns in the Hoosier State, 1993, John T. Hanou
Round Barns of Quebec, Canada, 1996, (a list), Gerald Arbour
A Guide to Pennsylvania's Round Barns, 1997, Wayne Fox
Ohio's Polygonal and Round Barns, 1997, Brian McKee

Michigan Barn Preservation Network, president Jack Worthington, is 
compiling a list of the round barns of Michigan and hopes to publish a book.

Larry Jost did his survey in Wisconsin and discovered that Vernon County had 20 round barns in 1982, eleven years after the Round Barn Festival began. But Fulton County did not hear about this until 1992. At that time Shirley Willard wrote to Vernon County Historical Society and told them that they had more round barns than any other county in the world. They had not known this fact, and so graciously agreed that Fulton County, Indiana, should continue with the title of Round Barn Capital of the World because of our enthusiasm and years of preservation work and the festival. Besides, the largest number does not always make a place the capital or Chicago would be the capital of Illinois. Even though we now have only 8 round barns left, Fulton County still remains the Round Barn Capital of the World.

Although no longer being built, the round and polygonal barns are of special interest and beauty. Many groups are working to preserve as many barns, both square and round, as possible. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Successful Farming magazine established the BARN AGAIN! program. Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana conducts regional workshops to help spread the word that old barns can have a new and useful life, both on the farm and off. Old round barns make wonderful buildings for other purposes: theaters, restaurants, museums, club houses, antique shops, the list is limited only by your imagination.  Let's save our barns!

For listings of round barns & covered bridges :

Round Barn Museum

Indiana had more round barns than any other state. At one time Indiana had about 225 round barns. Now there are fewer than 100 left in the state.

Why Round Barns?


Why Round Barns?

Round barns may have developed from the English putting a roof over the horses walking in a circle to provide power to operate mills. They called the building a gin-gan. The earliest recorded many-sided or polygonal barn in the U.S. belonged to our first President. George Washington built a 16 sided barn in 1792 on his Dogue Run farm near Mount Vernon, Va. It was used as a treading mill to thresh grain. This barn decayed and was finally taken down after 1870. A replica of this barn was erected in 1995-96.

The first true round barn in the U.S. was built in Massachusetts in 1824 by the Shakers. It is said that the Shakers preferred round barns so that evil spirits could not hide in the corners. Since the Shakers learned how to make black ash baskets from the Indians, it is possible that their decision to use a circular construction for a barn was also influenced by the Indian's use of the circle for teepees and wigwams. George Winter's sketches of wigwams in Chief Kee-wau-nay's village in 1837 near the present Lake Bruce look like round barns.

Another theory is that the circular construction was derived from the 
round-houses built to turn the trains around, as the steam locomotive was also invented in the 1820's.

The first of Indiana's round barns was built in 1874. The height of the "round barn building boom" was 1910, when more round barns were built in Indiana than any other year. The last round barn built in Indiana was in 1936.

Land grant colleges including Purdue University advocated round barns as economical in the early 1900's. The University of Illinois published a booklet, The Economy of the Round Barn, in 1910. But they advised putting a silo in the middle to help support the roof. Fulton County's round barns do not have silos, but have unsupported roofs.

Round barns are more economical in several ways. The capacity of a circle is larger than that of a rectangle with the same amount of siding. Having the livestock all face the center saved the farmer steps when feeding. It was faster, easier and cheaper to build a round barn than a post-and-beam barn because the round barn uses lumber that is one-inch thick instead of foot-thick beams, and used nails instead of pegs.

Round barns are now an "endangered species." Several are disappearing 
every year. They cost too much to repair, and farmers cannot afford to pay taxes on them for storage because the big modern farm tractors and 
machinery won't fit through the doors. The neglected barns are succumbing to wind, weather and fire and are being torn down.

The Fulton County Historical Society has established a National Round Barn Center of Information to collect information on round barns and help find ways to save them. Whenever a round barn is threatened, please notify FCHS, and we will try to find someone who will take it and save it. If you want a free round barn, ask us. Of course, the catch is that you have to move it and restore it, which may cost $65,000. That is what FCHS paid to move and restore the beautiful Fulton County Round Barn Museum in 1989-1991. The Kelley Agricultural History Museum at Tipton paid $80,000 to move and restore their round barn in 1997-99.

Many barns are red but a large number of barns were always painted white.

Learn more about the Fulton County Round Barn Museum
Fulton County, Indiana Round Barn Capital of the World

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