Round and Polygonal Barns
Would it Still be Indiana Without Old Barns?
Farming is big business in the twenty-first century, increasingly managed by corporations that use huge machinery stored in utilitarian pole barns. The size of the equipment leaves vintage barns in jeopardy, sometimes even on smaller family farms. “Round and polygonal barns (chiefly octagons) were rare to begin with—219 were built in Indiana between 1874 and 1936, among the most in any U.S. state—so each loss matters more,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.
Round and polygonal barns arose as developments in agricultural science in two overlapping periods: octagons and the occasional nine-sided variety sprouted between 1850 and 1900, while the round barn era ran from 1889 to 1936, with an assist from farm journals that touted their advantages.
The form offered efficient use of building materials, producing open space free of interior poles, shorter feeding lines, and multipurpose functionality. With a circular silo in the center, the round barn put a hay loft on the top level, machinery and grain storage on the main level reached by a ramp, and wedge-shaped animal stalls around a central feeding trough in the basement.
Nearly all round and polygonal barns stand on private property. Unless they can be modified to suit farming today, they are not assets most farmers can afford to maintain. The Smith-Hall barn in Medora and the tile-walled Cornish Griffin barn in Angola both desperately need new roofs that are financially beyond the capacity of the owners. Many others share this condition. Near Paragon, an octagonal barn long in rough condition has completely collapsed.
“We need a complete survey that identifies the round and polygonal barns most in jeopardy, and strategies and funding sources to help owners repair roofs and find uses for these structures,” says Davis.
Saving threatened buildings takes teamwork. You can be a part of that team. Reach out to local leaders. Let them know these buildings are important to you. And support state and local preservation groups.