Americana: Round Barns
Riding cross-country in rural America, you may have happened upon round barns with conical roofs and wondered, “Why?” Several scientific theories suggest that round shapes are more calming and pleasing to the observer’s eyes than shapes with corners, which may explain why you noticed and remembered those barns in the first place. But farmers are nothing if not practical. A Shaker colony in Western Massachusetts reportedly built America’s first round barns, but later the structures became especially popular with Midwestern dairy farmers between 1890 and 1920.
Round barns had certain advantages:
- For the same length of board feet and cost, a round shape encompasses a larger area than a rectangular or square shape.
- The resulting interior wedge-shaped cattle stalls are a better fit with the shape of a cow, which is wider in back.
- The barn’s round shape was inherently more stable in severe weather.
- A grain silo in the center made feeding easier and faster.
And then there was the old folklore belief that the devil couldn’t catch you in a corner of a round barn.
Later in the 20th century, round barns ceased to be popular, mainly for practical reasons: They required specific carpentry skills to build; it’s easier to drive a tractor through a rectangular building; standardized commercial lumber and other building materials made construction of simple rectangular barns much easier; and some multigenerational communities just never “cottoned to” those newfangled round barns. But we touring motorcyclists still love them, especially the Arcadia Round Barn on historic Route 66 in Oklahoma!