If you have driven through the Midwest, you might have seen a few of the infamous round barns. The background of these interesting pieces of architecture is a mysterious part of our country’s agricultural history.
Most farmers built their round barns between 1890 and 1920 mainly on dairy farms. Round barns exist in other areas of the country, but the vast majority are in the Midwest. Dairy farmers were looking to expand to keep up with the high demand for dairy products from rapidly growing cities. Some of these farmers built round barns to make their farms more efficient. They were most useful for holding cattle because of the wedge-shaped stalls.
Many people believed that round barns were more efficient than rectangular barns for many reasons. They had a greater volume-to-surface ratio, they cost less to build, and they were more efficient for holding cattle. Many people also believed that round barns could withstand harsh weather better than rectangular barns. Some of these reasons were based on mathematical fact, whereas others were based on practice.
It’s unclear whether all of these advantages are true, or if they were made up by the architects looking to push their designs. The efficiency and cost of a round barn was completely dependent on the design and construction because some, like the Fromme-Birney barn, costed thousands of dollars more than a rectangular barn, and had ventilation, lighting, and other issues.
This architectural phase ended by the 1920s due to an agricultural depression after World War I. The increase of prebuilt barns also decreased the popularity of round barns. It is hard to say how many round barns still exist today because there is a lack of information about them.
If you’ve ever owned or come across a round barn, we’d love to see your pictures!