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What Are Midwest Round Barns?

July 19, 2019

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!

About the Author
Ryan Schroeter, Broker for National Land Realty in Nebraska and Iowa, grew up on a farm in Northeastern Nebraska. His father and grandfather instilled his love and respect for the land and for the outdoors in him at a very young age. He has been an avid hunter and fisherman since he was able to carry his own gun and fishing pole. His outdoor passions include upland game, waterfowl, turkey, and big game. Ryan, his wife Brenda, and their two daughters live in a small rural community between the Elkhorn and Missouri River. He is a 1997 he graduate of the University of Nebraska - Kearney, Nebraska during this same year he received his real estate license. In 2003, Ryan obtained his broker's license. Ryan is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) through the Realtors Land Institute (RLI) being 1 of the 7 in Nebraska. His main focus is crop land and recreational properties in Nebraska and Iowa; throughout his years in real estate sales, he has sold row crop farms, recreational/hunting farms, ranches, acreages, development and transitional property. While at National Land Realty, Ryan has received numerous Top Producer awards. He is also a registered appraiser working under Steve Kroeger a Certified General Appraiser and is working on obtaining his Certified General Appraiser license. View Ryan's Listings and Reviews on