Rea, MO

The historical octagon-shaped or round barns across America were beneficial to early settlers and farmers

CJ Coombs
J. F. Roberts Octagonal Barn.Rcool1234, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

J.F. Roberts Octagonal Barn in Rea, Missouri

The historical J.F. Roberts Octagonal Barn built in Rea, Missouri (see above) in Andrew County was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1999. It's an octagon-shaped, two-story barn that was built in 1900. J.F. Roberts reached out to a local carpenter named Columbus Hobson to come up with the plans to construct a cattle barn. In 1946, the barn was acquired by Clifford Clark and his son, Paul, as they were raising Aberdeen Angus cattle. The original intention of the barn was still being implemented according to the NRHP Nomination Form signed in October 1999.

Secrest Octagon Barn by Downey, Iowa

There's also the Secrest Octagon Barn (see below) constructed in 1883 near Downey, Iowa. That one was built by George Frank Longerbeam, as a hay barn and horse stable for Joshua Hunt Secrest. This barn is 80 feet in diameter and 75 feet tall. According to his great-grandson, he was a master builder.

The barn has red vertical siding, and a bell-shaped roof, and the octagon-shaped cupola at the top is the same roof shape as the barn. In 1974, this barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I suppose this is one of my favorites because it’s painted in my favorite color. However, I find so many of the octagon-shaped bars interesting. Very early in round barn history, they weren’t even painted because you didn’t need to spend money on paint.
Joshua Secrest's octagonal barn near Downey, Iowa.Carol M. Highsmith, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kinney Octagonal Barn near Burr Oak, Iowa

Not all old octagon-shaped barns are restored (see below). The historical barn, the Kinney Octagonal Barn, close to Burr Oak, Iowa was eventually torn down after it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 19, 1986. It's believed this barn was built by Lorenzo Coffin (stock breeder) in 1867. It was modified in 1880.
Kinney Octagon Barn, near U.S. Highway 52, north of Burr Oak, Iowa.Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Lorenzo Coffin was a stock breeder and the farm editor of the Fort Dodge Messenger. He is thought to have built the first round barn in Iowa in 1867. (Source.)

The image below shows the land after the barn was gone. It looks like a piece of history is missing now. It can also be an extensive and costly project to restore these old barns.
The site of the former Kinney Octagon Barn.Jonathunder, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons.

The term round barn has been used to describe an octagon-shaped barn because it is circular even though it has five or more sides to it, and each of those sides has the same dimension.

[Round barns] are the products of a historical movement within American agriculture aimed at making farm practices more efficient and economical, an experimental period during which scientific principles of farming were applied to develope new building types and construction methods. (Source.)

Fromme-Birney Round Barn near Mullinville, Kansas

The below image is dramatic because it was taken of an octagon-shaped barn close to Mullinville, Kansas during a tornado warning.
A tornado warned supercell approaches the Fromme-Birney 'Round' Barn near Mullinville, Kansas.Lane Pearman from Derby, KS, United States, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The barn above is the Fromme-Birney Round Barn built in 1912. This barn is 50 feet tall and 70 feet in diameter. It has 16 sides. It was originally built for horses. In 1987, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's owned and managed by the Kiowa County Historical Society and is open to the public for viewing.

Homesteaders, H.W. Fromme, and his family owned the property that housed the barn from 1885 to 1954. They were also successful farmers. They hired a local contractor, Pat Cambell, to build the barn. From 1954 to 1994, the J.W. Birney family who were successful farmers on the land restored the barn. After that, Phyllis Birney donated the barn to the Kiowa County Historical Society in 1994.

Round/octagon-shaped barns in America

If you're interested in these barns, you can check out or join the Facebook Group of Round Barns in America. So many of these barns are interesting due to their family and architectural history. A few might be left in Canada. In 2017, Indiana claimed to have the most.

According to Circular Thinking: Round Barns in America, "A farmer could save on wood or stone with a round building that needed less material than traditional barns. Experts also believed that farmers could save steps, and time, in feeding their animals in a round barn. And round barns stood a better chance against strong winds." (2008.)

You probably saw fewer of these barns by the time the Great Depression hit. When electricity circulated in the rural areas, maybe they did think it was more convenient to wire a barn that was rectangular in shape, or maybe that shape was less costly to construct.

Successful Farming (2014) suggests the round barns were built on dairy farms. "The round barn was built for dairying, and not as useful for other types of agriculture. The popularity of round barns ended by the 1920s. Their demise was accelerated by an agricultural depression after the end of WWI and the onset of prefabricated barns."

The early settlers had to survive and part of that survival included ways they could ensure their crops and animals would be protected. With the use of a round or octagon-shaped barn, the farmers could make better use of space.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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