News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 7, 2010

Three round barns dot Wabash Valley landscape

Once-popular structures now nearly extinct

TERRE HAUTE — “Generally speaking, our farms are utterly devoid of anything like artistic features, there being no indication of original thought or beauty, much less actual practical utility.” 

— Benton Steele (father of Indiana’s round barns)

Back in the late 1800s, you probably wouldn’t turn your head to take a second look if you passed by a huge round barn amid the farmland of central Indiana. After all, this state was reportedly the world’s capital for the cylindrical farm buildings that became a trend in cattle farming from about 1889 to 1936.

But today, the true circular barns are on the endangered list of architecture, and are about extinct, save for a few. These head-turning buildings of today are a true rarity. But sprinkled throughout the Wabash Valley, a very few dot the highways and byways — almost as hard to find as the Indiana morel mushroom!

I recently discovered three incredible “species” in Vigo, Vermillion and Parke counties on my search for true round barns.

In Blackhawk, near Riley, some 13 miles from Terre Haute, Courtney and Kathryn Crandell are the owners of what is called the “Frank Senour” (sometimes spelled “Senior”) round barn built in 1905. Frank Senour went to Illinois to see the popular and the much-touted “efficient” round barn of that day. The Crandells said he liked it, got plans and started to work. William Senour bought the land in 1890 and was then the second owner of the round barn.

A tornado in 1922 reportedly lifted off the cupola, a dome on the roof typical of round barns, and set it in a corner of the barn lot. The top was repaired but without the cupola, according to the Crandells. The barn now has a conical roof with four gabled roofed dormers and was re-roofed in 1988. The Crandells purchased the property and historic barn 38 years ago. Since then, they have enjoyed interest from round barn gazers from the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival to local artists and visitors.

“Someone is always photographing the barn,” Kathryn said.

This barn was listed with the National Register of Historic Sites in 1993 as part of a list of Round and Polygonal Barns of Indiana, recognizing and preserving this piece of our national history.

Although once used for its intended purpose of cattle farming, it now is only an icon of a past agriculture artistic flare and one-time innovation in the cattle industry.

• • •

Tucked away among the straight rows of harvested corn fields and tree-lined fence rows on the outskirts of the tiny town of Lodi, formerly called Waterman, is another prime example of the round barn era. This barn, in the northernmost part of Parke County, belongs to Martin and Helen Whited of Cayuga and was built between 1888 and 1891 by John Randolph, according to the Whiteds. It is believed to be the first round barn built in Indiana.

Located in a county generally recognized for covered bridges, it is reported that at least eight round barns marked the Parke County map at one time. This particular round barn is unique, featuring horizontal slats versus the normal vertical slats. Native poplar was used and, not being dried, was “bendable,” according to Helen Whited. The “greenness” of the wood allowed for the “roundness” of the building using the horizontal slats. Robert and Josephine Thompson Bannon, Helen’s parents, purchased the barn and property during the 1950s and used it for the dairy cattle it was designed for as well as later for more than 2,000 hogs. This true round has a lower level, a tall cupola and a conical roof. It has been re-roofed and was repaned about 12 years ago, according to the Whiteds.

• • •

Down a country side road near Dana in Vermillion County, one of the largest true round barns can be found. Built in 1916 by O. Earl White, a graduate of Purdue University, this barn is now owned by Roger and Pam Hazelwood, the third owners of the property and barn. Pam’s father purchased the barn some 38 years ago and handed it down to the Hazelwoods. This barn is unique because of the treated cypress lumber that was shipped by rail from Louisiana to build it. Roger said the railroad ran less than a mile west of the property.    

This barn has never been painted and has weathered beautifully. It is reported that lumber used for the partitions in the barn came from a covered bridge in the Newport area. The barn stands 60 feet in diameter, 60 feet tall and has 60 windows — sure to draw an intake of breath at its expanse and beauty. The lower level, like many of the barns, was used to house cattle and horses. Grain was stored on the second floor and hay on top, which could easily be tossed to the stock on the ground floor. At one time the barn was used to house chickens and, because of its unique shape and immense size, it has also been used by pilots for navigation between Chicago and Terre Haute.

The 60 windows were re-glazed and repaired by Pam’s mother and a friend of the family several years back. Like other true round barn owners, the Hazelwoods said they are constantly allowing the round barn to be used as the backdrop for wedding pictures, Christmas photographs, and it’s visited by round barn enthusiasts and photographers from near and far.

• • •

While not on the scene long, the round barns that have weathered the onslaught of age and the machinery era stand in defiance of the efficiencies of the modern age, lending artistic value to Indiana farms and reminding us there was certainly a time when “thought, beauty and practical utility” were foremost in the minds of local cattle farmers.

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