Landmarks : Round Barns in South Dakota

Posted by Michael Zimny on

If the architectural forms that speckle the American farmscape are a family of sorts, the round, or polygonal, barn was always like an eccentric uncle. 

Their builders may not have anticipated the geodesic domes that R. Buckminster Fuller would popularize among the counterculture two generations after the round barn boom, but they always stuck out, a far flung gaggle of rebels against respectable geometry. There may have never been more than one thousand nationwide.

In his 1995 study, “South Dakota’s Round and Polygonal Barns and Pavilions," Steph J. Arendt estimated that “Only approximately one-tenth of one percent of the state’s 34,000 farms and ranches have or had a round barn.” At the time of the study — a National Historic Register multiple property documentation submitted by the South Dakota State Historical Preservation Center — up to 36 of South Dakota’s original 44 round barns were still standing.

Round or polygonal barns were built for general farm use, as dairy barns, hog houses, sale barns and as exhibit pavilions. The majority were built East River, with the largest number of those in the far Northeastern region. Another cluster sprung up in the Sioux Falls area. Round barns arrived West River late in their heyday, and only a handful were ever built west of the 100th Meridian.

The 20-sided Nold Hog House, built by John Nold in Potter County in 1903, was South Dakota’s first round or polygonal barn. Statewide, a few others were built between 1903-1910. By 1910, the defining features of an Early Period of South Dakota’s round barns took shape.

Features of round barns from the Early Period include roofs that require support and the absence of interior silos. Because their cupolas did not encompass silos, they were generally smaller than the round barns that came later.

corsonemmingercopy.jpg

The Corson Emminger Barn (1910), built just south of Watertown, is a surviving example. Corson Emminger came to Codington County from Wisconsin, where round barns were more prevalent. The barn he built for a cost of $1,500 is 50 feet in diameter, made from concrete block and topped with a polygonal cupola. Reportedly, Emminger only used the barn for a short time. When he moved to Watertown, he left behind a landmark well-known to a century's worth of travelers on their way to where he was headed.

The South Dakota round barn boom spanned the years 1910-1920, as established farmers and ranchers began to grow their farmsteads into larger-scale operations. Manufacturers began distributing pre-cut kits for round barns as well as other agricultural buildings during this time as well. An interior silo became a key characteristic of round barns during this period, possibly beginning with the Crane Round Barn in Brown County.

selbyrdbarn3.JPG

C.B. Sloat built Sloat’s Round Barn north of Gettysburg, Potter County, in 1916. The 100-foot diameter barn housed hogs, beef and dairy cattle. The true round barn features a 2-pitch conical roof and gambrel-roofed entrance. The barn still stands today.

zelltwins.jpg

As of this writing, your SDPB correspondent cannot find the year of origin for these twin, 12-sided polygonal barns in Zell.

cantonbarn6.JPG

Though the majority of South Dakota round barn builders employed wood frame construction, in the late teens and early 1920’s, the hollow clay tile round barn proliferated through parts of Iowa, Nebraska and Southeastern South Dakota. Many of these barns can be traced to the Johnston Brothers Clay Works of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Though not directly traceable to the Johnston Brothers firm, the Dickens Farm barn, built in 1917 in Lincoln County outside Worthing, is stylistically representative of the Late Period Southeastern Hollow Clay Tile Round Barns.

FreierRdbarn.JPG  

The Freier Round Barn in Jones County, northeast of Draper, was built by M.E. Studervant in 1918. The barn measures 60 feet in diameter, with 18 sash windows and four doors. Built from a mail order kit, most likely made by the Gordon-Van Tine Company of Davenport, Iowa, the Freier barn is the only known remaining example of a round barn made from a pre-cut kit in South Dakota. Alex Freier purchased the barn in 1948 and for many years employed it to house sheep. The barn was re-sided in the 1980’s, but with great care taken to retain the historical integrity of the structure, according to the form filed to list the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

The round barn era came to an end in the early 1920's, as some of its earlier proponents in the agricultural press turned against it for various reasons including, "impracticability of increasing its size by building additions." Carpenters could also charge more for round barn construction. Only four South Dakota round barns with known dates of origin were built after the last of the boom time round barns, the Stark Barn in McCook County, was built in 1921.   

Exactly how many of the 36 South Dakota round barns documented as still standing in 1995 are still standing today? We'll try to find out in the coming months. 

Related

Landmarks : Holy Spirit Chapel, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

Landmarks : Trinity Church in Kimball

subscribe to sdpb email updates food blog link image learning blog link image living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Artist Deborah Mitchell: Gardens I've Known

In The Moment ... January 4, 2017 Show 249 Hour 2 It's always a delight to catch up with artist Deborah Mitchell...

Images Of The Past

In The Moment ... December 18, 2017 Show 242 Hour 2 We talk with Conor McMahon, Chief Curator, U.S. Department of...

"Loving Vincent" Comes To Sioux Falls

In The Moment ... November 29, 2017 Show 229 Hour 1 Cinema Falls brings the film "Loving Vincent" to Sioux Falls. We'...

Paul Horsted’s Epic National Parks Project

In The Moment ... November 22, 2017 Show 226 Hour 1 Paul Horsted has been making photographs for more than 35 years....

Books

Bruce Wylie Discusses "Adventures In the Bush"

In The Moment ... February 13, 2018 Show 276 Hour 1 If you're looking for an adventure, you can live vicariously through Bruce Wylie's book "Adventures in the Bush...

"Glorious Fourth Of July" By Mary Gibson Sprague

In The Moment ... February 7, 2018 Show 272 Hour 1 Mary Gibson Sprague has a new book featuring the artwork and...

Scott Freeman's "Saving Tarboo Creek"

Scott Freeman is a biology professor at the University of Washington, where he received a Distinguished Teaching...

Author Illustrator Harry Bliss & "Grace For Gus"

Harry Bliss is an award-winning children's author and illustrator and a cover artist and cartoonist for "New Yorker"...

Music

The Transformation Of Chase Padgett

In the Moment ... February 14, 2018 Show 277 Hour 2 Head to the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City this Saturday at 7:30...

Kid Dakota Talks About Pain, Music, And "Denervation"

In The Moment ... February 13, 2018 Show 276 Hour 1 Kid Dakota is the musical moniker of Darren Jackson. His albums...

Moment In Sound With Anna Robins

In The Moment ... February 9, 2018 Show 274 Hour 1 For this week's Moment in Sound we welcome Anna Robins . Her new...

Personalities: Jim McKinney, Fmr. SDSU Band Director

Jim McKinney came to South Dakota State University in 1975 and was SDSU's band director from 1983 until his...

Theater

Images of the Past: Stage To Screen

In The Moment ... November 27, 2017 Show 227 Hour 2 A new exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum tells the story of...

Personalities: From Huron High to Broadway

Singer, actor, and teacher Joseph Mahowald graduated from Huron High School in 1977. He went on to study music and...

In The Moment ... Alex Meyer's Scenic Design

In The Moment ... May 10, 2017 Show 090 Hour 2 Alex Meyer. He's a junior art and theater major at Augustana College...

In The Moment ... Remembering Vietnam On Horseback

In The Moment ... May 9, 2017 Show 089 Hour 2 Colt Romberger’s father served in Vietnam, and it changed his life...