A recent facebook post from the Stearns County History Center noted a variety of explanations for round barn architecture. Although I am not too thoughtful, the article caused me to wonder the different why’s of barn construction. Why are they round? Why paint a barn red, or white? What are the motives of a house barn?
According to the Stearns County post, folklore suggested round barns were built so the devil could not hide in the corners. More practically, round barns better withstood high winds, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. In the end, technology eroded the popularity of round barns. Loading silos and feeding cattle in a round barn proved more difficult than using a rectangular barn. And, the expense of construction also discouraged the unique architecture of a round barn.
|Round barn located on the Perry Garner farm, |
near Elk River, circa 1916
Economics also determined the color of a barn. Several farmers suggested to me they painted barns red or white depending on the price of paint. Still others mention that a homemade mixture of skimmed milk, lime, and red iron oxide created a long lasting, red tinted paint. In addition, red barns may be warmer than white barns or unpainted barns. The red hue absorbs heat in the winter time and makes for a warmer interior for the farm animals.
Heat from the animals also plays a role in the construction of house barns. Ole Rolvaag discussed house barn construction in his classic work, Giants of the Earth. In his novel, Rolvaag makes clear, the heat generated by farm animals creates a more comfortable environment for a family sharing the same building. Farmers utilized the house barn architecture for centuries in both Europe and the United States.
As the Stearns County post suggests, barn construction is complex and at time very personal. Yet the history of barn architecture provides significant consideration.