Barn Painting: “Dodecagon”

Blame this one on the Greeks. If a hexagon is a six-sided polygon, and if a 10-sided structure is a decagon, then a 12-sided building, such as this barn, is a dodecagon. And, it’s a rare bird, one of the few dodecagonal barns left in America, according to its owner. It’s also a labor of love.

Jerred and Jennifer Reiff, he a general contractor, and she the principal of Columbia City High School, bought this farm in 2002. According to Jerred, the barn was a mess. “It had deteriorated badly,” Jerred explained, “but we wanted to save it. So, using his construction know-how, he poured concrete, lots of it, to stabilize the base of the barn, which was much more complicated than it sounds. Unfortunately, they couldn’t salvage the nearby old farmhouse nor the spring house, used to keep the milk “cold” that the cows produced in the barn. Too far gone.

But the barn, unique as it is, was worth keeping, one more feather in Indiana’s cap – a state with many “round” barns still existing. In fact, nearby Fulton County is known as the round barn capital of the world. It began in 1874 when Indiana’s first octagonal barn was built. However, the round barn craze didn’t catch fire until the early 1900s when many farm journals praised the design for being more efficient, especially in dairy farming. However, the cost of building a round barn exceeded that of a square or rectangular one, a factor that led to the demise of the round barn building in the 1930s – as did the Great Depression.

Before round barn construction ended in the 1930s, Indiana’s round barn count numbered 226, many of them in Fulton County. One of the barn builders, C.V. Kindig and Sons, though not enamored by the design, built many in northern Indiana, including 23 in Fulton County. The Reiff’s barn is located in adjacent  Kosciusko County, not in Whitley, which, oddly, has none remaining.  According to John Hanou, in his book, Round Indiana: Round Barns in the Hoosier State, of the 226 round barns originally in the state, 16 of them were 12-sided. Published in 1993, the book laments that more than 100 of these gems are gone. But that means that over 100 remain, which is far more than the dozen round barns left in Ohio.

Jerred told me that the circular design of the barn for milking cows served as the model for the modern honeycomb feeder, which can cost up to $250,000, making commercial dairy farming reserved for mega-farms. He said that this barn, begun in 1911, wasn’t finished until 1913. Why did it take three years? Regardless, the inside of this barn – and any round barn – is magnificent. At the top of the roof, wood shoots out in all directions – without any supporting beams – and is a joy to look at, keeping in mind that this was built over a century ago.

So, what to do with a small round barn? The Reiffs don’t have a big herd of dairy cows, nor do they have a massive honeycomb feeder, but they do have a purpose for this barn. They use it for storage and allow 4-H events to be held in it, giving this old barn a reason to exist. I’m sure, if it could talk, the barn would thank Jerred and Jennifer for deciding to save it from the bonfire and for letting it earn its keep. Even barns have pride.