Backroad Barns: House Barns, Oval Barns and Round Barns

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Round barn, Stephenson County, Ill. “My dream barn would be a round barn in a cornfield with a Mail Pouch tobacco sign on it,” says photographer Bob Kisken.
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Finn-built barn in Hurley, Wis., constructed of field stone.
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Finn-built house barn, Embarrass, Minn.
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Elevator in Nunn, Colo. The original Rumely advertisement was painted on the elevator in 1920; that painting has since been restored.
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Stovewood barn built during the 1930s in Chassell, Mich. Inset: Detail of stovewood construction, an early building style.
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Oval barn, Stephenson County, Ill.
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Twin barn in South Dakota.
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Finn-built barn in Red Lodge, Mont. Originally a dairy, it has been restored and now houses a bar and casino.

Built to last a lifetime and longer, the barn is an enduring reminder of a way of life now largely gone. The barn of the mind’s eye is an equally familiar icon: a simple red box with roof and white trim. But roam the countryside – like Bob Kisken does, armed with a camera – and you’re quickly reminded that barns come in as many variations as Heinz pickles once did.

Topped by hand-carved cupolas, with walls built of glacier-driven fieldstone or leftover stovewood, painted red, white or clad in a utilitarian, protective coating of spent oil, or perhaps bare of paint altogether, these backroad barns show the resourcefulness of the American farmer of 100 years ago. Adorned with neither bells nor whistles, these barns were constructed to be functional, long-lived and bargain-priced.

The melting pot that poured over America splashed onto barns as well. German log barns were common in the upper Midwest; barns crafted by Finns showcased that nation’s construction excellence. Agriculture was a chorus of many voices: Tobacco growers’ needs differed from those of the dairyman, who needed functionality entirely different from that sought by the rancher or grain farmer.

Most barns were constructed with little thought given to their impact on the farmstead’s eye appeal. But the barn soon became the crown jewel of the spread; ironically, today the barn is often the sole survivor of the farmstead. Well built and maintained, it endures for decades, offering testimony in form and function.

Retired educator Bob Kisken has lived in South Dakota and Wyoming in recent years. Contact him at

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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