Future of round barn still uncertain



If a solid plan doesn’t come together soon, one of Jackson County’s older structures will cease to exist.

Over the past 18 months, weathering has taken a toll on the Hall Round Barn, located northeast of Medora in Carr Township.

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The roof has collapsed, leaving the inside of the barn exposed to the elements.

The barn, constructed nearly a century ago, is just one of two remaining round barns in the county.

While there were once four round barns in Jackson County, just the Hall Round Barn and Stuckwish Round Barn in Vallonia still stand.

Round barns were predominately constructed between 1889 and 1936 in the Midwest. The barns were cheaper, multi-functional and had more open interiors, making them more efficient than rectangular barns of the time.

George Hall, who has owned the Hall Round Barn since 1964, said damage to the roof led to bigger problems.

“The Burcham barn was the same way,” Hall said. “It got a hole in the roof, and it wasn’t there six months.”

The Burcham Round Barn was located on State Road 135 between Vallonia and the Jackson County line with Washington County. That barn collapsed in March 2009.

Hall said the roof was last replaced in 1988. He has been in contact with both county officials and Indiana Landmarks and Historic Preservation to take the barn, built by his grandfather with the help of 12 other men in 1910, off of his hands.

Greg Sekula, director of the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office, and Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, have both been working with Hall to save the barn.

“A year or two ago, Mr. Hall called Indiana Landmarks and others to let us know that he was interested (in getting rid of the barn). He needed a new roof on the barn but was unable to financially get one,” Sekula said.

“He was offering to sell the barn to whoever might have an interest in it,” he said. “A gentleman from Columbus bought the rights to the barn, and in the meantime, I kind of alerted folks locally that this was happening.”

Sekula said he believed Hall wanted the barn to stay in Jackson County.

“There was a concern that the barn could be lost by being moved somewhere else or would be dismantled for the barn wood,” he said. “A local effort was mounted to try and find a location for the barn, and the fair association expressed an interest in moving the barn to the fairgrounds.”

Sekula said the man who initially bought the rights to the barn indicated a willingness to back off the idea of dismantling the barn and gave a quote for how much it would cost to move the barn to the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Brownstown.

That plan, however, ended up falling through.

“He backed out of that when he had a medical situation in his family and could no longer pursue the project,” Sekula said. “In the meantime, we’ve scrambled to find another person to do it.”

The biggest challenge right now is agreeing to a cost on dismantling the barn and storing it before reconstructing it on the fairgrounds and making repairs.

“The condition of the barn has worsened, and quotes from other barn contractors have been significantly higher than the initial quotes that were given,” Sekula said. “That has basically put the project at a standstill because an affordable contractor needs to be found to be able to dismantle the barn. The idea would be to number the pieces, dismantle it, put it in storage and raise the necessary funds to re-erect the barn on the fairgrounds property.”

Both Banks and Sekula said most estimates are around $100,000 to take the barn down and store it.

In total, by the time it comes down and goes back up with repairs, it’s estimated to cost in excess of $400,000.

At one time, there were 225 round barns in Indiana. In 2017, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources reported just 73 remained.

In 2016, it was reported only 20, including the two in Jackson County, are still standing in southern Indiana.

“We have some amazing, old sites in Jackson County,” Banks said. “Time doesn’t wait, and it really takes a toll on our historic sites. The problem is these days, the cost to repair is lofty. It’s hard to pull those people together that want to financially support those sites, especially when the ticket gets over half a million dollars or more.”

Banks said one of the difficulties of pulling money together is the barn is privately owned.

She said she has met with more than a half-dozen roofers and fixers over the last year.

“When historic sites are owned by private entities, by individuals, it’s difficult to get that grant money together,” Banks said. “At the Jackson County Visitor Center, our grant money has to go to a nonprofit organization, not an individual. It’s just very rare to find a grant they give to an individual because basically, it’s an improvement to your property.”

While the total cost is steep, Sekula believes locals can come together and save the barn.

“The important thing right now is getting the barn down and the components marked and stored so there is an opportunity to do the project at all,” Sekula said. “My hope would be that the residents of Jackson County would want to save and not lose this barn.”

Sekula said Indiana Landmarks has helped secure an initial $10,000 grant to help get the process started, but if the project doesn’t get moving soon, the barn could be lost.

“We’re in a desperate situation, and Jackson County risks losing this historic building if we don’t act quickly,” he said. “We can’t wait until the winter to have action. It needs to happen soon or we will lose the building completely.”

Hall said he’s willing to keep the barn up if an agreement can be made, but he has considered taking it down after multiple attempts to give it away to the county and state.

“If the county takes it, I will give it to them like it is,” he said. “If they don’t, I will probably give away what people want and burn the other stuff. It’s not hurting me. If they want it and it takes a year, they can have it.”

As a matter of clarification, the round barn now owned by George Hall was actually built in 1910 by J.L. Geyer for Howard M. Smith. Geyer built three of the four round barns that once existed in Jackson County. The others built by Geyer were on property owned by John Hess in Driftwood Township in 1909 and on property owned by John Mahan also in Driftwood Township in 1909-10. The Mahan barn was destroyed by fire in 1983. The county’s fourth round was built in 1910-11 by Daryl Carter on property in Driftwood Township owned George Stuckwish at the time.

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