Vol. VI, No. 4, Spring 1993


Preservation Corner

The Round Barn

By Robert Gilmore



Highway 160 leaves Springfield's north side, out by the airport, and heads northwest through a rapidly urbanizing landscape. New houses, subdivisions, convenience stores, even a country club and golf course line this pleasant route well past Willard, a town whose main street has been bypassed by the highway in the interest of moving commuters more expeditiously.

About two miles past Willard 160 swings due west, towards Ash Grove, and the two-lane blacktop moves through countryside which begins to look more rural and a little less suburban. There are more farmsteads, with barns and silos, livestock, and machinery.

About halfway between Willard and Ash Grove, the highway drops down into the Clear Creek valley, and then begins a gentle rise again. That is when you see, over to the fight, the Round Barn. The Gilmore Barn.

It's not really round, it's octagonal, but that's a quibble. Everybody around here calls it the Round Barn, and since just about every other barn in Greene County is a conventional square or rectangular shape, there's no doubt what barn they're referring to.

The Gilmore Barn? Mike and Wilma McGilvry now own the barn and the 220 acre farm on which it sits. But they know their barn was built, somewhere around the turn of this century, by my grandfather and my great-grandfather, so they won't mind ifI get a bit proprietary and call it the Gilmore barn.
My Grandfather, Francis, and his father were fanning together on the Clear Creek valley farm before the turn of the century. Francis was one of 12 children (two were stillborn) of James Kannon and Saphronia Edmonson Gilmore. James Kannon was only five years old when his father, James Allen Gilmore, came to Greene County from Tennessee in 1835 and settled about a mile and a half west of Willard, not very far from where the Round Barn was later built.




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The feed trough & crib, a concentric octagon, equalize outward and inward thrust of exterior walls as well as providing an interlocking-beam pier to support all central weight.
Anecdotal evidence differs as to when Francis and Kannon built the barn. Some say 1898, others say as late as 1907. We'll try to find out more precisely. We've just begun the research necessary to nominate the barn to the National Register of Historic Places, so this Preservation Comer article can only be a preliminary look at what we now know about the barn.

A former neighbor told Wilma McGilvry it cost $3000 to build. The gently sloping land on which the barn sits provides natural grade-level entrances to both the first and second levels. The foundation is limestone quarried from the farm. The lower level walls, cut limestone blocks, are a full two feet thick, and the two cattle entrances to this first level, on the east and north, are arched with brick. Four windows at the first floor level are also brick-arched.

Upper walls, at the second drive-in level, are a foot thick. The mortar holding the limestone blocks together was made of lime, sand and water--no cement was used. The sectional cone roof now has green composition shingles covering the older wood shingles. The roof is topped with an eight-sided slatted cupola which admits both light and ventilation into the hay mow.

Inside, on the first level, is an octagonal feeding trough, surrounding a corn crib which extends into the second level. The third level of the barn is a hay mow, which has held as many as 6,000 bales of alfalfa.

A maze of joists, beams, and rafters, probably cut from farm timber, provide structural integrity as well as visual pleasure to the interior. The intricate angles are snugly fitted, and most structural beam joints are pegged.

There aren't many round or polygonal bams left in Missouri. Mary Stiritz, who has done surveys for the Department of Natural Resources, has identified only eight such barns statewide, most of them concentrated in northern counties. This is certainly the only one in Greene County, and perhaps in the Missouri Ozarks.

That the bam is still standing, let alone in excellent structural condition, is a tribute to its several owners over the past 70 years, especially the McGilvrys and James and Ida Gold, from whom the McGilvrys bought the property. These families have not permitted the bam to deterioriate. They have kept a good roof on it and paint on the limestone walls, replaced rotted timbers and, importantly, have continued to use it as a barn--to shelter livestock and to store hay.

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I continue to ponder on a simple question. Why? Why did the Gilmore father and son decide to break with tradition and build an octagonal barn rather than the familiar rectangular gable- or gambrel-roofed form that would have been on all the surrounding farmsteads? Could they have known of New York phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler who promoted octagonal buildings as an ideal shape for promoting peace and harmony? Or did they have a religious motive in building a structure "to keep the devil from hiding in corners?"

My Scotch-Irish ancestors probably had more practical reasons for building their barn as they did. There were many circular and polygonal barns built in agricultural North America during the latter part of the 19th century, and the Gilmores may simply have been following the fashion. Perhaps they figured out that there was more useable space in the polygonal shape than in a square structure of comparable size. Maybe they thought the eight-sided stone structure would be more resistant to the tornadoes that frequently sweep the Springfield Plain. Or were they showing off a bit by building a monument that they knew would be unique and would stand as testimony to their farming success?

Whatever their reasoning, I'm glad they built the barn the way they did. The polygonal barn is a vanishing rural landmark. This barn still stands, however, safely in the stewardship of owners dedicated to preserving this piece of Ozarks heritage for the future.

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