Another barn saved by the family
Some people collect postage stamps in albums or vintage cars in garages. The Lavy family is passionate about barns, those magnificent backyard castles that have dotted the American landscape since Europeans arrived on our shores centuries ago.
Usually saving a barn is enough for a family, but not for Kent and Cindy Lavy, who set out to collect them. They moved and restored three barns on their farm near Arcanum in Darke County, Ohio.
This is the story of one barn in particular – a sad little red round barn found just across the western Ohio line near Frankfort, Ind. It was built by Mel Johnson in 1910, at a time when round barns were considered the best way to enclose the most space with the least material. The round structure also provided labor saving for the farmer.
At 60 feet in diameter, the barn has side walls 20 feet high at its eaves. The conical-shaped roof has a ridge three quarters of its slope, making it a round mansard roof. It is surmounted by a round dome and a conical roof. Most round barns this size and larger have a silo in the center of the structure to help support the roof. The original silo of this barn was unusual in that it did not extend all the way to the ground.
A new future
The Lavys’ first step in moving the barn across the state border was to take it apart, labeling and numbering all of the parts. Due to weather damage to the roof, the dome was dismantled using a high-lift crane.
In all, it took a week to dismantle and move the barn to the Lavy farm. In the process, as much of the barn as possible was salvaged, while the unusable parts were kept as templates for new spare parts.
The barn is then reassembled in reverse order, starting from the ground up to the weather vane at the top of the dome. However, the second barn heave required power tools and a high-lift crane, compared to the hand tools and ladders used over 100 years ago.
No longer needed, the central silo was not replaced. Four 38-foot-tall poles – carved from yellow pine salvaged from a former tobacco warehouse – instead supported the dome. This made room for a 10 foot driveway to run through the center of the barn, just enough room to park the tractor and trailer.
The side walls were raised retaining the original location of the windows to preserve the architectural design of the barn.
Most of the roof was too damaged to be usable. The parts for the grounds were saved and a complete set of new trusses were cut and installed to produce the roof frame. It is clad in standing seam metal, cut on site, for a solid roof.
The round dome and the roof were then completed and topped with its weather vane. The whole reconstruction process lasted three weeks.
Kent and Cindy Lavy are dedicated to saving old barns. Hopefully, they inspire other barn owners to become good stewards of their own backyard castles.
Agricultural technology since the beginning of the 20th century has and is evolving rapidly. Our historic agricultural heritage is crumbling. Our only hope of saving these wood-frame craft wonders is to reuse them so that they become viable in our economy today.
Due to their inherent problems, few round barns were built and few have survived. If you’re interested in seeing some of Ohio’s rare round barns, check out the list compiled by Dale Travis. The list includes more than barns. Always ask permission if you want to see more than you can see from the road.
Whitney Gray consults on old barns. With her father, Charles W. Whitney, she wrote “Ohio Barns Inside and Out”. For more information, send an email [email protected].