Text & photos by John T. Hanou
“Generally speaking, our farms are utterly devoid of anything like artistic features. There being no indication of original thought or beauty, much less actual practical utility.”
—Benton Steele: Father of “the ideal circular barn”
New Year’s Day, 1985, was a typical winter day in Indiana—cold, wet, and overcast—but the roads were clear. Days like this are wonderful because of the solitude, and in my opinion, these days are the best times to take photographs. On this particular day, a photo excursion took me to Jackson County in southern Indiana. Heading over a small rise on a country road a beautiful white round barn came into view. I stopped, photographed it, and proceeded down the road.
After one or two turns, another round barn as beautiful as the first came into view. As I photographed it, it occurred to me that these barns would make an interesting photographic subject. At that moment in time I decided to photograph all the round barns in Indiana. Little did I know that I would eventually turn up 226 circular barns and that this project would take eight years with the culmination of the publication of A Round Indiana by Purdue University Press in 1993.
Let us fast forward 25 years to October 2018. This time around, I was driving my old 2006 BMW from Severna Park, Maryland to Mazomanie, Wisconsin to deliver the car to one of my daughters. Taking a northerly route through Indiana, I decided to swing by Shipshewana, known for its large Amish population. Shipshewana also has a wonderful twelve-sided barn locally known as the Brown Swiss Dairy barn located just west of town. As I drove by the barn, I noticed numerous Amish horse-drawn buggies passing by the barn. A perfect photo-op! I got out of my car, set up my Nikon D800 camera on a tripod and waited for one of the buggies to pass by the barn. Sure enough, and after a few tries, I captured the shot I was waiting for. The photo shown here is the one that I captured.
When I started this project back in 1985, I was 34 years old. Now that I am 68 years old and mostly retired, what is a man to do? Well this time about, I thought maybe it’s time to do an update on my 1985-1988 Indiana Round Barn Survey with the goal of coming out with a second edition of my book, A Round Indiana. So, in early 2019 I contacted Justin Race, Director of Purdue University Press (The Press) and inquired if The Press would have an interest in preparing a second edition of A Round Indiana. A few weeks went by and sure enough The Press decided to give it another try, culminating in a second edition of A Round Indiana being published in September 2020.
During my 2019 research, an explosion of new information came from the ability to conduct internet keyword newspaper searches. All told, my findings indicate that at least 266 round (true-circular and multi-sided) barns were built in Indiana prior to 1950 and that only 71 of these original barns were still standing as of September 2020.
For those interested in obtaining a copy of the book just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will provide you with some options. Thanks for reading!!