August 30, 2023
The Northeast and mid-Atlantic are blessed with plenty of historic and unique farm buildings. But even in a place with such rich farm history, The Round Barn in Biglerville, Pa., stands out.
Made of hemlock, chestnut, oak and pine, it was built in 1914 by the Sheely family and is still in use today as a farm market and events center.
The Knouse family, owners of Knouse Fruitlands, bought the barn and its adjoining buildings in 1985. And while they have made some changes, 95% of the barn is still original, says Kevin Knouse, manager of operations for Knouse Fruitlands.
“A lot of what we have tried to do, and really utilize, is keeping as much of the structure and appearance of it the same,” he says.
Built for efficiency
Most round barns were built between 1900 and 1920, primarily by members of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing — the Shakers — a Protestant sect founded in England in 1747.
The Shakers, Knouse says, believed the circle was the perfect shape. Folklore states the Shakers built round barns “to keep the devil from hiding in corners.”
But it was also an efficient design for animal feeding, Knouse says. Most of the structure — which is 87 feet in diameter — surrounds a center silo that is 12 feet wide.
“The central silo held feed. On the bottom floors are two rings that make a circle, cattle from the silo facing out toward the wall, another set of cattle from the wall facing the silo, and there was a central walkway that went around,” he explains. “So, they would get the feed out and they would take one pass around, feed both sides of animals at a time because they had troughs on either side. So, it was an efficient design for the time.”
The barn housed animals for decades — likely until the late 1970s, Knouse says. After that, the Sheelys repurposed it into a small fruit market selling pick-your-own fruits and vegetables.
The Knouses bought it in 1985 and have continued the farm market business.
“It was a small, successful market, so the idea was to make it bigger and more successful by using the bottom floor,” Knouse says. “It’s a big area of stuff to fill up.”
Most of the original first-floor structure remains. The feed troughs and three-quarters of the original cow stanchions are still in place, he says.
The biggest changes have been made to the barn’s second floor, which once housed hay. Knouse says the space was used for special events from time to time, but it was 10 years ago that his family decided to focus more on events, especially weddings.
Extra lights have been added, and new bathrooms were recently installed.
As the barn has no heating or air conditioning, it is a seasonal event space running from late April to November. About 20 events are held in the barn each year, Knouse says.
Right around the time when the Knouses bought the barn in 1985, its slate roof was replaced with a cedar shake roof.
The roof lasted more than 30 years with no problems, but over the past 10 years, parts of it have had to be replaced.
“The cedar shakes deteriorated pretty bad. We got a lot of quotes and ideas from people on how to replace it,” he says. “We thought about putting in cedar shakes again, asphalt shingles, perhaps another slate. All had their pros and cons.”
The family ultimately settled on a synthetic slate material that was used, in part, to cover the new bathrooms they had installed.
It wasn’t an easy job, Knouse says. For one thing, the roof has a steep pitch.
“It is not just a uniform pitch all around,” he says. “It’s more like three rings going around and sitting on each other.”
The just-finished roof took eight days to install at a cost of $400,000.
“The remaining parts of the structure and supports are all real solid,” Knouse says. “A few spots on the cupola needed replaced, but for the most part it has held up really well.”
Knouse Fruitlands is a fourth-generation family farm. Its main business is apples — 50 varieties producing 300,000 bushels a year — as well as other tree fruits.
The farm has been downsized over the years and now includes 350 acres in Adams and neighboring Cumberland counties.
The farm market and events center has become a significant source of income, Knouse says. And the adjoining buildings around the barn, built around the same time, have found a use, too, as they are used mostly for equipment storage.
The history of The Round Barn and its iconic status are not lost on Kevin Knouse. Circular barns are rare, and The Round Barn has become what the farm is most known for.
“We get a lot of people coming here to just see the barn,” he says. “We really enjoy sharing the history of the barn and really preserving a landmark to Adams County and maybe a landmark to the rest of the people of Pennsylvania.”
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