December 24, 2019
This is a story about an unusual barn with an unusual history.
In the early years of the 20th century, on a farm in the rolling hills of Holmes County, an unusual barn was built just east of Trail, Ohio. Traditional barns over the centuries all looked like boxes: rectangular in shape and built with traditional timber-frame construction. The Miller family, however, was on the cutting edge. A new concept for barn building was forging its way onto the agricultural scene. It featured economical use of building materials, as well as economy of labor for everyday chores. This innovative idea was round-barn structures.
DESIGN CHALLENGE: The construction of the round, gambrel roof on the octagon barn eventually began to sag before collapsing in the winter under the weight of snow.
Solving structural problems
Straightaway, problems with round barns came to light. They lacked the proper bracing to prevent the round exterior wall from twisting. The introduction of polygonal barns helped to solve this problem.
Round barns were to provide free-span interior space. However, beyond a 60-foot diameter, without interior support of some kind, a roof could not support itself. There were these problems as well as others with round barns.
The Miller barn was an octagonal bank barn, having eight flat sides. The roof for a multisided barn was in pie-shaped pieces meeting at a central peak. The Millers’ barn had an additional ridge halfway up to the peak, making it a gambrel-style roof. Originally, it also had small dormers.
Around the late 1940s or 1950s, a traditional barn was added to the octagonal barn for the expanding farming operation. But, as predicted, the roof of the original octagon barn started to sag. Then along came the blizzard of 1978, causing the roof to collapse from the weight of the snow. The roof was repaired, but sadly, the barn was later lost to fire and burned to the ground.
BARN EXPANSION: A more traditional barn was added onto to the octagon barn sometime after 1942, and the roof was repaired.
Octagonal barn served as landmark for pilots
Now comes the rest of the story.
Last fall, Seth Washburne contacted Friends of Ohio Barns with an historical photo to see if anyone could identify the barn and its location. The photo was taken from a C-47 airplane in September 1942. The historical photo shows the left wing of the plane and below, the farmstead with the octagon barn.
The request was forwarded to me, as area resident Laura Seiger remembered such a barn in a presentation by my father, Chuck Whitney. By the time Dad learned of the barn, it was long gone, but he took photos of family pictures provided by the Miller family. It is unfortunate that the historical photo taken by the pilot is not of sufficient resolution to reproduce here.
Just prior to World War II this unusual barn was used by the “flyboys” of the 13th Troop Carrier Squadron, the “Thirsty 13th.” They were based at Lockbourne Army Air Base, southwest of Columbus, now Rickenbacker International Airport. This barn was just one of many landmarks used on the squadron’s training flights, which fanned out in all directions from the base. Pilots flying on a northeasterly course used the unusual octagon barn as a landmark for their turning point to return to base.
Thanks to Washburne, the historian for the 13th Troop Carrier Squadron, for sharing this very interesting story.
Contact Gray, the “lady barn consultant,” to share other interesting stories of your family barn at [email protected] or 740-263-1369.
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