Round Barn Ranch
Historic Barn Event Venue
"Whether during the hey day of their construction in the early 1900s or now, round barns have always attracted public attention. If curiosity about an architectural oddity is the reason most people initially stop to look at a round barn, the striking aesthetics of these buildings is surely what brings them back. Something about these barns instantly draws the eye, and from inside the attraction is even more intense. Soaring, converging rafters; muted lighting; and the graceful, circular tracks that once distributed hay bring to mind feelings of cathedral awe."
The Round Barns of Kansas
The Foley/Reece Barn is the official name of the Round Barn, an iconic piece of architecture known by many residents in the area and across the state of Kansas. How did the barn get its name? Barns are identified by the name of the original builder and the current owners or just by the name of the original builder.
Families who have owned the Round Barn include: W.C. Foley, R.E. Hopkins, Charles "Chuck" J. Davis, Roger Estep, and Dr. Richard and Imogene Fleming. The current owners are
Terri and Jon Reece who purchased the barn in 2008.
Originally the structure consisted of only the center silo. The two-story circular barn was erected around the silo and completed in 1910 by W.C. Foley using the Shaker architectural style as the inspiration for the construction.
The gabled roof wings on the barn, to the north and south, were added in the mid-1940s by Charles J. Davis. Local pilots now use the barn as a navigational landmark as the round barn and its two wings resemble a large red propeller from the sky.
Fieldstone construction makes up the lower level of the barn and the additional wings. The entire barn is approximately 250 feet long while the round center section is about 58 feet in diameter. In the middle of the round barn is the silo which is roughly 40 feet high and weighs about 180 tons. A milk room for the dairy farm was located at the end of the south wing, but was subsequently converted into a clinic for Dr. Fleming in the early 1960s. Later this area of the south wing was turned into residential housing and is currently
a private residence.
The whole approach to round barn building was a radical departure from traditional barn designs and most of these types of barns were built from 1900 to 1915. The round design. with its "self-supporting conical roof", was publicized a a stronger building design, less expensive, and a more efficient model than rectangular barns.
Sphere-shaped barn layouts were promoted as a labor-saving design. An outside ramp to the second level allowed hay wagons to drive directly up to the loft entrance in order to unload. A circular rail was connected to the rafters and a hook was attached to the rail so that workers could fasten the hay and distribute it to other areas of the barn. Feeding livestock was quicker and easier since the feed came out of the center silo directly to the feed bins. Dispensing feed in this manner meant that it was not exposed to the weather and farm workers also benefited as they did not have to work outside in the conditions. A circular staircase around the central silo of the barn lead from the loft to the lower level which held horse stalls and stanchions for cattle. Fewer steps taken between the different tasks in the barn meant that work was done more efficiently.
Benton Steele gained recognition as an architectural ground-breaker through his experimentation, imagination, and engineering in the design of round barns. He was also a promoter and responsible for exposing his ideas to the public by using the print media of the time to publicize his innovations as the future of agriculture. Starting in 1901, Steele established his vision and reputation by engineering a prolific number of round barns in Indiana. His clients at the time were people of position and power which helped secure the idea that his designs were progressive and in turn represented status for their owners.
In the early 1900s Steele, along with his two partners, submitted documentation for a patent on their "improvements to the Self-Supported Conical Roof" which was accepted. For reasons unknown, Steele was left off of the patent documentation by his partners and their relationship disintegrated. He left Indiana and relocated to Sedgwick, Kansas in 1909. It was during this time that Steele created his first barn in Sedgwick County for W.C. Foley. He spent the rest of his days in Kansas and the additional architectural works he created included an additional four round barns. Only two of the original five barns are still standing - the Foley/Reece Barn and the Drennon/Stemp barn in Blue Rapids, Kansas.
Sawing of local timber for
the Round Barn on
the Hopkins Place in 1910.
Special thanks to Johnny Steele, Benton Steele's grandson, for the photographs and help he has provided to us.