click to enlarge Saving a historic round barn
Contractor Glenn Beechy, left, and Laura Pickrell review plans for renovations of the round barn.

There's the old joke about a man who dies running around a round barn trying to find a corner to exit. But it isn't a joke as to what is happening to a round barn located along Interstate 55 near Glenarm. The 60-foot diameter barn with a center silo is being restored by the family that has farmed the land around it since the 1830s. In fact, the area was known as Round Barn Farms.

Joe Frazee grew up on the farm; it was his great-great grandmother, Laura Weber, who had the barn built in 1912. Along with Frazee, his brother-in-law, Joe Pickrell, and Pickrell's son, Ben, all farm the area. Frazee said, "While I lived here growing up, we raised hogs until about 20 years ago. We had another barn that blew down in a storm. The family decided that the round barn was worthy of saving."

Joe Pickrell added, "This obviously isn't cheap, but can you put a price on history? We just knew it was the right thing to do."

The family sought out Glenn Beechy, owner of Beechy Siding and Overhang, based in Sullivan. Beechy has done extensive work on old buildings in Shelbyville and around central Illinois.

"I only look at roofs when I look at buildings," said Beechy. "When I saw the round barn, it was intriguing. I have an appreciation for authentic, old structures. Too much of society is fake and disposable. This is history."

click to enlarge Saving a historic round barn
The round barn, located off Interstate 55 near Glenarm, was built in 1912. This is how it looked in January 2023 when renovation work began, which is now nearing completion.

The work started in January 2023 with a major cleaning of the barn that was filled with straw, lumber and other farm items. Birds and rodents had built nests. The men found boards stamped with Laura Weber's name in many places inside the structure.

The barn has windows along the foundation. These were used as a light source when cows were milked. Inside, stalls ring the barn with troughs for feed. A central round structure served as a silo with access to the large hayloft. The hayloft area had to be stabilized by reframing the interior of the roof.

Beechy started the roofing work in September, measuring for a metal roof to replace the wood shake roof. "I have lost sleep over this project," Beechy said. "There is a lot of strategy to doing this."

The strategy involved measuring each panel exactly; more than 120 panels circle the roof, and each is made into three sections using 26-gauge metal. Beechy explained the process: "If one panel is even a half-inch off, it has to be taken back to the shop to redo. Otherwise, nothing will line up correctly." That is not easy, and at one point, 30 panels had to be returned to the shop in Mattoon where the panels are cut.

Making the work even harder, a bend at the bottom of each panel had to be added, which required a special crimper. The top of the roof forms a point, again requiring precise measurements.

The family hopes to use the barn for agricultural production and perhaps have a farm stand. "We aren't yet sure how we will use the barn," said Frazee. "Our main point is to preserve it. We believe history is important, and saving this structure is one way to keep history alive."

The next time you drive south on I-55 from Springfield, look to the west just past the Glenarm exit. The barn stands close to the highway as a symbol of past generations as well as those living and working the land who embrace the importance of history.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna is a freelance writer who loves to explore history in our area.

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