HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County fourth-generation farmer Gary Kingen knew the round barn on the property his family has worked since the turn of the century was a landmark; he just didn’t know it was an award winner.
The Kingen family, as residents and stewards of the land since 1906, and property owner Russell Pulliam received a Central Indiana Preservation Award last week from Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit group that works to recognize and promote historically significant Hoosier properties and structures.
“People are always stopping by to take pictures,” Kingen said of the 103-foot-diameter red structure that stands 103 feet high. “But we were surprised by the award.”
Indianapolis-based attorney and state legislator Frank Littleton had the barn built in 1903 because he wanted the biggest round barn in the state, Kingen said.
Since his great-grandfather moved five miles down the road to live on the farm on CR 600N just east of Mt. Comfort, the barn has been quietly serving its purpose for as long as Kingen can remember.
It has sheltered cattle, hogs, hay to the rafters and farm equipment. It also has had a few near-misses with Mother Nature.
Just after it was built, a storm blew the windmill off the 21-foot cupola. It was never replaced. Five years ago, a tornado side-swiped the farm and tore some siding off. Otherwise, the 111-year-old Hancock County landmark is not much worse for the wear.
It was never repainted until the 1940s, Kingen said. A new roof was put on two years ago. Structurally, the tightly engineered circular interior remains sound.
“It’s a very unique building style,” said Mark Dollase, Indiana Landmarks vice president of preservation services. “It’s not like you see one down every county road.”
The awards have been handed out annually for 35 years to recognize excellence in historic preservation.
“It’s a very competitive field,” Dollase said.
And the Continued Use Award that the round red barn received represents the “highest and best” in the restoration field given that the structures have not undergone extensive major renovation and are still being used, Dollase said.
Standing beneath the massive, towering support timbers – all fabricated from wood found on the property – Kingen said it’s hard to imagine how one would renovate or rebuild the barn should the worst occur in any event.
“There were some Purdue engineering students who came out here once,” he said. “The said they would come back with some blueprints. They never came back.”
Dollase said historic barns in general that routinely dotted the central Indiana landscape are becoming a growing concern for preservationists.
Taxation, deactivation and farm consolidation have the old barns going the way of dinosaur, he said.
This year, the state Legislature passed a law that exempts the state’s historic barns built prior to 1950 and meeting other requirements from property taxes to encourage farmers to keep the barns and reinvest the savings to preserve the buildings.