MCCORDSVILLE — Walking up the grassy, dirt-covered ramp which leads to the entrance of the massive and historic Kingen round barn, Gary Kingen paused and pointed at the 120-year-old structure. He wanted to show how it was leaning slightly toward the east.
“Look, you can see what the wind did to it,” Kingen said.
Once inside the barn, which is 102 feet in diameter with a cavernous round roof, Kingen showed how nearly all of the glass windows throughout the barn had been blown out with pieces of glass sprinkled and sparkling lying on the barn’s wood floor.
“But, this, this is what I’m really worried about,” Kingen said pointing at the bottom of the barn’s base. “The cement blocks — look at how they’re pushed out because of the force of the wind.”
The Kingen round barn is a county landmark and a historical structure. It was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The barn took a beating and was battered when an EF-1 tornado with winds between 86 and 110 miles per hour hit the McCordsville/Fortville area on Feb. 27.
“Look at this,” Kingen said, pointing to a 6-inch gap between two massive wood walls that used to be flush against each other. “They got pulled apart by about 6 inches.”
While the Kingen barn has stood the test of time since it was constructed in 1903, mother nature finally caught up with the structure, causing major damage which Kingen estimated could cost as much as $500,000 to fix.
“This building is almost 120 years old so we know it’s been hit by a storm or two,” Kingen said. “But, that storm, it was different because when I looked out the window from the work area where me and the boys were, you could see everything was going straight up.”
While it had been a while since the barn had been used for it’s original purpose — to house live stock on the lower lever and to store hay — Kingen and his sons, Joel and Jake, who still work the family land, had used the barn for storage. Since the storm, they’ve moved nearly everything out, not knowing what type of work needs to be done to make the barn structurally sound for future use.
According to historical documents, originally known as the Littleton (Kingen) round barn, the structure was the first of many round barns built by Knightstown native Horace Duncan and others. The barn was made for an Indianapolis lawyer named Frank Littleton. It was passed to the Kingen family who for many decades have lived and farmed there after Kingen’s great grandfather bought the property in the early 1900s.
With the unique round look on the outside and almost artistic framing on the inside, the barn was designed for horses on the lower level and storage in the middle, main section. The barn even had a windmill on top of the cupola at one point which is now inside the barn’s storage area after it was blown off in 1901.
“This barn has seen a lot of storms and it’s even been on fire a couple of time when lightning hit it, but someone has always been here to put it out,” Kingen said.
While the family has insurance on the property, it’s going to take much more funding to make the round barn complete again. Kingen reached out to the Indiana Barn Foundation, a group who supports the preservation of historic Indiana barns, to see if they might be able to help. They sent out barn expert Rick Collins of Trillium Dell Timberworks, who specialized in heavy timber builds, with the hope he can help the Kingen family figure out how to restore the barn.
“Rick was here once and they’re going to come back and they plan to set up a laser machine to measure how it’s sitting now, but it’s leaning to the east pretty hard,” Kingen said. “We think we can pull it back (west) a little bit and shore up the foundation and make it a whole lot better because Rick thinks it’s still solid.”
The roof, which had just been replaced a few years ago, was also damaged by the storm, which tossed shingles everywhere. Much of the aluminum siding has been bent or peeled back and many of the inside beams, made of elm and beach wood, are now bowed from the force of the wind.
“Rick told me elm is good because it won’t break,” Kingen said. “Apparently it will bend, but it won’t break.”
Kingen is hoping, due to the barn’s historical status, they can get some financial assistance to get the barn back to where it used to be. For Kingen and the family, it’s a personal quest to make sure the barn is restored. His father and grandfather were born and died on the property and the family has no plans to leave as they prep for the spring and summer growing season.
“Now my boys are farming with me, so this is home,” Kingen said.
Seeing the damage the storm did to the historical structure and the rest of the family farm broke Kingen’s heart.
“It hurts real bad,” Kingen said.
Some four weeks after the storm, the family is still in the process of cleaning up the area collecting piles of material spread about the farm, some found as far as two miles away.
“Every building on this property has damage,” Kingen said. “When we came out after the storm, I was shaking pretty bad, but it all hit me about 24 hours later when we were eating lunch the next day. I just broke down a little.”
That’s because the property and the barn mean more than a historical structure for Kingen. The barn and land are filled with millions of memories associated with generations of family hard work and fun. The big red round barn was Kingen’s childhood fort, he said. Kingen, a Mt. Vernon High School graduate, spent countless hours inside of the barn as a kid swinging from ropes tied high above and building hay tunnels.
“This was our playground for me and my buddies,” Kingen said. “We played in it and rode our bikes constantly around it, riding laps seeing how fast we could go.”
The memories brought a smile to Kingen’s face, and so will getting the barn restored. Kingen admitted that, at one point during the quick-hitting tornado, he actually thought the barn was going to go.
“I looked out and everything was going up and I just thought, oh no, she’s going to go,” Kingen said. “But, she didn’t.”