Monday, September 17, 2012

The Round, Stone Barn

The round, stone barn is the Hancock Shaker Village's signature structure. Round barns are not unique to Shaker sites, nor are they a Shaker invention. But the barn at Hancock combines the elements of Shaker utility, efficiency, and simplicity into a unusually attractive piece of architecture. The only round barn every built at a Shaker site, this 1826 dairy barn is a model of labor-saving efficiency. Built to handle 52 milk cows, it has ground-level access on all three floors.

An outside ramp  allows wagons to enter the top level where the hay would be unloaded into the middle of the building. Empty wagons would then be driven on around that level to exit through the same door they entered.

Workers on the main floor could then place hay directly into the mangers in front of the cattle. A central open column allowed air to circulate to remove moisture and reduce the possibility of spontaneous combustion in the hay stored around it.

Cattle would be led into stanchions where their heads would be secured, but that allowed them freedom to feed while being milked. The cattle stood on a raised floor that placed the milk buckets on a different level from any feces that were deposited while the cattle were locked into the stanchions. On the lower level immediately behind the cattle were trapdoors that allowed the manure to be shoveled into the manure pit below, where it was accumulated until taken out and spread on crops as fertilizer. There also was ground-level access to the manure pit.

Interior lighting was accomplished by adding a clerestory to the barn when the original, conical roof was replaced. The central ventilation shaft terminates in a cupola. I found the framing of the roof interesting.

Each of the beams supporting the roof has been split to spread the weight of the roof evenly as the diameter increases. Bolts through the beams prevent them from splitting beyond the intended point. The result is a fan of timbers that presents a pleasing geometry as well as being functional.

The Shakers continued to have a dairy operation at Hancock up until shortly before the village closed.


  1. I remember being highly impressed by the efficiency of it all, although I had since forgotten. Thanks for reminding me of a very enjoyable trip to New England.

  2. Wonderful - beauty and function combined again. The roof is lovely, like fan vaulting in a cathedral.

    1. I think we may have a Shaker enthusiast in the making here!

    2. I think we may have a Shaker enthusiast in the making here!