The Round Barn

The impressive focal point of the Central Wisconsin State Fair Park is the “World’s Largest Round Barn.”

The idea for this unique structure was conceived by the Central Wisconsin Holstein Breeders Association, the Central Wisconsin State Fair Association, and the Wood County Board.

The barn was designed specifically as a show and sales barn. Round barns were in favor at that time and the dimensions proposed certainly make this one an outstanding edifice.

There were advantages to round barns as opposed to the rectangular. One was their wind resistance, because the surfaces were curved. Walls were stronger because the lineal, rather than the cross grain strength of the lumber was used which is twenty times stronger. They were also more efficient for the arrangement of stanchions.

The building contract was awarded to Frank A Felhoefer. Construction began Thanksgiving Day, 1915.

The barn contains two rings of stalls surrounding the open center, which served as the show and sales arena. Wooden bleacher seating for about 1,000 people, encircled the show ring. The diameter of the barn is approximately 150 feet and is 70 feet high at the top of the cupola. It was designed to house 250 head of cattle. The mangers were made of cement and the stanchions were pipe mounted between columns. Box Stalls were also installed for calves and other small animals.

The interior of the second floor was completed in 1917. During earlier Fairs it was used as an exhibit area for chickens and rabbits. It also provided for barn dances as it had a bandstand, which extended from the upper floor. Today, the upper floor is used only for storage of Fair related items no longer useful but reminiscent of a past era. Perhaps someday it can be renovated and used as a display area again for some worthy exhibit.

The arena, with no supporting beams apparent, becomes even more wondrous as one realizes the architectural feat that was accomplished without benefit of scaffolding. This was done by means of staging. They simply started at the bottom and worked up and in. The only supporting beans evident are the cross beams beneath the cupola.

The shingles were put on the roof in the bitter cold of winter. Carpenters cut the fingers out of their gloves so they could hold the nails in place. Of interest is the fact that they had estimated a need of 190,000 shingles and used 188,000.

The four Felhoefer brothers were involved on a regular basis in construction of the barn, the contractor, John, Fred and Henry. The oldest brother Charles, and the two youngest, William And Edward, rose to the challenge when there was a need for additional help.

Times and the elements took their toll on the barn. In 1938 the roof was re-shingled by a W.P.S crew and later was repainted. In 1964 modifications were made to allow room for more cattle to be shown. Today they have removed most of the bleachers.

The barn is also used during Dairyfest for an ecumenical church service. This year, share a moment of history in the making at the Central Wisconsin State Fair in Marshfield held on Labor Day Weekend.

The round barn is listed in the National Register of historic places.

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14 Feb 2014

By TRAVELHOST Contributing Writer