As of 1996, Vernon County, Wisc. has 15 round barns built in the early decades of the twentieth century. With one exception, the barns are located in the eastern part of the county near Ontario, Mt. Tabor and Trippville. Therefore, we organized this booklet as a circle tour beginning at Viroqua traveling west to the one barn located in that part of the county, then returning to Viroqua and driving east to the locations of the other 14 barns.
Local interest in the round barns of Vernon County began with a phone call from Fulton County, Indiana, the self-proclaimed "round barn capital of the world." June Zalewskei, who was at the time president of the Vernon County Historical Society, took the call. The caller said that a visitor to the Fulton County Museum had remarked, "I think Vernon County, Wisconsin has more round barns than you do," and wanted to verify whether this statement might be correct.
Members of the Vernon County Historical Society did not know the number of round barns in their county. So June asked her husband, Harry, how would you like to find out how many round barns are still standing in Vernon County?” Over the next several weeks, June and Harry traveled Vernon County asking mail carriers, tavern owners, and utility crews to point them to any round barns in the area. They found and photographed 16 barns.
Now that they had discovered the round barns of Vernon County, what should they do with the information? The local historical society encouraged them to put together a pamphlet. With the help of Elmer Mithum, who volunteered to photograph the barns, and support from the historical society about 100 copies of a pamphlet were printed; later 200 more copies were made.
As the story of Vernon County’s round barns began to make headlines in local and state newspapers, the Vernon County Historical Society encouraged June to work on the history of the barns. Gail Curry Fish read about the project. As a co-owner of one of the round barns and an individual with a long-term interest in the restoration of nineteenth century rural architecture, Gail volunteered her help.
Gail and June wrote a successful proposal to the Wisconsin Humanities Committee. In collaboration with Dr. Wava Haney at the University of Wisconsin Center-Richland, Gail spent several months transcribing information from plat books, contacting and interviewing owners, reading old newspapers, driving the back roads of the county, and recording her findings. This booklet is the result s of those efforts being added to the earlier work.
We wish to thank all of the individuals who cooperated with the project by providing information about the barns and sharing their memories of those who built and cared for them over the decades. A special thanks to Genevieve Roberts Reko, step-granddaughter of Alga Shivers, for her assistance with his story and for letting us use a photograph of Mr. Shivers and his crew for the cover of this booklet.
Information obtained from Round Barns of Vernon County, WI, A Circle Tour by Gail Curry Fish, Wava G. Haney, June Zalewski support from Wisconsin Humanities Council and Vernon County Historical Society.
Books & maps available at Vernon County Museum.